LEICESTER — Faced with the relentless encroachment of milfoil and unpredictable financial assistance from the state to battle that problem, the Lake Dunmore/Fern Lake Association (LDFLA) is seeking to raise at least $1.725 million to permanently endow the ongoing effort to clear nuisance aquatic weeds from the two bodies of water.
“This would provide the nucleus of a successful program today, and into the future,” LDFLA Treasurer Jay Michael said on Monday of that new campaign, called “Lakes Alive — Now and Forever.”
“We are trying to position the association for its next 75 years.”
The Lake Dunmore Improvement Association was established in 1938 to “control mosquitoes, properly dispose of garbage, take appropriate sanitary measures, prevent pollution, preserve the natural beauty of the lakeshores and roadsides, and enhance the land as a vacation/resort option.”
The association grew to include Fern Lake in 1971 and took up a new mission in 1988, with the discovery of milfoil. The invasive weed has unfortunately taken root in many Vermont lakes and ponds, multiplying at an alarming rate. The weeds become so dense in some locations that they mat on the surface of the water, impeding swimming, boating and other forms of recreation.
Lake associations around the state have battled milfoil primarily through hand pulling and harvesting. Some associations have introduced weed munching weevils, while others have resorted to chemical treatments.
Allen Wilson is the current director of the LDFLA’s milfoil eradication program. It’s a program that began modestly in 1989 with some volunteer “pullers.” It grew to two seasonal employees in 1994, then to five hired workers by 1999 who tried to keep pace with the alarming proliferation of milfoil.
Wilson noted that during the early years, the pullers used to remove 20 to 30 bushels of milfoil out of the lakes each year. But Mother Nature upped the ante considerably in 2008, an especially rainy year that caused bad flooding in the lake that fueled accelerated growth. This prompted the LDFLA to acquire the first of two suction harvesters to help step up the milfoil removal efforts. The association brought on additional paid staff (for a total of eight), including a supervisor.
The increased commitment has paid some big dividends. The crew removed a combined total of around 5,000 bushels of milfoil from the two lakes last year.
“The good news is, we got ahead of it,” Wilson said, noting “manageable levels” of milfoil in both lakes right now.
But the bad news is, the bigger effort has come at a substantial cost, one that risks putting the program in a deficit or forcing it to pare back services. A budget once in the $34,000 range has now climbed to around $135,000, a sum LDFLA members said is necessary to attack milfoil springing up at new locations and to revisit previously cleared areas where it is regenerating.
“LDFLA’s previous reserves have been tapped to cover rising expenses in recent years,” reads an association narrative that seeks to make the case for the “Lakes Alive” campaign.
To make matters worse, the state has been unable to maintain consistent financial support for local milfoil eradication programs. Michael explained the state has a pot of money annually funded through motorboat registrations and federal funds. This money used to be enough to subsidize around 70 percent of the LDFLA’s milfoil program. This year’s award of $28,000 will cover around 20 percent of the program. Last year, the association received $55,000 from the state. Michael suspects the decreasing state funds are a result of an increasing number of groups requesting the money, which also has to be shared with mosquito control programs.
“We are sharing a pool of money that is not growing dramatically,” Michael said. “There is an increasing number of lakes where (milfoil) is a problem, as well as lakes where the problem is getting worse.”
Leicester and Salisbury each contribute $16,125 per year toward the LDFLA milfoil program. That amount, coupled with $28,000 from the state, adds up to $60,250 toward this year’s budget. The $60,250 will be supplemented by dues from association members and proceeds from some of the LDFLA’s fundraising events, such as the Dunmore Dip Ice Out Contest.
The LDFLA has 365 members, who are each asked to chip in at least $75 per year in dues. Some of the larger property owners and area businesses contribute more. Still, the combined revenue sources are again not expected to keep pace with expenses for this year’s milfoil program, LDFLA officials said. Budget projections indicate a $40,000 income shortfall by 2018. The forecast also indicates the association’s cash reserves will be completely depleted by the end of 2016 unless money is raised to address budget shortfalls between now and then.
“The lesson here is there needs to be a source (of program funds) we can control,” Michael said.
So LDFLA Association leaders came up with the idea for a “Lakes Alive” fund.
“With the augmented program costs expected to remain high for the foreseeable future, there is urgency to develop funding plans that allow LDFLA to routinely stay ahead of invasive species growth and allow the Association to focus on bettering the lakes, not merely maintaining them,” the association’s Lakes Alive campaign pitch states.
Specifically, Lakes Alive calls for:
• Creation of a “Lakes Preservation Fund” at $1,250,000. Organizers estimate the preserved principal can generate an annual income of $50,000 per year by 2018. This is expected to provide $40,000 for current operations or capital needs and allow for reinvestment of the remaining funds to sustain the fund over time.
• Raising $175,000 in additional operating funds, to be spent during the next five years to sustain education programs, eradication of milfoil and maintenance of water quality in the lakes.
• Raising $300,000 for future equipment purchases and other capital expenses.
Association leaders have for the past several months been active in a “silent phase” of the campaign that Michael said has achieved “significant progress,” with the Keewaydin Foundation and LDFLA leaders emerging as key contributors. Michael and his colleagues will release more details at a kickoff event that will be held this Sunday, July 28, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Waterhouse’s Marina Tavern in Salisbury. Residents Rob and Chris Naylor are chairing the $1.725 million campaign.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the campaign can make a check out to the LDFLA and send it to P.O. Box 14, Salisbury, VT 05769. The check should bear “Lakes Alive campaign” on the subject line.
Meanwhile, association members are also focusing on other lake issues, as milfoil is not the only threat to the state’s waterways.
“There are other invasives that might be coming,” association President Sue Potter noted.
The LDFLA is keeping tabs on other potential threats, such as zebra mussels and water chestnuts. Pollution runoff, land management, the impacts of lakeshore development and insect control programs are also issues the association will be following through the Legislature and elsewhere. The association’s website can be found at ldfla.com.
But the LDFLA is not all business. Potter noted the group has an annual picnic on the lake (at Keewaydin). Lake-area artists also hold an exhibit at Middlebury’s Edgewater Gallery each year.
“We’re doing a lot, and it’s totally volunteer,” Potter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].