On a cold and windy Sunday morning recently, Fred Steinbaum and two of his grandsons, Noah and Matthew, climbed down from their dock into an aluminum canoe bobbing peacefully atop the icy waters of Lake Hopatcong. What started out as a trip with a purpose quickly turned into an adventure with a purpose.
The purpose of their trip was to paddle along the west shoreline, just down from Sharp’s Rock, picking up debris that could be potentially hazardous to boaters, fishermen and water skiers.
Within minutes of shoving off from the safety of the dock, the wind picked up making paddling a challenge and thus beginning their adventure.
But Steinbaum, a man passionate about keeping the lake clean and safe for boaters and swimmers, remained focused on the task at hand. He is a man on a mission.
“Come on boys, we have a whole lake to clean up,” he said encouraging his grandsons to paddle.
Having already spied large logs floating in the main part of the lake, he urged his grandsons to remain low in the canoe and paddle hard. Within minutes they encountered their first bit of debris; four feet of a 1 x 6 wood plank and a lounge chair cushion, both resting on the rocks under a neighbors dock but ready to float into the open water with the rising lake level.
Struggling to keep the canoe from tipping they made their way parallel to the shoreline and reached under the dock to retrieve their treasure.
Paddling to the next rocky shoreline, Matthew hopped out of the canoe and picked up some garbage and many large branches, probably blown into the lake during Superstorm Sandy. They were tucked into the canoe along with the other bits of debris found. All these new items would have drifted from shore into the lake within days or weeks, as the level rises, said Steinbaum.
“A change in the wind and all this would be out in the middle of the lake,” he said.
Despite the wind and the waves, which were now crashing over the sides of the canoe, Steinbaum continued on and discovered three large tree logs floating in the water near a neighbor’s boathouse. Determined not to let the logs make their way to open water, Steinbaum tied a rope around the largest of the three, and with the help of eldest grandson, Noah, paddled into a headwind, with the 100-pound log dragging behind, back to their dock.
“I want people to take pride in the lake,” said Steinbaum. “Ideally I’d like to see more people out in the water, maybe using patio boats, and have people working from shore as well,” he added.
Steinbaum believes that if the towns and the marinas all had dumpsters available to discard debris found in the lake, more boaters and homeowners would make more of an effort.
“It wouldn’t cost very much for six dumpsters to be positioned around the lake,” he said. “I believe the Commission (Lake Hopatcong Commission) has agreed to ask each township to provide a dumpster. I hope it happens soon,” he said.
Fred Steinbaum, right, with his grandsons, Noah and Matthew, and a canoe filled with debris from the lake.