On a recent weekday afternoon, a boater took a break from fishing in Lake Patagonia's Ash Canyon. He polished off a beer and tossed the can in the water, followed by his unfinished food and other remains from his picnic.
The littering fisherman isn't alone. With hundreds of visitors coming to Patagonia Lake State Park on a weekly basis, the amount of trash thoughtlessly dumped in and around the lake is staggering.
"We clean up anything that we can on land and water," said Monty Lambert, field manager at the state park, located off Interstate 19 less than 20 miles from the Mexico border. "Once trash gets caught up in the cattails of the lake, it's real difficult to find and pick up."
You name it, visitors will dump it: aluminum cans, paper plates, plastic cups, glass bottles, plastic rings from six packs and more, according to Lambert.
"Anything that floats tends to pile up in the lake," he said.
Lambert's staff will get a helping hand Saturday, Oct. 11, when the Southern Arizona Paddlers' Club sponsors "For the Sake of the Lake," an annual cleanup of Lake Patagonia, followed by a picnic.
"This is our third year of cleaning the lake," said Royce Davenport, a Vail artist. "We've had two successful years and a lot of fun doing this."
The Paddlers' Club, launched about a decade ago, is a loosely organized group of "die-hard water-rats" who enjoy paddling, kayaking and canoeing, according to Davenport, who joined the group about two years ago.
"I'm into the organization because of the preservation of water," said Davenport, "and I love to paddle on boats."
Last year, the group cleared away 25-30 bags of trash, according to Davenport. "We doubled the amount of trash last year from the first clean-up. More people came out to participate last year and took the event more seriously."
The Paddlers' Club plans to load up volunteers into 30-40 boats and navigate around the entire lake to remove trash. When they're done, they'll meet at the main entrance of the lake for the picnic.
"It takes us around half a day to clean the lake," said Davenport.
Lambert, who oversees the lake and the adjacent 72 campsites, said the park's staff was "very appreciative towards the paddle club. They come out voluntarily and help make the lake a nice place to explore."
But he cautioned that paddlers might face choppy water.
"The event is occurring on a Saturday, which is one of the busiest days for the lake," said Lambert. "It might be difficult for the paddle club to clean the lake with all the power boats making waves."