Cleanup day keeps lake 'peaceful and serene'

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jerry Allstott of Birdseye, right, and Ric Flick of Wicliffe looked for trash near the South Lick Fork Ramp at Patoka Lake on Saturday morning during the annual Patoka Lake Cleanup Day. Volunteers cleaned up trash at several of the ramps on the lake and then attended a free fish fry at Hoosier Hills Marina.

Herald Staff Writer

PATOKA RESERVOIR — Armed with trash bags and bug spray, the Hoffman family clambered out of a pontoon boat and set to work.

For more than an hour, they scoured the edge of the lake for garbage and debris that had washed ashore.

“See that trash? Go pick it up,” Angie Hoffman said to her 6-year-old son, Corvin.

They were among dozens of volunteers who gathered Saturday for the annual Patoka Lake Cleanup Day, an event sponsored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

By the end of the morning, the Hoffmans had filled several garbage bags with every kind of refuse imaginable: discarded water bottles, crumpled Styrofoam cups, crushed beer cans, shards of glass, fishing lures, rusted hooks, a muddy golf visor, even an electrical cord.

Angie said she and her husband, Jeremy, are regulars at Patoka, an 8,800-acre reservoir that straddles Crawford, Orange and Dubois counties.

While camping at the lake the other week, the Hoffmans, who live in Mentor, spotted a poster publicizing the cleanup and decided they wanted to give back.

Angie remembered picking up garbage at the lake with her father and brothers when she was younger, and Jeremy said his mother began taking him to Patoka when he was 3 years old for swimming lessons.

“We’ve been coming out here forever,” he said as the sound of waves splashed over the rocky shore.

Angie and Jeremy, now doting parents themselves, hope their love of the outdoors will rub off on Corvin, a freckled, rambunctious boy with tousled brown hair and a missing front tooth.

In bringing their son along, both wished to instill in him, at a young age, a sense of respect for nature. The move seemed to have worked.

Louie Allstott of Taswell looked for trash to pick up near the South Lick Fork Ramp at Patoka Lake on Saturday morning.

Corvin bounded along the shore in search of trash. At one point, he came across a discarded energy drink, proudly showing it off for his parents to see.

“What did you find there, bud?” Jeremy asked, visibly pleased that his son had taken a liking to cleaning up the shore.

Other families also ventured out. Daniel and Karen Hall of St. Anthony brought their 9-year-old triplets: Ethan, Emma and Ellie.

Daniel Hall, who works for the Patoka Lake Regional Water and Sewer District, said the cleanup had become something of a family tradition. The Halls have volunteered the last several years.

“The kids like it,” he said just before shoving off to look for trash.

Chad Mundy and his 12-year-old son, Trey, were newcomers to the event. Trey, who belongs to St. John’s Boy Scout Troop 170 at the Dubois Crossroads, figured the cleanup would be a fun way to collect service hours for the Scouts.

He was joined by Jordan Baker, 12, and Dalton Meny, 16, who also belong to the troop.

“We’re just here to do the right thing,” Chad said.

Each year, nearly a million people visit the lake, which provides drinking water to 12 counties in southwestern Indiana.

That’s why the annual cleanup is so important, said Dana Reckelhoff, who works at the lake as an interpretive naturalist for DNR, giving kayak tours and taking visitors on nature hikes.

By the end of summer, a lot of garbage accumulates on shore. Events like Saturday’s help clean the lake so “it can go back to looking peaceful and serene,” Reckelhoff said.

Ed Pieper stood near the dock at Hoosier Hills Marina on the lake’s west end, watching as volunteers checked in. For 36 years, Pieper was president of the water and sewer district’s board of directors before stepping down a few years ago.

After the reservoir was built in the 1970s, the area saw a surge in industrial growth.

“You have to have jobs. People have to have water to drink. Everything ties in. Water’s so basic,” said Pieper, who lives near Dubois.

“We’re so darn lucky to have this,” he added, “and we ought to appreciate it more.”

Contact Tony Raap at

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