Don Gaston’s version of retired life clearly isn’t as laid back as everyone else’s.
The 59-year-old Lantana resident, father of three, and avid outdoorsman moved from the Pacific Northwest to Texas in 2018 with his wife, Kathy, and figured he’d split most of his newfound downtime either at the golf course or on Lake Lewisville for some lazy fishing.
And in many ways, that’s exactly what happened. But it wasn’t long before Gaston began putting himself to work.
“I was on the lake one day doing some fishing, and I was distracted by all the trash and debris on the banks. In some cases, there were some huge pieces of broken Styrofoam, plus plastic bottles, aluminum cans, diapers, and pretty much anything you can think of,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘It just doesn’t need to be like this.’ So, I went out a few times to pick stuff up, and it quickly became a calling for me.”
“In my mind it had to be done. I’m not one to just sit around, and I can only golf so much,” Don said with a laugh.
The result was Clear Texas Lakes, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that Gaston started in March 2020. The full-scale and continuous lake clean-up initiative is dedicated to monitoring and disposing of trash and debris year-round that, over time, has washed up on area lakeshores.
Think of it as similar to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Don’t Mess with Texas campaign, which spends over 40 million dollars a year on hands-on efforts to reduce roadside trash.
The problem is that unlike Don’t Mess with Texas, there previously wasn’t an initiative or organization leading the charge for cleaning and maintaining Texas lakes. Not even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) has a budget for it.
Needless to say, there is a glaring need to clean up area lakes. Not only will boat enthusiasts and lake-goers soon be out in full force for the summer and deserve to enjoy safe and clean lakes, but the overwhelming amount of trash and debris is also detrimental to wildlife. Knowing this from simply going out for a day of fishing, Gaston started as a one-person crew by taking his boat out on various lakes to address high accumulation areas that aren’t accessible by land.
He eventually approached the USACOE and, despite a brief delay due to COVID-19, received an official memorandum of understanding from the Corps to do his good work. He now has a 24-foot pontoon boat that was donated to the cause, plus nets, cables, grabbers, stabbers, and other equipment to make pick-up a little easier. His focus for right now is on Lake Lewisville and getting it into better condition for summertime and beyond.
His future plans include Lavon Lake, Lake Ray Roberts, and Grapevine Lake.
“The USACOE welcomed the idea and appreciate the help to keep the lakes clean,” he said. “We go out as much as possible depending on the weather. To date, we’ve removed more than five large dumpsters of trash.”
He added, “It’s a simple concept. You see trash, you pick it up. We all have a great feeling when leaving an area we’ve just cleaned. It’s a sense of Texas pride you might say. I personally enjoy volunteer work and have been a scout leader, baseball coach, parent council president, and more in the past. I’ve always been happy to help when there’s a need.”
What’s even better is that he’s not the only one pitching in. Gaston has grabbed attention from volunteer residents and local organizations, which includes the Lake Cities Rotary and Cross Timbers Rotary.
Gaston’s vision is to eventually have permanent crews in addition to volunteers helping the Clear Texas Lakes initiative. Except for a few monetary donations, Gaston personally funds all operating expenses and welcomes donations and support from the community. He is also actively working to secure grants and sponsorships so that the organization can maintain its efforts and continue expanding to other area lakes.
“This isn’t something that can be done in one month,” Gaston said. “It’s an ongoing effort to clean up all the trash that’s been collecting for years and then do maintenance from there. There’s a lot to be done.”