Echos of Hey YOU!

It’s not every day one gets to board a replica of the famed Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers. And especially not in western Maine.

But so I did, along with a slew of other adults and sixth graders today. And before our eyes, the Songo River Queen II transformed into an outdoor classroom.

For more than twenty years, Lakes Environmental Association has offered an educational cruise to those students who have completed the Living Connections Program in Lake Region Schools.

Each year, the weather differs from hot to cold to windy to calm to sunny to cloudy on cruise day. Today–on the chilly side, but calm and overcast.

Our cruise activity coordinator, the one and only Mary Jewett of Lakes Environmental Association fame, once sat in the very seats the students occupied. Mary is a naturalist/educator for LEA and spends the school year teaching classes about the watershed. Her job today, despite a hoarse voice and germs, was to quiz the kids about the knowledge they’ve gained. I’m always impressed with the understanding these kids have of their place.

Of course, no cruise is complete without someone at the helm and as always it was Captain Kent blowing the departure horn and steering the boat. While Mary asked questions and awarded prizes of seed bombs, LEA pencils and stickers, and track cards, Captain Kent took us on a tour of the lake. Every once in a while, he slowed the boat down and announced some odd behavior along the shore line.

His first spotting was of two women throwing sand from a wheel barrow onto a beach. Adding sand to replenish or enhance an existing beach can have a huge impact on water quality because it contains the nutrient phosphorus, which feeds algae. When sand washes into the lake during a rain event, the phosphorus is carried along and essentially fertilizes the waterbody. Phosphorus occurs naturally, but think of it as junk food for the algae. Too much is too much and the algae will grow out of control and turn the water green, thus decreasing water clarity. Point blank: in Maine it is illegal to add sand to a beach.

To get the ladies to stop, the kids stood up and shouted, “Hey YOU!”

And the ladies responding by hiding. Sorta.

More questions from Mary, such as, “What is phosphorus and how do you spell it?” And then Captain Kent announced the sighting of another infraction. Fertilizer was being spread at random.

On the same property, someone was spraying a weed killer, while another person mowed the lawn too short.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

“Who me?”

Yes, you because the fertilizer and herbicide will wash into the water during a rainstorm. And by cutting the grass so short, there is nothing to stop the rain from flowing across the well manicured lawn, picking up those pollutants and more before dumping them into the lake.

Still Mary’s questions continued and prizes were awarded. And then Captain Kent spied more illegal work being done along the shoreline. A crew was loping the vegetative buffer, which should be left in place to filter the water that does flow from the house toward the lake.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

And again, the people ran.

And hid. Sorta.

At last it was time for Captain Kent to turn the boat to the port side and we passed by an LEA Test Site. Below the bouy, a floating line holds in-lake data loggers that acquire high resolution temperature measurements. The loggers, which are also referred to as HOBO sensors, provide a detailed record of temperature fluctuations within the water column. They remain in place from ice-out until late fall. From these, LEA staff gain a better understanding of the thermal structure, water quality, and extent and impact of climate change and weather patterns on the waterbody tested.

Just beyond the bouy, Mary announced that it was time for half of the group to each lunch on the lower deck, and the other half to split into their four pre-assigned groups and make their way through four stations. My station was the Secchi Disk.

I showed the kids the eight-inch disk painted with four quadrants. We talked about how the disk is slowly lowered into the water on a metered tape.

On deck, the kids looked at the disk through the Aqua-Scope, similar to how a monitor watches it closely when actually on the water. When I asked why the black cup at the top of the view scope, in each group at least one figured out that it cuts out glare.

We did toss the disk into the water, but we couldn’t use the scope since we were several feet above. Still, they got the idea. When the white quadrant on the disk completely disappear, a depth reading is taken.

Our conversation also included factors that make the water turbid or difficult to see through like erosion, sediment, gasoline and oil.

And they learned to spell Secchi.

After completing quick lessons at each of the stations, which also included a core sampler, temperature and oxygen profile, and Van-Dorn style sampler, the two groups switched places and we offered the same information four more times.

And then everyone returned to the upper deck, and Mary’s quiz questions changed from information she’d reviewed with them in class to specific questions about each station (which was really a review also of their class material).

But . . . what to Captain Kent’s wondering eyes should suddenly appear? A team about to cut trees beside the water.

Just before the chain saw connected with the tree . . . the Hey YOU! chorus shouted.

Again, the reaction was similar. Who me?

Yes, you.

The state has guidelines limiting the amount of vegetation that can be cut within 100 feet of the high-water mark.

The tree crew got the message. And ran.

Can you find both hiding spots?

By now the kids were really into their shoreland zoning enforcement job and Mary had to remind them that some people were out on the lake doing legal things such as installing docks.

One student did point out a silt fence that surrounding a building project, but the project itself brought up the question of whether or not it was legal to add on to a structure located so close to the lake. Thankfully, Captain Kent knows each and every property along the shoreline since he’s travelled this route many times a day during the cruise season. He informed the group that this project was not an addition, but rather a replacement.

By the Naples Town Beach, the kids realized that a group of women were dancing and tossing cans into the water.

Again: a Hey YOU! chorus greeted the folks on land.

And again they ran to hide.

Just beyond the town dock, however, a man was bathing.

By now you know what they said and what he did.

At last it was time to return to the dock, but all around Long Lake in Naples, I suspect people can still hear “Hey YOU! Hey YOU! Hey YOU!” reverberating.

“Hey You!”

