At the risk of losing my street cred as a conservationist, I have two small confessions to make. My larger point is what I hope will be the most memorable part of this column.

Walking up my cellar steps one day, I noticed the aquatic plant identification cards given to me for help with identifying and abating invasive species in the Belgrade Lakes. Clipped on a carabiner, the cards hung from a nail.

But they should have been in my boat bag for easy access during my many outings on the Belgrades.

“Am I a fair-weather conservationist?” I wondered. That fear led to remembering trailering my boat one early evening in the fall. It was after a duck hunt, and I was chilled to the bone after sitting for hours before the long trip back to the boat launch.

There was no courtesy boat inspector on duty, and I should have checked my boat and trailer for invasive species. I did not — I wanted to be in a warm vehicle on my way to Day’s General Store for hot coffee.

Before I could beat myself up too badly for these lapses, I remembered that a great deal of conservation work in the Belgrades is, literally, fair-weather conservation; many hardworking conservationists are summer people. They live out of state or outside the Belgrade Lakes region and head “upta camp” during the summer, when Maine’s weather is most fair for being on the water.

The phrase “fair weather” has a negative connotation. Fair-weather fans abandon losing teams. Fair weather friends can’t always be relied upon. But many “fair-weather” conservationists have homes, families, and jobs away from the Belgrades, and those obligations are understandable priorities.

I live in The Belgrades but, unlike most of the conservationists I work with, I don’t have a camp or a home on a lake. I have trailered my boat to most local lakes, and I’ve joined three lake associations to help finance their work.

As 2020 gets underway, people are thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Why not try getting involved in conservation? For $15, you can join a lake association. Resolve to support local conservation efforts, write a check, and bingo, you’ve upheld your resolution.

But why stop there? Come summer, invite a LakeSmart visit to your waterfront camp. LakeSmart awards are the gold medals of conservation.

Or volunteer to be a courtesy boat inspector for a few hours or days a week (or get hired and paid to work with boaters at boat ramps). Learn how to identify invasive plants and join an Invasive Plant Patrol.

Despite my earlier confession, I never miss the annual Invasive Plant Patrol on my lake. What I lack in plant expertise, I make up for by being the engine, paddling my friend the expert along the shoreline, so she can focus 100% on the quest to hunt for harmful aquatic plants like milfoil.

Whether a member or not, you can attend annual meetings of lake associations. There you can hear experts explain the challenges conservationists face and, more importantly, the many best practices we all use to preserve the Belgrades for future generations. It is uplifting and heartwarming work, and, frequently, we have a bit of fun.

One gathering on North Pond is the annual Are You Buff Enough? workshop. Come join us and we’ll provide breakfast and a presentation on improving your lakeside property for the benefit of all lake users. Every attendee leaves with a free buffer plant — protective vegetation that fights harmful erosion and phosphorus runoff.  I’m inspired every year by hearing property owners ask questions and get answers in service of conservation.

Neither the summer visitors headed “upta camp” nor yours truly are fair-weather conservationists in the bad sense of that phrase. We do what we can, when we can — and that is a lot. The unglamorous work I’ve been doing since mid-May includes raising thousands of dollars doing bottle-drive runs a couple of times a week. That money pays for courtesy boat inspectors.

If you value recreating on the Belgrade Lakes, consider getting involved in 2020. It is great to be part of a winning team, even if it is only a “summer league.” A lot can be done in a couple of months and a lot more in more time than that. Give what time you can spare, we’ll be grateful. Every little bit helps.

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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