Claeys helped his own cause Thursday, recycling his 10-foot-tall Christmas tree through the Army Corps of Engineers. Donated evergreens will be submerged around fishing piers and staged at boat ramps to enhance the lake’s fish habitat.
So far, 40 families have followed Claeys lead in a local holiday tradition that has lasted more than 20 years. Last season, between 1,000 and 1,200 real Christmas trees were collected.
The effort continues through Jan. 8 at Riverside Middle School on Furys Ferry Road in Evans.
“It’s an arduous task making sure that the lake’s fish habitat remains vibrant and strong,” said Claeys, dropping off his used tree with his son, John Jr., at the school Thursday. “If they’ll do it, that’s great. The least we can do is help make the job easier.”
The Claeyses own a home on Thurmond Lake and estimate that they fish 50 times a year.
Jamie Sykes, a Corps of Engineers fisheries biologist, said the used Christmas trees attract smaller fish by providing a covered area where they can feed on algae, which grows inside the evergreen’s needles and branches.
“These small fish attract larger species, thus creating an enticing ‘hot spot’ for anglers,” Sykes said.
All decorations such as tinsel, lights, garland and bulbs must be removed from the trees, Sykes said.
Dumping of wireframe wreaths, yard debris and household trash at the site is prohibited.
Claeys, whose family disposes of its tree the morning after Christmas, said he was surprised to see so many families have already donated trees.
Gordon Lawson, who lives in Evans off Furys Ferry Road, said he was not shocked by the early count.
“Looks like a lot of people beat us this year,” said Lawson, whose family has donated a tree to the Army Corps of Engineers for 10 years. “We get rid of ours before we leave town to visit family in Tennessee.”
Lawson said recycling the tree helps the environment by feeding local wildlife and saving space in area landfills.
“Fish and other aquatic species need these areas for cover,” said Ken Boyd, a wildlife biologist with the Thurmond Lake office. “Using recycled Christmas trees allows us to supplement our existing underwater structures on the lake. We also mark these areas around the lake. Most folks who fish Thurmond Lake with any frequency know that these areas are a good place to catch a fish.”