In early June 2010, Stacey Sellaro was in her kayak paddling around Landing Channel, looking for the water chestnut plant, an invasive species that is a threat not only to Lake Hopatcong but to all local waterways, and a plant that at the time, was choking 30 percent of Lake Musconetcong, which is located just a mile and a quarter down river from Lake Hopatcong.
Spotted among the lily pads, floating algae and other water vegetation was one lone water chestnut plant. Trained as a water scout by the Knee Deep Club, Sellaro tagged the plant with a bright pink ribbon, tagged the shoreline, took pictures of the plant and the shoreline, and called Tim Clancy, the Knee Deep Club environmental specialist, who within a couple of hours of the sighting, went to investigate. He found and removed multiple plants. A follow up trip days later yielded more plants. A third trip, this time with a half dozen or so other kayakers, finally wiped out the aggressive species.
The group removed a total of 50 plants, said Clancy. All would barely fill a laundry basket but left unchecked, would have dropped upwards of 10,000 seeds by the following year he said. Clancy feels certain that if these plants hadn’t been found and removed, that by now, the water chestnut would have filled the lake from the original spot in Landing Channel all the way to Hopatcong State Park.
The discovery was both good and bad said Clancy. As bad as it was to find it, he said, the discovery re-energized the rest of the water scouts who went back out on the water to double check their areas. Everybody wanted to make sure their areas were clean. No one wanted to be the one who missed one plant he said.
Clancy is unyielding in his belief that the water chestnut is a “perpetual threat” to Lake Hopatcong and all surrounding waterways. “Just because we found it three years ago and haven’t seen it since doesn’t mean it will never come back,” he said, reiterating that the diligence and the dedication of the water scouts is the only way to make sure the plant stays out of the lake. The plant can be transported multiple ways, including by vessels launching into the lake and by water fowl migrating from lake to lake.
Recently, the Knee Deep Club has transitioned the water scout program from their organization to the Lake Hopatcong Foundation. According to Jessica Murphy, president of the Foundation, the transition has been seamless, adding that having the water scouts is an integral part of the Foundation’s overall Water Quality Team.
“We’re so thankful for the Knee Deep Club and all that they’ve done to get this effort under way. The Lake Hopatcong Foundation’s mission is broad but at the heart of it is the health of the lake itself,” said Murphy. “These volunteers are literally on the front lines, looking to protect and preserve the health of the lake’s eco system and the quality of the water,” she added. Currently there are 60 water scouts registered with the Foundation, scouring the entire lake, which has been divided into just over 20 zones.
The Foundation is hosting three water scout training sessions. In mid-May, Chris Mikolajczyk, a certified lake manager from Princeton Hydro, led an informative training session with about two dozen volunteers from around the lake in attendance, concentrating on identification of invasive species, tagging and ultimately removal. In addition to the water chestnut, volunteers were schooled on other species that threaten the lake, like fan wort and hyrdrilla, neither of which has been seen in Lake Hopatcong yet.
In late June, the Foundation will host two in-the-water training sessions. The first will be on Friday, June 28. It will launch at 4:30pm from Hopatcong State Park and head into Landing Channel. This training session will be followed by a social gathering at Alice’s Restaurant in Nolan’s Point. On Saturday morning another training session will take place in the canals in Jefferson. Anyone is invited to join one or both training session, said Murphy.
According to Donna Macalle-Holly, Coordinator and Grants Administrator for the Foundation, the lake has been split into zones and scouts will systematically patrol each zone so as to insure the entire lake gets covered. In some instances areas will be scouted by multiple teams, said Macalle-Holly. Anyone interested in becoming a water scout can contact Macalle-Holly by going to their website, www.lakehopatcongfoundation.org.
First time scouts Lou Daniels and Jen and Anthony Barone have already begun to search. Living in the Wildwood Acres section of Hopatcong, Daniels and the Barones were both eager and apprehensive as they glided along the shoreline, leaving from Pebble Beach and heading toward Byram Cove.
“I want to be the person that finds it,” said Jen, even though she knows that if she finds it, it means bad news for the lake.
Daniels, according to Jen, is very knowledgeable about the lake, especially with landmarks and lake vegetation, and can easily identify
all the aquatic vegetation. He is most concerned though, with the canal areas of the lake, where the water is shallow, where the water chestnut could easily be hidden among other vegetation, he said.
But Clancy is "confident that if it's found it will be only first or second year growth," and not old growth plants. And, said Macalle-Holly, without the water scouts looking for water chestnut, "we could literally loose the shallow areas of the lake" if the plant made its way back into the lake and is not removed properly, she said.