I had the good fortune in late June to spend a week on Long Pond in Mt. Vernon, Maine. It is one of seven lakes that comprise the Belgrade Lakes Region in Maine. And it’s where the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond” was based. That has always been one of my favorite movies (which won 3 Academy Awards, by the way) I’ve had a desire to visit the area most of my life.
Most folks up here have a second home that has been in the family for generations and that they affectionately call their “camp.” For many “real Mainahs”, that means it’s a rustic, off-the grid, cabin that is on one of the many, many inland lakes we have in our state. But for others, it can be a bit fancier, with running water, electricity and indoor plumbing. We don’t actually have one of our own, but we enjoy renting for a long-weekend or a week vacation at one through HomeAway.com or Airbnb.com every year. It’s a great way to affordably enjoy the Maine lake experience.
In Maine, they call it “going upta camp.” Not having grown up in Maine, I was taken back a bit the first time I heard that phrase. My experience with going to camp was as a child and it meant that I was dropped off at a Girl Scout camp for a couple of weeks in the middle of a smoldering summer with a bunch of other pre-teens while my parents enjoyed some solitude. So it struck me as odd that grown adults were telling me they were going up to camp. But I have grown to appreciate this rich Maine tradition.
The Belgrade Lakes are truly beautiful. The water on Long Pond was crystal clear and from what I understand, all the Belgrade lakes have excellent fishing year-round. You can find Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Salmon, Smelt, Pickerel, Northern Pike and White Perch. I can attest that our neighborhood Great Blue Heron thought the fishing on Long Pond was second to none.
Not surprisingly (and somewhat unfortunately) because it is such a beautiful area, there are a lot of camps in close proximity to each other around Long Pond. I assume the other 6 lakes in the region are struggling with the same amount of lakefront development. According to an article by Dr. Denise Bruesewitz at Colby College, Maine lakes “are facing increasing pressures from human activities, and recent studies show that water quality of many Maine lakes is in decline.” In Maine and across New England, a species of cyanobacteria called Gloeotrichia echinulata (and sadly, no, it’s not a new tasty enchilada dish) is increasingly common in low nutrient lakes. Historically, cyanobacteria, also called “blue-green algae,” have been associated with algal blooms in the nutrient rich (eutrophic) lakes. So the appearance of the sometimes toxic phylum of bacteria in nutrient poor (oligotrophic-mesotrophic) lakes is disturbing. And much to my dismay, the article mentions that it typically occurs in “low nutrient systems like Long Pond.” Sigh.
The good news is that the Maine Water Resources Research Institute is funding a research project by Colby College and Bigelow Laboratory to take a closer look at the bacterial blooms on Long Pond and Great Pond this summer. And many camp owners are doing their best to keep the lakes clean and healthy through the LakeSmart Program that was introduced by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2004 and is currently run by the Maine Lakes Society. While kayaking around Long Pond, my partner and I noticed several camps that had LakeSmart signs on their property so I did a little research into the program.
The LakeSmart Program relies on the fact that human behavior is strongly influenced by the behavior of their friends, families, and neighbors. It a form of recognition for lakefront property owners who maintain their shorefront sustainably, managing stormwater on site and prevent flows of septic effluent from entering the lakes. The Maine Lakes Society believes that the program will “exemplify what lake-friendly living looks like, arouse interest that initiates education, and motivate similar behavior by other members of the lakeside community.” As I wrote about in a blog last summer (The Benefits of “Show” vs “Tell”) this can be a very effective strategy and inexpensive because it leverages the power and influence of stakeholders in the community to influence others’ behavior. And it has been incredibly successful. Since the Maine Lakes Society assumed administration of the program in 2009, it has grown 300% and administration costs have been cut in half.
So when you are thinking about ways to improve your wetland management programs, don’t discount the power of peers. Finding one or two local champions for your cause can make a huge difference. We can’t always influence the behavior of those we don’t know, but we can often do so with those who are close to us. So For Peat’s Sake, start small and build relationships with a few key leaders in the community. The trust and momentum that you build with them can often be a very effective outreach effort.