EUREKA — As the water level of Eureka Lake dropped in preparation for extermination of European carp, the curious showed up to gaze and hunt for treasures.
The city opened the 30-acre lake's drain valve, and then decided to further reduce the water level by pumping. The result was a big, mucky shore littered with stuff.
"A lot of people have found it very interesting watching the shoreline go down and seeing what it looks like," Mayor Scott Zimmer said. "There have been many visitors walking along the shore, seeing what they can find, and some are using metal detectors.
"We aren't encouraging that, because it's hard to tell where there's going to be sediment and mud where people can get stuck. But we don't have anybody policing it, either. People need to be careful."
So far, treasure hunters have found bricks, glass containers, fishing line, lures and lead weights, clam shells, old cellphones and a broken bicycle. A few families retrieved a significant number of discs resulting from errant throws from the nearby disc golf course.
"I haven't heard of anybody finding jewelry or antiques or anything like that. Perhaps somebody has found something and just decided to keep it secret," Zimmer said with a laugh.
Don Litwiller remembers a lake draw-down decades ago in conjunction with a repair of the dam. "In what once was the swimming and beach area, this guy, I don't know who he was, found a silver dollar. It was black on the top, but when he turned it over it was shiny. He also found a lot of different coins, including coins made of silver, and a class ring."
Chuck Davidson, whose ancestors have owned land on the lake's north side since the turn of the 20th century, has been cleaning up.
"You know that old cartoon where the fisherman catches a shoe?" Davidson asked. "Well, I found a shoe with a giant hook in it."
Drawing a hooked implement through the mud, he has turned up numerous lead fishing weights. "Lead toxicity is horrible for wildlife," he noted. There's also a lot of fishing line, which is detrimental to waterfowl. "It's terrible to see a duck or goose get caught up in it," he said.
What Davidson is uncovering most are plastic shopping sacks. He's also counted about 30 trash barrels in the lake.
"People in town talk about the tractor that was left at the bottom of the lake," he said. "It's supposedly at the site of a sawmill where workers were cutting the trees that had been taken down to make room for the lake. ... I'm going to keep a close eye on that spot and see what turns up."
Lake access will be limited once the Illinois Department of Natural Resources applies a chemical to kill the carp. Zimmer said he hopes the smell of dead fish is not too strong.
Plans call for the drain valve to be closed the same day the chemical is applied, Zimmer said. Once that happens, it will be up to Mother Nature, through rainfall and runoff, to refill the lake.