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by Esther J. Perne
East Pond is awesome! It's the headwater of the Belgrade Lakes chain. It has the second oldest lake association in the Belgrades. It is home to one of the chain's four remaining traditional fishing camps Alden Camps an historic cottage complex Sadulsky's and two thriving youth camps Manitou and Matoaka. And it has just successfully raised one million dollars to implement an alum treatment plan to prevent algae blooms.
Historically East Pond like all the Belgrade lakes was just part of farm country. The first settlers in the 1800s were the Webb family who ran a dairy farm of sorts, attracting customers who took the trolley to the end of the line from Oakland and continued by buggy to purchase milk. Later the railroad in Oakland facilitated the establishment of six boys and girls camps when the summer visitor boom began in the early 1900s.
Such camps, and private summer homes, set the pace for much of what East Pond has remained: a lake with highly loyal landowners and not overwhelming public access. It was a group of these owners that got together on July 28, 1948, established the East Pond Association and issued stock to 29 charter shareholders at $7.50 a share.
Although the Association's original objective was to own, operate and maintain the East Pond dam, control the lake's water level, which it still does, and to sponsor the annual sailboat races, 25 years ago the group rallied around a far more pressing mission: water quality. In August 1993 lake residents had the awakening experience of a major algae bloom and depth visibility on the lake was reduced to three to four feet. In 1994, acknowledging that East Pond had experienced a half dozen previous blooms, a DEP annual report downgraded the lake to "poor restorable." (In 2000 it was re-designated a priority watershed.)
In response, East Pond has continually distinguished itself as one of the most proactive lakes in the state concerning water quality research and remediation from passing out buffer plants to initiating the current leading-edge phosphorus curtailment program that is non-toxic and that has been proven to help prevent algae blooms.
Phosphorus, although hard to imagine on a clear day by a clean, sparkling lake, is the nourishment for the ugly clumps of green (algae) that pollute water clarity and can curtail recreational enjoyment, cold water fisheries and real estate sales unless, of course, a group of shorefront and watershed property owners invest time, money, research, labor, a positive attitude and even love. Such a group is the East Pond Association.
From the water quality awakening in 1993 to the present the East Pond Association can be credited with investigating every aspect of phosphorus, algae, remediation, education and plans of action. Brainstorming retreats have been held, committees formed, reports issued, collaboration established with the other lake associations of the Belgrades, with Colby College, with private water quality companies, with state departments and agencies. Annual meetings have been turned into forums of information and education about everything there is to know about East Pond and don't be afraid to ask, about all facets of maintaining good water quality, about yes there is a sometimes problem and this is what we can do and are doing about it.
Landowners, residents, vacationers, visitors, watershed businesses and boat launch users have responded impressively. In 1999, when a call went out along with the annual dues notice for $15 for supplemental funds for The Fund for the Preservation of East Pond Water Quality, $33,000 came in. In 2017, when a campaign was established to raise funds for the alum treatment, according to Jerry Tipper, Fundraising Chair of the East Pond Restoration project, "The outstanding support of approximately $600,000 from residents and commercial camps reflects how clearly they understand the need for the alum treatment."
Tipper also cites two substantial grants in support of the project. "The first is from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for $232,000 demonstrating its confidence that the project's science is sound and our plan is effective. The second is a $200,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation. The Foundation's support underscores the effective collaboration of the East Pond Association, the 7 Lakes Alliance (formerly the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance), Colby College, the DEP and other scientists. It provides a model for addressing similar problems on other Maine lakes."
As chair and spokesperson for fundraising, Tipper is representative of the unique dedication of East Ponders. His home is on the lake, he was president of the East Pond Association during the nineties, he has headed many of the remediation and research collaboration projects, including coordinating with Colby College since 1999, and he spearheaded some of the summer fun events including the former annual East Pond Association Lake Fests and the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance golf tournaments.
"East Pond has a reputation as the quintessential Maine lake," says Tipper. "The tree-lined, sparsely developed shoreline makes it ideal for getting away from it all. People who come to East Pond are expecting a clear, fresh, stunning lake. Clear water is critical to delivering on that promise. I think the alum treatment will go a long way toward returning East Pond to that beautiful body of water we all remember and love."
As the barge heads out this week and again in the fall applying liquid alum to approximately 676 acres of the lake's deepest areas where phosphorus laden sediment accumulates, East Pond will once again be providing a model in positive water quality planning, and action, in the Belgrade Lakes.
Update: In a subsequent letter to the editor, Gerald Tipper wrote:
Thank you for your coverage of the alum treatment we're doing on East Pond to alleviate algae blooms. The visibility you provided is valuable on a number of levels. We should, however, clarify that the source of some of the funding for the alum treatment of East Pond came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Section 319. The funding is administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in partnership with the EPA.
I was remiss in not making that linkage clear in my statement and I wouldn't want to slight our true benefactors. We are most appreciative of the EPA's support and hope to continue helping the agency with its important work here in Maine. We thank them for their support and for their confidence in the method we're using for the restoration of East Pond's chemical balance. It will go a long way toward returning the area to its former pristine condition.
The project has taken the contributions of many entities, all of whom have our sincere thanks.