By STEVE SOUTHWELL
steve@LewisvilleTexan.com

Just below the outlet works of Lewisville Dam, pelicans and blue herons perch on nearby trees, occasionally swooping down into the rushing waters below to snatch a fish from the river. But birds are not the only ones who claim the fishing spot on the Elm Fork of the Trinity. Anglers know it’s a great spot to reel in lots of fish.

A problem for the City of Lewisville and the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area is not what the fishermen take from the river, but what they leave behind: lots of litter. On any given day, despite the city having installed 55-gallon trash drums with lids throughout the area, fishing-related litter is everywhere. Discarded bait containers, tackle packages, and bird-endangering fishing line is strewn about.

Fishermen enjoy fishing from the riprap below the dam's outlet works.  Unfortunately, they leave a lot of litter. (Photo by Steve Southwell)
Fishermen enjoy fishing from the riprap below the dam’s outlet works. Unfortunately, they leave a lot of litter. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

The city launched a new volunteer program will provide LLELA’s guests with the education and encouragement to discard their waste in the proper receptacles.

This past Saturday, the city launched its River Care Crew program. Lisa Cole, education coordinator for LLELA, trained 17 volunteers to take on weekend shifts at the nature preserve.

The group’s first shifts will start on Saturday, July 30.

The volunteers will wear special blue caps and identifying vests, while patrolling the river banks.

Fishing related litter is left everywhere by fishermen. (Photo by Steve Southwell)
Fishing related litter is left everywhere by fishermen. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

But they won’t have ticket books, and are not there to enforce litter laws and LLELA regulations. The mission, according to Cole, is to engage with visitors and educate them not only on the consequence of litter to wildlife, but to set an example. Cole wants the fishermen to provide peer pressure to encourage others to keep the area clean.

Members of the River Care Crew will get litter grabbers and trash bags, to not only keep the area clean, but to model the care that the city would like to see guests use in the area.

Officer J.T. Flores of the Lewisville Police Department addressed the group with strategies for engaging with the public safely and with kindness. Volunteers were instructed to work in pairs and know what situations warrant engagement or disengagement. Volunteers will call on police for situations that warrant enforcement.

Fishing line and tackle are tangled in a tree next to the Elm Fork. These pose a hazard for birds, who can become entangled. (Photo by Steve Southwell)
Fishing line and tackle are tangled in a tree next to the Elm Fork. These pose a hazard for birds, who can become entangled. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

Michael Fox, a frequent visitor and volunteer at LLELA joined the River Care Crew because of his frustration with the litter situation. In March, he photographed the carcass of an American Pelican that had become entangled in discarded fishing line, and died. At the training, it was presented that five pelicans had died over the winter due to entanglement.

“At first I was deeply saddened. Saddened from all the trash fouling LLELA’s beauty and then saddened at the totally unnecessary loss of wildlife. That pretty quickly turned to anger. It was so easy to just to swell up in anger at the ones who’d done this. In the end of that day I felt hopeful that change could be made in the situation,” Fox said.

The training materials provided to the volunteers included a write-up from Fox about his experience in finding the bird, and cleaning up fishing line from the riverside that day. He wrote that he engaged a family of four fishing there that day, politely asking them to please pick up any discarded fishing line. Though there was fishing line near where they were fishing, he made sure they knew he was not accusing them of putting it there.

Fox told the family about the pelican, and they were moved by it enough to help him pick up fishing line.

Officer J.T. Flores instructs members of the River Care Crew on interacting with the public with kindness and safety.
Officer J.T. Flores instructs members of the River Care Crew on interacting with the public with kindness and safety.

Cole and Parks and Leisure Services Director Bob Monaghan both stressed their belief that the education outreach would make a positive impact.

“I think people litter because they just don’t see the big picture,” said Cole. “They don’t understand watersheds, and they don’t know that what they toss on the ground can affect wildlife…both large animals, like the pelicans we have found tangled in fishing line, and smaller animals like the fish they are catching and eating.

“If they understand how trash and pollution can affect the river they are enjoying, my belief is that we can change their behavior and even begin to grow the number of people who think of themselves as river stewards. We have worked in this way in the past in a less organized way, and have managed to recruit a couple of anglers who got the message and were willing to talk to others and report violations to our gatehouse staff. With a more concerted effort this time, I think we can create lasting change.”

But Monaghan had a warning if the litter is not controlled. “The LLELA mission is to preserve and restore native Texas ecosystems and biodiversity while providing opportunities for environmental education, research, and recreation,” he said.

“If the careless littering of the anglers continues to the point that it results in dead and injured birds and wildlife, we will need to re-evaluate the need and value of allowing fishing at LLELA.”

For more information about volunteering for the River Care Crew or LLELA, contact Lisa Cole at 469-635-5481, or email lcole@cityoflewisville.com.

LTJ Publisher Steve Southwell, Associate Editor Jennifer Southwell, and Mom of No, Jennifer Linde all signed up as volunteers for the River Care Crew.

Big tangles of fishing line are everywhere along the shoreline.
Big tangles of fishing line are everywhere along the shoreline.