Annual Torch Lake Clean-Up Follows 4th of July Festivities

Independence Day means celebrating our freedom. And in Northern Michigan, it often means celebrating in the summer sun and out on the water.

But after the party, the big holiday leads to a big cleanup effort—especially at one of the area’s most popular places.

Torch Lake 2The red-white-and-blue party weekend means thousands celebrate on the crystal clear, blue water of Torch Lake in Antrim County.

Zoe Mazaluso is a student from Elk Rapids who says many party-goers seem irreverent towards the lake.

“A lot of them just aren’t from here and they don’t understand the importance of this lake for everyone that lives here,” Mazaluso says.

In 2015, partygoers on Torch got a bad rap–drawing attention for not only the wild party–but for leaving their trash behind. That’s when the group Stand Up for Great Lakes jumped in to action.

Megan Morris and her husband Kwin have been volunteering since the start.

“We’ve been coming out since 2015 since the infamous big party on Torch Lake,” Megan says.

Jeff Guy also helped to spearhead the clean-up effort.

“On the Fourth of July (2015) this lake got trashed from a big party that was going on. We decided that as a group, Stand Up for Great Lakes, we wanted to help clean it up,” Guy says.

This year, more than a dozen volunteers are out. Morris says they’re finding, “bottles, cans from beer, because it’s kind of party out here. Food wrappers, it’s a very wide variety.”

Mazaluso made some interesting finds: “I’ve found a lot of paper, glitter. A strawberry, a watermelon.”

And Jeff Guy finished his morning with a bag full of goods: “Found a pair of sunglasses, cans, a towel, a hat. I didn’t find any cell phones this year. And no gold.” Torch Trash

The biggest find–a pair of plastic lawn chairs–were covered in zebra mussels, and looked like they had been there a while.

Morris says, “It’s definitely shocking to see how much garbage can accumulate from a two, three day party.”

Many of the volunteers here are longtime visitors to Torch Lake. Some of them are even high school students. And they’re taking green bags out on the water, whether they’re wading, paddle boarding, jet-skiing, or even scuba diving; all to pick up the trash throughout the lake.

Mazaluso says this is a special place.

“It’s not one of the Great Lakes, but it’s still a great lake. I think it needs to be clean and protected.”

Torch Lake 1While the number of volunteers is increasing over the years, they say the amount of trash they find seems to be decreasing.

Guy says there is “more people and less trash, that’s a good equation. (It) makes it easier to keep clean. I think for the most part, every year we’ve been doing this it’s getting better. So I’m not disappointed not to find a lot. It’s good that I think what we’re doing is working.”

Guy and Morris agree it’s about keeping the lake clean for years to come.

Guy says, “We just want to keep it clean. We don’t want our kids and grand kids wading through trash. So we’re just doing our part to keep it clean.”

And Morris adds, “Torch Lake is known as one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. And if we keep letting it get trashed like it did that year, it’s no longer going to be that way. It’s just so beautiful, we’ve got to protect it and keep it clean. We need to make sure we keep it clean for future generations too, so they can experience what we got to experience our whole lives.” Torch Lake Trash

The group met back on the shore to gather the trash they collected from the morning run. And volunteers are always welcome to help. Morris says, “If you’re not out her,e then maybe you’re at least making a conscious effort and cleaning up a beach around you.”

Learn more about Stand Up for Great Lakes and their cleanup efforts here.