Schenectady County

Assortment of junk fished out during Woodlawn Preserve dive

About 20 volunteers scoured the Woodlawn Preserve on Saturday in search of garbage while 13 voluntee
Divers remove a bathtub found during a Woodlawn Preserve Pond "Dive Against Debris" in Schenectady on Saturday, May 25, 2014.
Divers remove a bathtub found during a Woodlawn Preserve Pond "Dive Against Debris" in Schenectady on Saturday, May 25, 2014.

Sean LeBlanc, 11, wore no rubber gloves as he approached the pond at Woodlawn Preserve to pick up trash.

Neither did his friend, Matthew Akerson — though Matthew did bring a rubber basketball.

Susan Baker, a volunteer, thanked the boys for coming and told them to be careful about what they picked up. Sean wasn’t too worried.

“Nothing’s too nasty for my hands,” said Sean, whose father taught him to fish in the preserve’s pond when he was 3. Both boys live in the Woodlawn neighborhood.

About 20 volunteers scoured the preserve Saturday in search of garbage while 13 volunteer scuba divers pulled trash, tires and other treasures from the pond.

Sean, who still fishes there with Matthew, also 11, was visibly excited as he walked along the pond in search of garbage.

“Because if it gets in the water, it can kill the fish if there’s anything toxic in it,” he said. “And it’s just not nice to litter.”

Saturday’s cleanup was a coordinated effort of the Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve and Rogscuba of Schenectady and part of Project AWARE’s global Dive Against Debris endeavor. It was the first cleanup of its kind at the pond, and organizers expected to find a lot.

The pond was built in 1973 to control flooding in the Woodlawn neighborhood but also is the headwaters of the Lisha Kill, said Janet Chen, chairwoman of the nonprofit Friends group.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever really gone in there before to see what kind of junk there is,” she said. “There’s a big ATV problem in here, and they fish a lot in here, so who knows what kind of junk is in here. There was, at one time, old cars in the pond.”

Divers spent two hours in the water and found, among other things, empty bottles, fishing lines, an oar, five tires, pieces of a refrigerator and a bathtub — which they floated to the shore using buoys. It all added up to about 200 pounds.

Baker, of Niskayuna, was happiest about the tires. She started a contest to see who could guess how many tires would be found, with the winner receiving a Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve baseball cap. Guesses ranged from zero to 200.

Baker didn’t venture a guess, but that didn’t stop her from shouting “I got a tire!” across the pond when a nearby diver brought one to the surface.

“I feel vindicated,” she said.

Minutes before, she carried two chunks of rusted metal found by a diver.

“Looks like part of a refrigerator. I don’t know,” she said. “I’m hoping they’re going to find a tire.”

For Cole Denning, 30, who also grew up fishing on the pond, the chunks of metal were all too familiar.

“This was the refrigerator,” said Denning, a member of the Friends group, as well as the Woodlawn Neighborhood Association. “This used to be intact.”

Draped in scuba gear, Gary Melius of Ravena bobbed up and down in the water, holding a green net filled with junk.

“A little bit of everything,” the industrial electrician said of his findings. “Bottles, cans, Styrofoam cups, a fish trap.”

Bobbing beside him, Maggie Dehart pulled what turned out to be a chair frame out of the water and placed it on her shoulders.

“What’s this?” asked Dehart, a registered nurse who traded scrubs for a wetsuit to dive Saturday. “I don’t think this can fit in your bag.”

The cleanup was one piece of the Friends’ efforts to promote and improve the preserve since forming a little over two years ago. Over the past year, the group purchased 35 jersey barriers and installed them around the 135-acre preserve in an effort to keep ATVs out. The nonprofit group has also applied for a state Department of Environment Conservation permit to release fish into the pond and plans to build a handicap-accessible fishing dock.

As the scuba divers entered their second hour of searching Saturday, Denning just smiled.

“It’s pretty neat to see that,” he said. “It’s a first for the preserve.”

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