As this year’s WATER SCOUT lake wide search for any sign of the lake choking Water Chestnut plant wound down and the last reports were coming in from a handful of teams that had been delayed by weather, we, the Knee Deep Club (organizers of the WATER SCOUTS) never got our final wrap up report out to the press. I guess in a way, although it is late, this is an “all good” news story for Lake Hopatcong. First off, the two dozen WATER SCOUT teams reported an ALL CLEAR, meaning that no new sightings were reported. Even Landing Channel where several dozen plants were found & removed last year was Water Chestnut free during this year’s search.
Our delay in reporting this is also a good news story of sorts. Just as the last reports were coming in, the Knee Deep Club turned its focus on the impending shut down of the Lake Hopatcong Commission’s weed harvesting operation and the very real likelihood that all staff that had just been brought back would be laid off. This was a real crisis with a real time line and the club developed and was implementing a huge fund raising effort. Just days before we were to go public with that effort we received word that a solution with the state had been worked out. One, that according to our understanding, will not only solve the immediate crisis, but hopefully be a long term solution to the staffing and funding problems that have plagued the Commission for several years.
Confident that a viable solution had been worked out we have shut down our emergency fund raising effort and have returned the several generous donations that we had already received. While trying to launch that emergency funding effort we received tremendous support form businesses, lake groups and individuals. Through out this short lived effort one thing I witnessed time and again, is where ever we went looking for help we were greeted with enthusiastic support. Some were able to lend more support then others but not once did we hear anything but a positive response. So in that regard these two stories over lap not just because they ran into each other on our calendar, but because they represent what we at the Knee Deep Club have seen on several occasions. That is that there is a true Lake Community here at lake Hopatcong.
Early on in our response to the Water Chestnut threat we realized we, the Knee Deep Club, did not have the resources needed to tackle a thorough search of the state’s largest lake’s entire shoreline. So we reached out to other lake groups like the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club, The Antique and Classic Boat Club, Garden State Yacht Club and several individuals. With their help we were able to assemble 70 paddlers w/ kayaks & canoes to scour the entire lake in a very organized search. Once again people with different backgrounds and varied lake interests united to help protect “our lake”.
During this year’s WATER SCOUT search we lost some teams from last year due to scheduling conflicts and even some that had moved away. The best way for us to adjust was to call on existing paddlers to volunteer to cover even more areas. Many of these people I really don’t even know personally, I likely met them during one of our training seminars but if I ran into them around the lake I wouldn’t necessarily recognize them. But everyone single one of them that I asked to cover, some times nearly twice as much as they covered last year, all I ever got was an enthusiastic “any thing I can do to help”. Some of those folks (I really hope I don’t miss anyone here) included Lyn Petereson, Bob & Norma Rung, Bob & Wendy Walter, Alice Szigethy, Cindy Heaton, Donna Macalle-Holly, Tom & Genie Wiss and Joe Kolaya and his ever growing team. Even Editor Jessica Kitchins, who couldn’t help last year for obvious reasons took over an area that freed up a KDC team to spend more time in northern Woodport, which is an area of great concern.
I got the sense that there are even more WATER SCOUTS participating then I realize. My own team that covered the Jefferson Canals was joined each year by a different neighbor of team member Joel Servoss and as I traveled around the lake and spoke to lake front home owners who would comment that they saw the WATER SCOUTS in their area, “around five of them”, and I’d think I only have two people on that team. So very often the teams searching were larger than I even knew.
One email I got back from Team #11, I found very interesting and even touching. It came from Michelle Werling. I first met Michelle at last year’s training seminar, she was part of a team that I believed was simply her and her mother Renate Scanlon. I had never met her or any of her family but I feel I have a connection because back during the Knee Deep Club’s SAVE THE LAKE: 2000 campaign we started receiving numerous donations in the memory of Frank Scanlon. Back then the name didn’t ring a bell so I called up one of our trustees who shared the same last name. Frank wasn’t one of his relatives, so I checked our entire membership roles and no such name appeared there either. It was puzzling but I was eventually able to locate Frank’s family and thank them and they explained that although he wasn’t a member he appreciated everything the Knee Deep Club does for the lake.
So Michelle’s email that poignantly expressed how much she enjoyed participating in the WATER SCOUTS because for her it had become a real “Family Affair”, had special meaning to me. She not only paddled with her mother Renate but it was a family affair that spanned three generations and included grandmothers, sisters, aunts, husbands and even an occasional dog. And it was one that she took particular joy in because instead of the leisurely paddle they would typically take, these searches gave her a chance to teach and share with her two young daughters, Hannah 13 and Olivia 9, the importance of our relationship to the environment. Especially Lake Hopatcong’s environment, that obviously has meant so much to her family for generations. She spoke of how her daughters were able to “look’ and “discover” what was happening to their beloved lake. From the joyful experiences she shared as they observed a family of mink frolic along the shore in the early morning hours to the less enjoyable experiences of seeing the effect in some areas from discarded floating trash left by inconsiderate boaters. In her words, participating in the WATER SCOUTS had given her a chance to share and learn with her daughters to become better stewards of our lake’s environment and her hopes that this effort will encourage and positively influence future generations of lake families.
Maybe my use of the term Lake Community really is more in the way Michelle expressed her feelings about this effort, maybe we are all really part of the Lake Hopatcong Family. Maybe we all don’t know each other and have varied interests but I know first hand, from many different lake related efforts I’ve worked on, that there is an underlying core group of people around the lake that really care and will do what ever is needed to help protect this wonderful place.