by Ty Fischer, Riparian Habitat Restoration Intern
Lakes are to Ontarians what the Rocky Mountains are to British Columbians – places of humbling grandeur, of ineffable richness and diversity, and of truly iconic and symbolic importance for our province.
It is very fitting, then, that Watersheds Canada and Canadian Wildlife Federation’s lake shoreline assessment program be called “Love Your Lake”. I have been fortunate enough to take part in this initiative and to personally witness this love over the past several months; love between shoreline owners and their lakes, love between members of the community, and love for our organization and the work we were doing. As for myself, I definitely loved spending the dog days of summer in, on, and around multiple uniquely beautiful lakes across Ontario.
This is not to say that lake assessments were a walk in the park (or rather, a jaunt on the lake). As with all fieldwork, the sun was a force to be reckoned with; it felt like Jonathan (my co-assessor) and I spent half our work days applying sunscreen and guzzling water. Oftentimes we would work long days, going back out on the lake again in the evenings to take advantage of the cooler conditions. In addition, completing the assessments was a very mentally draining task in that we had to stay laser-focused in order to recognize and make note of over 50 features that we were observing on each shoreline property. All in all, we wound up mentally and physically drained by the end of each day, sleeping like logs at night.
Part in parcel with this exhaustion, though, was a sense of fulfillment for the work that we were doing, and further, a sense of appreciation for the lakes themselves. We got to know many incredible people who volunteered their time to help us and also witnessed incredible wildlife including deer, beavers, turtles, snakes, and countless species of birds and fish. Each lake we visited had its own atmosphere and personality of sorts, unique and wonderful in its own way. By the end of our time spent at each lake, the connection we felt to these bodies of water extended beyond simply aesthetics and verged into a sort of emotional tether to the whole of the lake, its ecosystems, and its community.
I would venture to say that anyone who has spent any time up at a lake might understand what I am referring to. In my experience, I have discovered that the deep connection people forge with lakes is extremely quick to form, is strong in nature, and is often slow (or impossible) to fade away. Like a friendship with the grandest and most complicated friend you have ever had, the longer you spend in and around a lake, the deeper and stronger this tie becomes.
One by-product of this connection which became very clear to me this summer is the sense of community between shoreline owners on lakes. The shared responsibility they have for their lake and their selfless devotion to maintaining its health and to the other members of the lake association was clear to me from the beginning, and this was the source of countless heartwarming moments that repeatedly reinforced my faith in humanity throughout the summer.
As an environmentalist, it was also a metaphor for a larger picture – that enough humans caring about something and collaborating with each other can enact changes that will make our future better. The changes may be gradual, operating on a scale of years and not hours and therefore perhaps difficult to notice in the moment, but the progress that is been made becomes clear when looking back in time.
To me, this is what the Love Your Lake program is at its core. It is an investment in the future, brought about first by outreach on our part and then by action on the part of shoreline owners. Ultimately, this action improves or rehabilitates important habitat for our wildlife and has cascading positive effects on the health of our waterways.
It does not end there, though – as word spreads and our collective knowledge base grows, we begin to set a standard for shoreline owners so that these lakes can be more responsibly enjoyed in the future. In this way, the Love Your Lake program is simply the start of a movement that will then be pushed forward by the participants themselves throughout the following years.
As for me, this summer will remain in my memories for many years to come. I have deeply enjoyed my time working as a part of this program, and in the future, I will certainly be keeping my shoreline assessment knowledge in my back pocket when visiting the cottages of family friends, cousins, and co-workers – just in case!