It happened just by chance.
Tim Clancy and Chris Smith, paddling together in a borrowed canoe and both veteran Lake Hopatcong Water Scouts, had not even begun to scour the surface of water near the east shoreline of Swartswood Lake. They were talking and laughing about their college days, just floating near the grassy edge, when Clancy glanced into the water and saw one small rosette. He couldn’t believe it. Then he saw one or two more.
A week earlier Clancy heard that Swartswood Lake in Sussex County found the invasive and very aggressive water chestnut plant so he offered his help. The plant was originally spotted on July 19, by a crew from Aquatic Analysts, Inc., who were on the lake in a weed harvester, mulching their way through a thick patch of American Lotus plants when they spotted the water chestnut.
“The crews from Aquatic Analysts are aware of the plant and always on the lookout for it,” said Randy Sprague, technical director of Swartswood Lakes and Watershed Association. “They found a bed about ten feet by fifteen feet. Once they found it we were under intense time pressure to remove it before the seeds dropped. It was hand pulled from the lake.”
Clancy’s involvement began when the association asked him to educate volunteers about the plant and how to scout the rest of the lake, similar to what he did four years ago when he founded the Water Scouts program at Lake Hopatcong. 50 volunteers showed up for the first meeting, held August 1. Clancy led the presentation that included representatives from the Knee Deep Club and the Water Scouts. The very next day, after dividing lake into zones, groups of volunteers in kayaks and canoes set out and began systematically scouring the surface of the 520-acre lake. Almost all of the scouting was complete by the end of the second day. The third day after the meeting, Clancy, Smith and Knee Deep members Pete and Emily Rathjens from Wharton met Swartswood Lake resident and volunteer Joel Pinsker to finish scouting the last zone, Zone 1.
Within minutes of meeting Pinsker in his kayak and the Rathjens in a canoe, Clancy and Smith, a Fredon Twp. resident, floated right next to a rosette.
Using an aluminum pole, Clancy dislodged the plant from the sandy bottom of the lake, being careful not to disturb the seedpod. He pulled four rosettes that were part of one plant that had ten-plus fully formed seeds.
He is optimistically cautious that there are no other plants in the lake but recommends “re-inspecting the area where the original colony was spotted and along the east shore between Neldens Brook and State Park because of prevailing winds.” He also recommends looking around the rest of the lake until the end of the week and to revisit the infected areas early next year. Clancy is convinced the thickness of the lotus field helped contain the water chestnut plant.
“That lotus is a double-edged sword. They don’t love it but in may have helped trap that larger mass that was found and stopped the spread of the water chestnut,” said Clancy who is still bemused that he found a plant in the water.
“Four years of searching miles of my lake and this is the only plant I’ve ever found and it happened in the first minutes of the search,” he said.
Tim Clancy, front right, looking at one of four rosettes he found while searching for the water chestnut plant on Swartswood Lake.