Among the most enthusiastic vendors at the Lake Hopatcong Block Party were students from the Environmental Academy. The event took place on Saturday, May 11, at Hopatcong State Park.

The academy is offered through the Morris County School of Technology in Denville, but held at Jefferson Township High School. Because Jefferson encompasses Lake Hopatcong, Mahlon Dickerson Reservation, and the site of Kean University’s Sustainability Science Center at the old Paulist monastery, it was considered the obvious choice when the tech school ran out of room.

Sophomore Meghan Craig is working with the Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) to assure that children in the lake communities have a voice in the health of the lake. Acknowledging that the second semester research project in the sophomore year usually involves the study of a particular animal, Meghan said she asked her teacher, Nancy FitzGerald, if she could instead organize a group of young people to work on lake issues. Once she got permission, she approached the LHF for assistance.

Sophomore Meghan Craig is working with the Lake Hopatcong Foundation to assure that children in the lake communities have a voice in the health of the lake. (Photo provided by Meghan Craig)

Meghan wanted her group to consist of people from ages 12-20 with various viewpoints. “The 12-year-olds can talk about what their parents do,” she said, “and the 20-year-olds can fix problems.” She started by surveying students from Jefferson’s middle and high schools about what they see as the biggest threat to the lake. “Adults grew up with certain problems, but children have a different perspective.”

The kids who were surveyed see litter, especially cigarette butts, as the biggest problem. FitzGerald confirmed this point. Speaking about the November lake cleanup during the drawdown, she noted that “five percent of all the trash was cigarette butts – 250 of them.” Many of the cigarettes found were in the shallows near restaurants.

Meghan and her group are attacking the cigarette butt problem by looking for new ways to dispose of them. Josh Martorelli, a sophomore in Meghan’s group, said that fish and other aquatic animals can mistake cigarettes for food and ingest the tobacco, so the students have been talking about a new disposal unit. Josh showed off a project he did called “litter pops.” He encased found items in resin and displayed them: tobacco, a part of a filter, shreds of tires, and micro-plastics.

Other items found in volume during the lake cleanup were plastic cigarette filters, straws, balloons, and fishing lines. The juniors in the academy are working to create a disposal unit for fishing line, FitzGerald said. That will not solve the problem of line that breaks during fishing, but it does provide a place for discarded line.

Other academy students made soap dishes out of tires imprinted into clay, and then sold the dishes at the block party and at the academy’s Ecofest. They will be brought to a Clean Communities conference in late May to demonstrate the number of tires pulled from the lake, FitzGerald reported. The participants in the soap dish project were freshmen Owen Helfand, Andrew Henderson, Conner Stevens, and Neylan Preetanchal. Owen said he had done some pottery before, but for the others, making the dishes was a new experience. The students also sold necklaces made from items FitzGerald found while beachcombing.

FitzGerald, who had cut an image of Lake Hopatcong out of a tire for one dish, wrote in a draft of correspondence about the project: “When we were pulling trash out of the lake, I kept thinking to myself: It is really a shame that we can’t repurpose them in some way. Then I remembered a gift that the Helfand family gave me one year, which was a piece of pottery they bought in Alaska that had an imprint on it carved from a tire, so I set out to try my hand at carving tires. Creating the stamp was actually a very emotional experience for me. I grew up with Lake Hopatcong as my backyard, so the lake is near and dear to me.”

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