Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission

Nothing will ruin a family boating trip faster than running over a floating tree, piece of lumber, or even a plastic bag that can disable or even severely damage a boat.

Although Appalachian Power Co. is required to remove navigational hazards in open waters at Smith Mountain Lake and Leesville Lake from April through October and following high flow events resulting from heavy precipitation on a year-round basis, their floating excavator/barge cannot enter the shallow water coves that hold large quantities of trees, branches, and man-made items like parts of docks along with the trash that accumulates in the debris.


Kristina Sage, executive director of the Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission (TLAC), estimates that Appalachian Power removes 1,500-2,000 tons of debris from the lake each year.


To help with debris removal, Take Pride in Smith Mountain Lake began as a volunteer effort in 1988. Year after year it has allowed people to spring clean the 40-mile-long shores. Tri-County Lakes Administrative Commission has organized the event for 36 years in conjunction with the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Smith Mountain Lake Association.


“This is one of SML’s most critical initiatives each year because, as a community, volunteers, sponsors and in-kind donors make the lake safer and more beautiful to welcome the upcoming season,” Sage said.


In a report compiled by TLAC, an estimated 8.8 tons of trash was removed from the lake during the 2023 Take Pride event. According to the report, volunteers covered more than 35 miles of shoreline, hauling off a vast amount of loose debris. Items collected included plastic and glass bottles, beverage cans, plastic bags, food wrappers, rubber tubs, a paddle boat, a real estate sign, logs and tree branches.


Sage said that she doesn’t have a tonnage count yet for Saturday but that 293 volunteers participated at five planned sites around the lake (Bay Rock Marina, Magnum Point Marina, W.E. Skelton 4-H Center, Gills Creek, Walnut Run) and on private properties of their choosing.


“We were very pleased that the SML Fireboats, SML Lions Club, SML Rotary Club, USCG Auxiliary, Rocky Mount Rotary Club, AM Legion Post 62 and United Way Roanoke Valley all joined the effort despite the rainy, chilly day,” she said.


Merrell and Lisa Gelburd of the Shenandoah Shores subdivision in Wirtz braved the rain Saturday to tow in several large tree branches from marker B-41 in a Boston Whaler skiff to the dumpster site at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Center where volunteers from the SML Lions Club waited.


Merrell Gelburd, a retired Roanoke schoolteacher who has lived at the lake for 40 years, said that he is constantly removing debris and that he cuts up and burns the small stuff that gets in the cove and tows the big stuff from the channel. He said he has been hauling large debris for the last month to a cove at the 4-H Center where the AEP barge is docked.


“I have hauled trees that are two or three times the size of my skiff to get them out of the channel, so no one gets hurt,” Gelburd said, “if a bass boat hit one of these things, it could be trouble.”


Sponsors for this year’s event included AEP, Western VA Water Authority, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Capps Home Building Center, Glenda & Stephen McDaniel, Long & Foster Realtors, Savvy Promos, Turner’s Dock Building, LLC and WyndRose.