For three days in 2016, 20 volunteers and six technical support field leaders spread out over the North Pond watershed to conduct a survey. We worked with military precision, meeting early for 90 minutes of training, dividing into teams, then heading out for one or more of six predetermined sectors.

I didn’t notice anyone in boots, but we were doing boots-on-the-ground work. There’s a lot to be said about winning the hearts and minds of our fellow lake lovers, and most of the education and outreach we conservationists do is just that. But when 45 years of water quality data shows that water quality is below average, action is called for.

We had a lot of work to do — the watershed is 15 square miles. But our team was passionate about the work. Many volunteers and one team leader live on another of the seven Belgrade Lakes, all connected by water. Unlike Vegas, what happens in one lake doesn’t stay in one lake.

Driving in unmarked cars and armed with digital cameras, GPS units, and standardized watershed field survey forms, our work went mostly unnoticed. We planned the survey for the fall when most property owners, summer folk, had returned to their year-round homes. We didn’t want to intrude on summer vacationers.

We had done our research and homework. We sent letters to all property owners explaining the survey and asking their permission to visit their properties. Out of 500 land owners, only 22 declined participation.

It is remarkable that most property owners allowed us access without them being home. More and more people are learning of the threats to water quality, and, as good citizens, they are working with lake associations and trusting us. One homeowner who did not invite us on his property invited us to survey from the water. Compromise works.

Some conservationists might blanch at the use of a military metaphor for this column. But platoons of volunteers, led by experts, have surveyed all the Belgrade Lakes, often more than once. Combined, we are a good-intentioned army fighting the good fight for the future enjoyment of our fellow citizens. Like the military, we used air and “sea” support (aerial photography and boat tours of the lakes).

The dictionary says to “fight” is “to strive vigorously and resolutely.” We conservationists are fighting for the boaters, fishermen, and swimmers of today and the future. We are fighting to teach the paradox that rain that helps fill our lakes also threatens them with nonpoint source pollution. We are striving to teach the relatively simple and affordable steps property owners can take to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

That’s what the watershed surveys are all about. We don’t point fingers — we inform, educate and offer our assistance. It feels great to team with people who share a goal and to work toward that goal. Along the way, we get to meet and work with neighbors and make new friends. Not a bad “job benefit.”

When I’m swimming, boating, and fishing, I rarely see conservationists at work. That’s the point of this column. Most people might not see or know of our extensive, well-calibrated, and ongoing work.

Taking care of a lake is like taking care of a loved one who might be at risk in some way or whose health has been compromised. People love their lakes, and they want to help. Threats to human health are studied, diagnosed, and treated. That’s what conservationists do for the lakes you love.

We got lucky on the three days of the North Pond survey, as the weather cooperated. We got some sun, smelled the pine needles, saw some wildlife, and ate a free lunch to boot. Oh, and we identified 135 sites of potential nonpoint source pollution.

For two years now, we have been teaming with local towns, local conservation organizations, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and property owners to lesson or eradicate those threats to North Pond. It’s been an amazing and uplifting process.

“We done good,” to quote my first boss, when I became a state park worker in the 1970s. We keep making progress, but our challenges continue to grow as well. Please consider joining our team. For the price of a few fishing lures, you can join a lake association. Or, simply, give a day or two or more in the field or on the water.

The feeling of looking at a lake that you are nurturing is priceless.

Doug “Woody” Woodsum, former president of North Pond Association, wrote this on behalf of the Lake Trust, which represents the lake organizations of the seven Belgrade Lakes.

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