On Saturday we celebrate Earth Day. All across our state, in our communities, schools and conservation organizations, people are planning projects to improve our environment. Volunteers will gather to clean up local parks, hiking trails, boat landings, beaches and summer camps for disabled children and veterans. Perhaps some volunteers will prepare the soil for a community garden, plant trees or repair eroded shorelines on our lakes and streams after ice out.

The truth is we see many acts of generosity throughout the seasons. The simple act of shoveling your neighbor’s steps, helping a friend to take in wood for the winter or picking up litter while taking a walk makes you a volunteer. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders to make a difference.

There are many opportunities to volunteer within your own community. Helping out at a soup kitchen, food pantry, animal shelter, being a part of the PTA, running in a fundraising 5K or becoming a board member for a conservation group are just the beginning of the many volunteer projects and organizations out there.

Our volunteer fire departments and rescue teams certainly are appreciated. These men and women spend hours training to be the best that they can be. Their acts of selflessness are all because they want to better their communities and keep people safe. Even local governments are partly run by volunteers. Selectmen, planning boards and budget committees spend a great deal of time managing the business of small towns for little or no compensation. They willingly choose to help make their communities become better places to live.

Our many lakes, streams and rivers already make our towns and villages better places to live. Maine has so many bodies of water we sometimes take them for granted. We forget to appreciate all the benefits of being surrounded by so much natural beauty. Our lakes provide profound scenic views, recreation, fishing and hunting, as well as vital water sources. Our lakes are also an important economic resource, generating more than $3.5 billion in economic activity in Maine each year, according to the Maine Lakes Society.

As a volunteer in the Belgrade Lakes region in central Maine, I know for a fact that there are many ways to help protect and preserve our lakes and the land around them. Volunteer courtesy boat inspectors at public boat landings help keep invasive aquatic plants out of our lakes by inspecting boats and trailers for any plant fragments. Invasive plant patrollers are out on the water in canoes and kayaks searching for invasive species. Lake monitors are testing the water quality for indications of potential algae blooms and pollutants. LakeSmart screeners are trained to help lakeside property owners find ways to curtail erosion and runoff to keep our lakes clean and clear. Volunteer stewards groom trails in the Kennebec Highlands for hikers and cross-country skiers.

They know that by saving and protecting the land around the lakes and streams in the Belgrades, they are creating a healthy ecosystem. The success and effectiveness of all these volunteer programs have helped to create an extraordinary place in central Maine. Without volunteers, these programs would not be sustainable financially, because the number of hours put in by volunteers would be hard to match.

Volunteering to educate people in and around watershed communities can be the most gratifying of all. Letting people know that our lakes are fragile and need constant care and showing them ways to do that builds alliances and friendships. Those new to conservation often become stewards themselves and join other volunteers to protect and preserve the waters around them. They too experience an amazing feeling that they have done something generous, purposeful and, yes, important. Knowing that they have made a difference is truly a reward in itself.

Earth Day provides a catalyst for volunteer projects across our state. It promotes clean air, clear water and robust natural landscapes. This in turn leads to healthy, prosperous communities. So, won’t you please consider becoming a volunteer by contacting your school, town office or local lake association? You really can make a difference.

Linda Rice, of Smithfield, is a board member of the North Pond Association.

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