For 35 years Mary Ryan has tested water quality on Wilson Lake. She is seen with the black and white secchi disk that measures water clarity. Submitted photo

WILTON — Mary Ryan may not remember the particulars of how she got involved, but for 35 years she has been on the forefront of water quality testing on Wilson Lake.

“I heard about the possibility through VLMP (Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program),” she said recently. “It seemed like something we should be doing. We weren’t.”

Ryan received special training, got the equipment needed and learned how to report on special forms.

A secchi disk, an eight-inch diameter disk with alternating black and white quadrants is lowered into the lake and the depth at which it is no longer visible is recorded. The reading known as the Secchi depth indicates the lake’s clarity.

“Mary began monitoring the water quality of Wilson Lake 35 years ago, being concerned about, of all things, seagulls,” Friends of Wilson Lake (FOWL) President Rob Lively said in a recent email. “Wilton had an open dump in the 1980s and it drew flocks of seagulls that ate at the dump and did their business in Wilson Lake. Very concerned about the effect on water quality, Mary began testing for water clarity and water quality in 1986.”

“Over the years, I’d ask friends to take me out to do the testing,” Ryan said. “The deepest spot on the lake is marked now so we can go to the right place, have a standard place.”


Ryan now does water testing as part of a group that includes Lively along with Wynn and Sandy Muller. The Muller’s boat has an anchor with a device to lower and raise the disk, Ryan said.

Water testing is done twice a month with the secchi disk part and takes about 10 minutes, Ryan said. Lively provides a second set of data and can measure the oxygen level at different depths, she said. All testing takes about 45 minutes to an hour, she noted.

New volunteers are always welcome to help with the testing, Ryan said. They would be trained by VLMP, she noted.

“The well-being of our lakes depends to a great extent on the work of dedicated volunteers and Wilson Lake in Wilton is very fortunate to have Mary Ryan serving in that role,” Lively wrote. “At the 2021 Lake Stewards of Maine (LSM) annual meeting, Mary was recognized for 35 years as a lake monitor. According to Roberta Hill of LSM, 35 years of service puts her “in a very elite group of uber-dedicated volunteers”; it places her in the top 1% of the hundreds of volunteers who have ever served.”

“For several years, Dan Buckley and his UMF biology students would go out,” Ryan said. “Since his tenure, a couple other professors have gotten involved. It’s a great connection.”

Testing begins in the spring as soon as a boat is available to take testers to the buoy at the deep hole, Ryan said. That buoy has a data-logger attached which collects data constantly and UMF faculty and students collect that data at various times, she added.


“We must be anchored while we work,” Ryan said. “Air temperature is not a factor, but it must be quite calm. We monitor two times each month, always between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

Collecting data is planned for this week and maybe once more this season, she noted.

“I do this because it’s a way to take part in keeping our lake healthy,” Ryan stated. “I look at my  monitoring efforts as a small but necessary part to play. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to share this activity with friends and visitors to Wilson Lake. Most have never realized that we do this as a contribution to keeping Wilson Lake healthy. I try to emphasize to whoever observes the process that all our actions are important to keeping our lake healthy for all to enjoy!”

Several years ago while monitoring, two Bald Eagles flying toward Goat Island were seen, Ryan noted.

“After testing was finished we went closer and spotted them in a large pine tree building or rebuilding their nest, then a couple weeks later we saw them bringing food to their new young,” she added.

“Since then we always check-in to see what ‘our’ eagles are up to,” Ryan said.


In 1989, Ryan served as a founding member of the local lake association, FOWL. In 1999, she was involved in the creation of the 238-acre Foothills Land Conservancy at the head of Wilson Lake, with the goal of limiting the amount of erosion, run-off, and nutrients entering the lake.

Ryan has served various roles in FOWL, including president and continues on the board of directors today.

FOWL is involved with many activities to maintain the water quality of Wilson Lake including organizing watershed surveys, raising funds to purchase the Foothills Land Conservancy property (preventing erosion into Wilson Lake) and working with property owners to earn Lake Smart designation, Ryan noted.

“By the way—when Wilton closed the ‘dump’ and became a transfer station, the seagulls disappeared,” Lively wrote.

Anyone interested in learning more about the testing program should contact Ryan at [email protected] or Lively at [email protected]

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