HOPATCONG – Some members from the Lake Hopatcong Water Scouts, volunteers who meticulously patrol the shoreline in search of the water chestnut, an invasive aquatic plant that threatens the life of local waterways, were out in force on a recent Friday night.
A group of about 15 scouts met at the beach at Hopatcong State Park and with guidance from Donna Macalle-Holly, Lake Hopatcong Foundation Coordinator and Grants Administrator and Chris Mikolajczyk, a certified lake manager from Princeton Hydro, set out along the shore into Landing Channel.
“You have to be right on top of it to see it,” said Mikolajczyk of the plant. “This lake is very lucky it’s not here yet.” A small group of plants was discovered and removed from Landing Channel in 2010.
The outing with Mikolajczyk also included a lesson on plant identification and how to check for water clarity using a Secchi disk. The weighted black and white disk is attached to rope and lowered into the water. When the disc is just slightly visible a measurement of the rope is taken, then its lowered to a depth at which it disappears. The Secchi disk measurement is the average of the two measurements.
“Water clarity is good and bad,” said Mikolajczyk. “Good clarity and people think the water is clean and it usually is, but it also promotes vegetation growth, which can be bad.”
The group also learned to identify the different aquatic plants that grow in Lake Hopatcong. Some, like Tape Grass, are native to the lake. But others, like Eurasian Watermilfoil, have found their way into the lake and have become part of the eco system. Mikolajczyk is trying to prevent that from happening with the water chestnut.
‘The Knee Deep Club can’t be given enough credit for organizing the Water Scouts program here. The lake is clean because this group is large and organized,” he said. The Lake Hopatcong Foundation is now overseeing the Water Scouts program. According to Mikolajczyk, nearby Lake Shawnee is “very organized” and “very proactive” when it comes to battling invasive species and protecting water quality.
There are a number of private lakes in Morris and Sussex counties that Princeton Hydro is monitoring for water chestnut. Nothing has been discovered—yet.
“They’ve been warned,” said Mikolajczyk who said the plant is present in the state. Lake Musconetcong is battling a major invasion now. Other nearby lakes, Lake Mohawk in Sparta and Culver Lake in Frankford, are reported to be clear of water chestnut.
Mikolajczyk can only hope that the many lakes in New Jersey and their associations get as organized as those in New York and Pennsylvania. Both states have powerful institutions that help bring together individual associations to do battle against invasive species and poor water quality.
“These organizations (New York State Federation of Lake Associations, Inc. and Pennsylvania Lake Management Society) are very active, very aggressive. New Jersey has the Coalition of Lake Associations but not a lot of the private lakes are members,” he said.
Until that happens, Mikolajczyk believes that a volunteer organization like the Water Scouts is the only hope.
“The key is volunteer dedication. We can’t let it fad away.”