Shouts of “Hey You!” echoed across Long Lake in Naples, Maine, this morning as sixth grade students from Oxford Hills enjoyed a cruise sponsored by the Lakes Environmental Association aboard the Songo River Queen II, a replica of the famed Mississippi River Paddle Wheelers. For the past twenty years or so, LEA has offered this event to those who have completed the Living Connections Program in the Lake Region Schools and as a special program for students from several other districts, such as Oxford Hills.

l-Songo River Queen II

This culminating activity brings all the lessons students have learned about shoreland zoning and water quality to life in an engaging and interactive way.

l-Long Lake

After what seemed like months of rain, it was a beautiful morning as Captain Kent steered the boat away from the dock and onto the 11-mile-long lake.

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As the tour began, LEA’s talented teacher/naturalist Mary Jewett, quizzed the kids.

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They expressed their knowledge about watersheds, lake hydrology, phosphorus and other nutrients, chlorophyll, algal blooms, vegetated buffers, erosion control, thermocline, stratification and turnover, and received prizes for each correct answer. I’m always impressed by their responses.

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They’re able to point out vegetated buffers . . .

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and recognize that some lakefront properties built within the 100-foot setback are older than the shoreland zoning law and therefore grandfathered.

l-station 1, sand 1

In the midst of it all, Captain Kent suddenly made Mary aware of a violation occurring on shore. Several women shoveled sand out of a wheelbarrow and spread it with rakes.

l-station 1, sand 2

Encouraged by Mary, the kids shouted, “Hey You!” The women continued to spread the sand so the kids shouted again—only this time they were even louder. On shore, the culprits looked surprised. Using the loudspeaker system, Mary explained that it’s illegal to add sand to the beach.

l-station 1, sand 3

The women quickly retreated, dumping the wheelbarrow in the process. The kids caught on that this was a role playing situation, but it created opportunities to discuss the implications–such as the fact that dumping sand can cause significant problems for the lake because it contains phosphorus, which contributes to decreased water clarity and algal blooms. Wildlife is also affected, e.g. decreased spawning habitat for fish, and increased opportunities for invasive aquatic plants like variable-leaf milfoil.

l-station 2, fertilizer and spray

Mary continued to question the kids as the boat poked along, until another “Hey You!” moment. One woman was spotted spreading fertilizer (flour in this case) with a flourish, while another sprayed what appeared to be weedkiller on the vegetative buffer. The kids were reminded that topical fertilizers often contain phosphorus and other nutrients that wash into the lakes.

l-station 2, cutting grass too short

At the same property, a man mowed the lawn using the lowest setting (or so it looked from the boat). Short grass is even more likely to allow those nutrients to wash into the water.

l-station 3, trimming vegetative buffer

The next violation involved a group of people trimming and removing the vegetated buffer. The students know the buffer is the last line of defense between a home and the lake because it provides a filter for any run-off, thus helping to keep excessive nutrients, sediment and storm water out of the lake. Native trees, shrubs, flowers and ground cover should be left in place.

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Like the other offenders, this group hastily ran away . . .

l-station 3, hiding

and hid behind the trees.

l-Mount Washington
Following the third stop, the boat paused in the middle of the lake, where Mount Washington was visible. Students rotated through water testing stations where they practiced using such devices as a secchi disk, dissolved oxygen meter, Van Dorn water sampler, and core sampler. I was in charge of the core sampler and we talked about how the hose is lowered to one meter below the thermocline, that mid-point at which the temperature decreases and sunlight cannot penetrate. (Think about doing a cannon ball off the dock and hitting the spot where the temperature is suddenly freezing–or so it feels on a hot summer day.) We talked about how the water is tested in a lab for chlorophyll, phosphorus, pH, color and more. And then they tried gathering a water sample. One student lowered the weighted end of the clear, plastic hose into the water, while the others held onto the rest of it. When I said “Crimp and cover,” a second student crimped the hose and a third covered the far end. Quickly, the first student raised the weighted end, the other two let go and working together, all raised the hose high and tried to “walk” the water down it and into a container. Today, I think we gathered the most water I’ve seen in all the years I’ve volunteered for this activity.

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Once students had rotated through all of the stations, Mary’s quiz continued as we traveled along the eastern shore. Volunteers asked questions, though I let Mary ask mine, and again the students who answered correctly were rewarded.

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Because they were on the lookout, one of the kids noticed people wearing hardhats and attempting to cut pine trees within mere feet of the lake.

l-station 4, Anne, who me?

They are quickly admonished by this now savvy group, though the “workers” couldn’t believe they’re being picked upon. Mary did remind the kids that shoreland zoning laws do allow homeowners to limb up to 1/3 the height of a tree in order to maintain a view.

l-station 5, Matt 2

Close by, a man washed his laundry—yes, in the water. Under state law, it is illegal to intentionally introduce foreign substances, including soap, into the water. (He was supposed to “bathe,” but the temperature is a wee bit chilly yet.)

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It didn’t end there. As the boat passed by the Naples Town Beach, the kids noticed a group gathered on the dock drinking and then tossing empty cans.

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You know by now what happened.

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Though one guy did run back . . .

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to get the boom box.

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At last Kent steered the boat back toward the dock.

l-Rick's Cafe

The cruise had come to an end, but by seeing the volunteer actors on shore, students made the connection between their in-class learning and real life situations when it comes to water quality.

l-dragonfly exoskeleton

Oh, and before we had initially headed out, Mary spotted a huge dragonfly exoskeleton by the causeway and LEA’s Education Director, Alanna Doughty, climbed over the railing to fetch it. As Mary pointed out to the kids when she held the exoskeleton up, this is what it’s all about–clean water for aquatic species and for us.

Hey You! Think about your actions and be the difference.