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GREEN Monster at Lake Arrowhead

October 16, 2007 - WATERBORO - Spiny green fingers reach up from the bottom for most of the motorboat trip around 1,100acre Lake Arrowhead. Even in the middle of the lake, where these underwater fields of green stalks are hidden in the deeper water, it is apparent this lake is a milfoil minefield.

As one of 29 lakes in Maine with a milfoil problem, Lake Arrowhead, which is in Limerick and Waterboro, could be the poster child for the ugly invasive species that wipes out fish populations by destroying native habitat. Mike Fitzpatrick and four other members of the newly fonned Lake Arrowhead Conservation Council led a recent tour of the lake, where pine trees hug the shoreline and houses are set back and hidden. The council is using traditional approaches to battle the milfoil, such as closing a boat launch. But it's also brought a New England celebrity on board, Charlie Moore of ESPN2 and NESN fame, to spread awareness and gather support for its fight.

Like so many other conservation efforts, the council is using a grass-roots approach to control a monster problem. Milfoil has been found virtually everywhere in Lake Arrowhead, which formed when the river there was dammed a century ago. Arrowhead has an average depth of 6 feet, providing conditions that are perfect for milfoil to spread. Milfoil thrives in conditions where sunlight reaches the bottom of a body of water.

Fitzpatrick said the Conservation Council doesn't expect to remove all the milfoil, but it does intend to reduce it after years of watching it grow uncontrollably. John MacPhedron, aquatic specialist with the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Lake Arrowhead will have variable-leaf milfoil in the future no matter what is done.

"In almost all lakes, it is very difficult to eradicate. It's a plant that's going to be there," MacPhedron said.

The newly formed Conservation Council is so determined to fight back, the members recruited the lake's most famous fisherman, Moore of ESPN2's show, "Beat Charlie Moore." Moore, who has filmed three of his bass fishing shows on Lake Arrowhead (where his in-laws have a house), said Sept. 24 he wanted to help because he's intersted in preserving the bass fishing on the lake.

"It's a great place to fish and boat, and obviously, I have a vast interest in (those activities). What's going on with the milfoil, we'll try to address it," Moore said.

Moore said he will help the council raise money despite the fact he is now working on what he hopes will turn into a sitcom on FOX in the fall of 2008, a show called "Mad Fish" that is largely based on Moore's life as a fishing show host.

"I've fished all over the world. To me Maine and New Hampshire are the two best, most pristine places in the country, with some of the best smallmouth and largemouth fishing in the country," Moore said. "In literally three to four hours from Boston you can be somewhere you might see one to two fishermen a week. That is unheard of in other parts of the country. I'd just like to preserve what it is we have."

Although the DEP has worked for seven years to prevent the spread of milfoil, it has been found in 29 of Maine's roughly 6,000 lakes and ponds. Despite that, MacPhedron said the state's work has helped. That work has mostly entailed boat checks, in which paid inspectors look for and remove milfoil from boats coming out of a lake or river. Each of the past two years, the department has done 40,000 boat checks, which require paid inspectors to scan every boat coming out of a lake for invasive plants and remove any that are found.

However, MacPhedron said the fight at the state level, so far, has been on prevention. Fitzpatrick said it is time to focus on controlling milfoil where it exists, by decreasing it through high-tech harvesting efforts. Around the state, dozens of lakes associations are fighting milfoil with private funds, from the Little Sebago Lake Association to the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust.

The Lake Arrowhead Conservation Council also has taken steps on its own. This summer, it closed one of the lake association's boat launches to minimize the spread of milfoil from the lake's worst infested cove. And it purchased a used pontoon boat with the hope of raising the $50,000 a year needed to buy a suction harvesting device that can pull up the plant with the help of divers. The association also has applied for three grants to purchase the machine, said Larry Singelais, of Bow, N.H., who summers on the lake. It's a start to a problem that is bigger than Lake Arrowhead, Singelais said.

"Just as important as controlling it here, is keeping it from spreading," Singelais said. "We are one of the last states to not have every lake infected."

Lake Arrowhead has 35 miles of shore frontage, so the effort needed to control milfoil there will be massive, Fitzpatrick said. The people who live and summer here formed the conservation council and love the lake, enough to hand harvest the milfoil whenever they can. Piles of dried milfoil can be found on small docks around the lake.

"When you kayak in the coves, where the boats can't go, you can see turtles sunning themselves, and deer. You can see a lot of wildlife. But, you can't see fish," said Tracie Doyle, of Dracut, Mass.

"When I kayak, I pick up the cut-up milfoil, the stuff on top, so it doesn't regenerate."

Some Lake Arrowhead residents, like Fitzpatrick, are concerned enough to work with other Maine groups that fight aquatic plants, such as the Maine Congress of Lake Associations. And others who live on the lake are trying to stay focused on the goal at home.

"Dave Sanfason is one of the members of Bay Cove. The people in this cove, they were the ones who started (hand) harvesting the milfoil," Singelais said.

The milfoil problem shared between the towns of Waterboro and Limerick is bigger than the 1,100-acre lake there. When milfoil is cut by a boat propeller it becomes very easy for the plant to attach to the propeller and fall off and grow in a new area. Around the public boat launch on the east side of Lake Arrowhead, Fitzpatrick said there appears to be little milfoil around the dam there. He said that is because it is generally cut and washed over the dam, where it floats down into Little Ossipee Pond. As it tums out, last year milfoil was found in the Saeo River and Little Ossipee, which are both downstream from Lake Arrowhead.

"I wasn't at all surprised," MacPhedron said.


DATE: 09-30-2007

Lakes: Lake Arrowhead
Regions: Sebago

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