Lakes are a Maine treasure worth protecting

When I was a young child, summers were pretty simple: A few days after school let out, we loaded up the car and headed to “camp.”

Summertime at camp. Hammock. Water. What more do you need? (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

Summertime at camp. Hammock. Water. What more do you need? (BDN photo by John Holyoke)

In other places, I’ve since learned, they might go “to the cottage,” or to “the lake house.” Here, for me and many of my young peers, that perfect spot on a Maine lake was just “camp.”

Thinking back, I never realized how lucky I was.

My parents built that camp on Beech Hill Pond more than 50 years ago, shortly after real estate on that side of the pond went on the market. I remember staying there for a week at a time, returning just long enough for my mother to do laundry, buy some groceries, and take us to the library to restock our supply of books.

I remember waking early in the morning and being able to determine the weather by looking at the ceiling above my head. If the reflection of the lake’s waves were shimmering on the pine boards, it meant sun and swimming. If that wasn’t the case, it meant a day full of reading and playing inside. Either was fine with us. My brother,nsister and I found ways to keep ourselves occupied.

Those wonderful, carefree days didn’t last, of course.

As we reached our teens, the allure of life “in-town,” and our friends we’d left behind, became more powerful.

The questions we asked our mom changed, too.

Instead of “How long before we leave for camp?” we began asking “Do we really have to go to camp again?”

Sad, looking back. But true.

Last weekend, I spent a day at the Maine Lakes Society’s annual convention, and told some of my lake stories to a small group of other lake-lovers.

The message that came out of the day’s presentations rang true with me: Our lakes are special. And if we want them to remain that way, we’ve got to do what we can to protect them.

While conversations about lake protection measures — avoiding potential runoff from sediment and fertilizer, for instance — are becoming more mainstream nowadays, it wasn’t always that way.

I remember talking to my dad when I was quite young, and bemoaning the fact that some of the camps on our lake had beaches, while ours did not.

That, I learned, was by design.

My dad told me that when folks began buying their shoreland properties, the first step that many took was to cut down all the trees, then hire a local to bulldoze a boat ramp or beach all the way down to the water.

Dad, a soil scientist at the University of Maine, realized that was a bad idea.

There has to be a buffer between the road and the lake, he told me. Lawn fertilizers can cause algae to bloom. Worse, began spreading motor oil on the camp road to keep the dust down during the dry months.

“Where,” my dad asked, “Do you think that oil that oil would end up after a rain?”

Down in the lake, if it could get there, I realized. Not good.

The Maine Lakes Society recognizes the potential pitfalls that can challenge a lake’s health. In fact, through their LakeSmart program, peer educators work, neighbor-to-neighbor, to inform others about protective plantings, storm runoff issues, and how to make local lakes healthier.

Unfortunately, not everyone’s hearing those messages.

On Unity Pond, not far from where the Maine Lakes Society’s annual conference was held, there are more than 600 camps on a lake that has struggled with water quality issues for years, attendees were told. About 10 of those camps are LakeSmart-certified thus far, but efforts to recruit other camp-owners to the program are ongoing. As we head into this peak weekend of lake-dwellers everywhere, we all might we well-served to walk around our own personal summer paradise and take a closer look at our surroundings.

Can we do better to keep the lake pristine? Do we even have to fertilize the lawn at all? Would some runoff barriers help?

Those lakes are special, you see. And the memories they produce are special, too.

Let’s do what we can to keep it that way.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter:@JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.