May 28, 2018
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Volunteers watching for invasive species in Moosehead Lake area

Mike Lange | Piscataquis Observer
Mike Lange | Piscataquis Observer
Roberta Hill of the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program looks over a map of Moosehead Lake with John Willard, an owner of The Birches resort.
By Mike Lange, Piscataquis Observer

GREENVILLE, Maine — Moosehead Lake has often been called the Hope Diamond of Maine’s waterways.

So it seemed appropriate that a presentation on efforts to keep the lake clean and pristine would take place on another crown jewel: the 100-year-old steamship Katahdin.

The workshop on June 20 was hosted by the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program, a statewide organization dedicated to keeping invasive species and pollutants out of Maine’s waterways.

“Let’s face it,” said John Willard, owner of The Birches Resort and a strong supporter of VLMP. “If it wasn’t for Moosehead Lake, none of us would be here.”

The economic impact of the lake is evident as tourists flock to the Greenville area almost year-round, either for summer activities like boating and fishing or winter recreation like skiing and snowmobiling.

Thanks to the efforts of 19 VLMP volunteers and four interns, the entire shoreline of Moosehead Lake has been surveyed during the past six years, and no invasive species have been discovered.

Roberta Hill, VLMP’s invasive species program director, hosted a video presentation and an informal question-and-answer period about the origins of the program and efforts to recruit more volunteers. “We’ve trained and certified about 1,000 volunteers across the state monitoring approximately 500 lakes,” said Hill. “We are, by far, the largest collector of this type of information.”

In order to do the job effectively, participants have to recognize an invasive species like hydrilla — which can overtake a lake in a relatively short period of time — and take water samples and Secchi readings to measure water transparency.

VLMP started in 1971 in the University of Maine system, Hill explained, and was moved to the Department of Environmental Protection where it was funded by the agency from 1974-96. “But 1996 was one of Maine’s many budget-crisis years,” she said. “So it got to the point where VLMP was either going to be jettisoned or drastically downsized. But it landed on its feet as a nonprofit organization, and that’s where we are today.”

While the organization does get some financial support from the DEP and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Clean Water Act, much of its funding comes from individual, municipal and corporate sponsorship. “But we’ve actually had DEP personnel volunteer their time to help us on the invasive species project,” Hill said.

VLMP is also working with their counterparts in Canada, she noted. “Invasive plants don’t respect natural borders,” she added.

Due to the amount of time needed to do a lake survey, many VLMP participants are retirees, Hill said. “And that’s good. They bring us a lifetime of knowledge, experience and know-how … We welcome them.”

Hill said that one of the purposes of the presentation was to gauge interest in forming a steering committee to coordinate and recruit volunteers for continued monitoring of Moosehead and other lakes in the Piscataquis County area. A steering committee would be one avenue, she noted. “It doesn’t take a lot of people to get this off the ground, but it does take some committed people,” she said.

Other options discussed were the formation of a “regional watershed association,” made up of members from existing lake associations. “Anything you can do to publicize our efforts is appreciated,” she said.

Betty Ryder of Greenville recalled learning about VLMP when she lived in Newcastle, and said she wondered back then when they would be able to survey Moosehead Lake. “And you’ve done it. This hasn’t been a flip-flop program that came and went. But we still have so much more to do,” she said.

More information is available at


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