Looking after Lake Wylie isn’t a contest, but C.D. Collins would earn a pretty high seed if it were.
Collins moved to his waterfront home 56 years ago on the Belmont side near York County. He joined the new Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation 18 years ago, an environmental watchdog group, which annually holds a clean-up event. Registration for starts this week for the May 21 event.
It’s to the point where, apart from hauling his grandchildren for family time, Collins forgets he can take a boat ride just to enjoy it.
“Every time I go out on the lake,” he said, “I’m looking for problems.”
Over time, his passions for boating and looking out for “the river” merged. It started with a cast-aside boat here or there, and Collins realized he could take boats others didn’t want and fix them up.
“In 56 years, I have owned a great many boats and worked on them myself,” he said.
He can’t recall how long he’s been at it, repairing donated boats and selling them. He knows he hasn’t pocketed a dime. All the money from sales goes to the foundation.
The arrangement isn’t easy, but it works. Because of its nonprofit tax status, the foundation is an appealing recipient for donations. Because many in the foundation are boaters, many donations have come from like-minded water watchers and friends.
“They’re wanting to help us any way they can,” Collins said.
Recently, Collins found help in Chuck Myers, head of the Mountain Island Lake Covekeepers. He came down for his third trip Thursday to help Collins work on the four boats next in line for sale.
Myers said the issues facing Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for Charlotte, mirror Lake Wylie – runoff from construction sites, sedimentation, overall water quality.
Both men are retired, both in their 70s. Both have a long-lasting love for boating, and clear reminders of how important environmental work can be. They just look at their crew when they launch their boats.
“I’ve got three grandkids living with me, so I’ve got to have something to keep them busy,” Myers said.
As the area grows, so does the number of boats coming in for donations. Collins used to have one or two at a time. Now he has four, plus a personal watercraft he’s fixing up for Covekeeper patrols. He won’t be selling that one. Instead, he’s looking for a trailer and port donation.
“Using this, we can get to areas we’ve never been able to get to before,” Collins said.
With more boats comes more opportunity, but also more challenges.
“I don’t have trailers for any of them, but I can help transport them on my trailers,” Collins said.
Collins can’t count how many hours he’s put into repair over the years. He’d rather not count the money poured into boat trailers. Close to a half dozen sit on his property just for transporting different types of donated boats.
Right now he has three 24-footers, all pontoons built from 1990 to 1999. He has a 1986 bowrider. Occasionally a boat comes in great shape. All of them, Collins said, leave that way.
“They usually aren’t in condition where they’re ready to go when we get them,” he said.
Late Thursday, an ideal day for boating, Collins lay almost hidden in the bottom of a donated pontoon, tinkering to get it presentable and in good running order. He put his hands into the outer workings of an outboard engine, inches from the lake he loves so much but far from thoughts of relaxing on it.
That same day, the foundation sorted out a move from its home of many years to another in Charlotte.
“We’re moving uptown,” Collins said. “Our rent is going up, and we can always use any funds we can get our hands on.”
John Marks: 803-831-8166
What’s for sale?
1999 Harris-Kayote pontoon, 24-foot with a 100 horsepower Mercury engine
1999 Harris pontoon, 24-foot with a 55 horsepower Johnson engine
1990 Crest pontoon, 24-foot with a 70 horsepower Johnson engine
1986 Searay bowrider with a V8 engine
For more on boats for sale for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, or to donate items, call 704-825-3588 or 704-616-6009.