When I applied for a job in Oakland in 1995, my future employer touted working in the “Beautiful Belgrade Lakes Region.” It took me almost two decades to discover that beauty, and once I did, I started working to preserve it. I hope you will join me.

To quote two local conservationists, “Everyone can do something,” and “baby steps” are perfectly acceptable.

What follows are some of the baby steps I’ve taken, and a few bigger steps to help preserve the Belgrade Lakes Watershed. What we do today will benefit the worlds of our children and grandchildren.

I dabbled in conservation while working at two state parks during summer breaks from college. But 30 years later, when I bought my first boat, I started along the path of stewardship: protecting and preserving watersheds as well as educating people about what they can do to help.

At the time I bought my boat, I didn’t live on the water. I trailered my boat to North and East ponds, and I soon discovered the associations protecting those ponds by way of their educational newsletters. Both were feel-good newsletters about people doing the right things to protect the environment. There was no haranguing; there was a sense of community.

Because I used their boat ramps and portable toilets, and because I learned from their newsletters, I sent checks to the North Pond Association and the East Pond Association for family memberships. I’ve since learned that checks from lake association members cover much of the good work of conservation. If you enjoy boating, fishing or swimming at a lake, you might consider becoming a paying member of your local lake association. It’s easy and affordable. Some donors write checks for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

I was impressed by both lake organizations. I sent occasional emails to their websites expressing a concern or asking a question, and I always heard back promptly from the president. How often does that happen?

The North Pond Association president invited me to join the board of directors with the witty line “No good deed goes unpunished,” and that upbeat charm has been a theme throughout my involvement. Not only are Maine property owners working together for the common good, but they are also invariably good humored. It’s fun, quite often, to be a conservationist.

It is also work, hard work sometimes, depending on how much time, brains and energy you have to offer. I have met and worked with scientists, biologists and full-time paid conservationists, some of whom travel to selectmen’s meetings, Augusta and Washington, D.C., to work for cleaner water and land. Sometimes their brain power and eloquence intimidate me, but mostly I am in awe of their passionate commitment to our environment.

After one year on the North Pond Association board, I was elected president. Sometimes I wonder, how on Earth did buying a 16-foot outboard lead to this? I’m a mere high school English teacher and lake association volunteer. But I have no regrets. I have learned so much.

I have learned that conservation is different people doing different things. Some get up at dawn to count loons. Some build platforms to assist nesting loons. Some don wetsuits in search of our great nemesis: invasive milfoil. Some gather bottles to raise money for courtesy boat inspections. Some write bills, and some lobby Congress. Some of us take scientists out on our boats to do water testing.

The most passionate members of the North Pond Association attend conferences, handle paperwork, write thank-you notes to all 90 dues-paying members and donors, manage money, conduct LakeSmart screenings and inspect boats. There are heroes and superheroes.

Some people worry that they might get sucked in and overworked. That is a risk, but almost all of us are volunteers. We have regular jobs and families. People understand when you say “no” from time to time. But for all the “yes” responses from conservationists, I thank you, as do countless others.

So step up if you feel like it. Write a check. Get paid to be a courtesy boat inspector or volunteer to do so. Join the board of a lake association. Pick up litter. Meet cool brainiacs who never look down on you because they know you are doing your part to support the cause.

You can be a conservationist. I know you can. Let’s do this.


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