Joanna Cloud remembers soon after she was hired in August 2010 talking about the Lake Lanier Association’s signature event, the annual Shore Sweep, a massive cleanup of the lake’s shoreline, with some board members.
There was a lot of talk about a social gathering after the event, such as who was bringing the hot dogs, ketchup and mustard.
“And I remember thinking, ‘Who is actually shore sweeping here?’” Cloud said in an interview last week at Gainesville’s Longwood Park, before her last day, Friday, May 10, leading the group as executive director. “It was just a mindset thing, not that we don’t like a party.”
Much changed in the years after Cloud took the reins. The group steadily became more focused on weighty topics facing Lanier, such as water quality and consumption, boating safety, abandoned vessels and island shore erosion.
“I’d like to think I put us on the map in the local community,” Cloud said.
“There was a lot of advocacy but not a lot of action,” board of directors president John Barker said of LLA before Cloud’s arrival. “Joanna turned advocacy and passion into action, and she got things done.”
Praise for her work rolled in last week from people she worked with, including state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville.
“The dedication, determination and integrity demonstrated by (her) in her service to the Lake Lanier Association is truly remarkable,” he said. “Joanna has served the individuals, communities and region of Northeast Georgia with honor, integrity and intellect.”
He went on to say that many people in the region or state “will never know her name, much less her accomplishments and contributions with regard to the water and environmental quality of our region and our state.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, mentioned Cloud in the Congressional Record, the official record of the proceedings and debates of Congress.
“Joanna's hard work and dedication over the past decade helped ensure the over 4 million people in the surrounding area would continue to have access to clean drinking water, and thanks to her leadership, families in Northeast Georgia will be able to continue enjoying Lake Lanier for many years to come,” Collins said.
Cloud, who is joining the sales team in the Gainesville office of Marine Specialties, Inc., was especially passionate about removing abandoned boats and docks from the lake.
She worked with state lawmakers to get financial help in the effort.
Some 60 reports of abandoned and rundown docks and boats on Lake Lanier were resolved between 2015 and 2018, association officials have said.
During that time, Cloud kept a record of all vessels and docks she found — many of which were either sunken or sinking fast — and the progress made on each one’s removal.
“These vessels and docks are a blight on our community,” Cloud said in a September 2015 tour of neglected sites. “They affect water quality — the boats, especially — as they deteriorate. They’ve got batteries, oil and gasoline in them. And this is our reservoir, our drinking water for 4 million-plus people.”
Even in the final weeks of her tenure, Cloud was battling another concern among boaters — underwater footings at the newly opened Boling Bridge, which spans the Chestatee River at the Hall-Forsyth border.
The footings, which stick outward from the base of the columns under the bridge, have an elevation of 1,073.19 to 1,073.48 feet above sea level. That’s more than 2 feet above the summer full pool of 1,071 feet, but they’ve been underwater due to heavy rains in 2019.
“This is a personal property concern, a personal safety concern,” Cloud has said.
“When I came into (this) job,” Cloud said, reflecting on her tenure, “a big focus of mine was we are here to serve the community. We need to be out and about networking, trying to figure out what people want from us.”
She coined the group’s logo “Full lake, clean lake, safe lake.”
Initially, “it was just an easy tagline and I thought it would look good on emails,” but it seemed to fit the mission of the organization.
“There’s 30,000 vessels registered around Lake Lanier. That’s 30,000 people right there who are very interested in seeing the lake operate optimally,” Cloud said.
Also, under her watch, the group started a program placing solar lights on hazard markers on Lanier for boating safety and putting heavy rocks on the edges of lake islands to help control erosion.
Cloud told The Times she believes her successor will have issues to watch moving forward, particularly runoff as areas around the lake continue to develop.
“I think erosion and sedimentation are really staring us down right now,” she said. “As a community, we’ve got to get our hands around it. What is appropriate? How do you convince the developers that (runoff) is really a big problem when it gets in the water?”
Barker is connected to Cloud because of her activism.
“She’s the one who got me involved,” he said. “She lent a sympathetic ear when I was trying to remove an abandoned houseboat. She was the only one willing to work with me. Between the two of us, we were able to muscle the thing out of there.”
Barker hopes to find her replacement soon, but “it’s a tough fit,” he said of matching the right person to the job.
That person must “want this opportunity,” he said. “It’s a job where you can build your presence in the community. If you want to be part of the community and have a passion for the lake, it’s a pretty good job.”
And even though Cloud has moved on to another business venture, she still will have a toe in the lake.
She would like to see Shore Sweep expanded to include beautification, “an idea that’s been floating in my head for years now.”
“How cool would it be in the springtime to be driving around and see this huge stand of rhododendron blooming on an island?” Cloud said.
She’s looking at pursuing a grant for the effort. If it comes through, she said, “I’ll take that as my volunteer job for Shore Sweep.”
Cloud said that offer got a response from Barker, who told her, “I knew you’d be back some way, somehow.”