The Pine River Watershed Alliance recently recognized Dorothy Whitmer for her water quality work on Gull Lake.

Whitmer led the efforts in 2019 with the Gull Lake Chain of Lakes Association to start a Lake Steward Program to protect the water quality of the lakes. The program builds a community of land stewards, mentors them and recognizes landowners who positively impact water quality.

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“All too often we have lawn right down to the lake. How does this happen? Cut down the trees, remove the stumps, pull out the shrubs, then use herbicide to kill the ground cover,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Now you have a high level of runoff from phosphorus from the soil and nitrogen from fertilizer. Perfect conditions for the growth of algae in the water.”

Whitmer started by staking off 25 feet from the shore and simply stopped mowing that area. After a few years, she did a shoreline restoration project. The birds and hummingbirds have come back to her property after she provided habitat and stopped spraying for mosquitoes.

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“You have native trees, shrubs and ground cover with deep roots that hold the shore. When it rains, you have the least runoff of silt and nutrients, so it is the healthiest lakeshore for water quality. Dead trees are left in the water for wildlife habitat,” Whitmer said.

Results from the association's Lake Steward program show that members care deeply about their lake and water quality. Of 614 members who had email addresses on file and were contacted to take a quiz, hundreds have done so.

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“So if expansive lawns on lakeshore are harmful for the water, expensive to maintain, take time away from enjoying the lake and are poor habitat for wildlife, then why are we doing it?” Whitmer asked.

The Lake Steward Program has three steps:

  • A four-question quiz.
  • A site visit to assess the property.
  • An award with a sign.

More than 50 Lake Stewards have been awarded and there are more than 72 candidates. The association reported inquiries about shoreline restoration increased significantly.

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“The Lake Steward Program talks about what people want and that’s what makes it so powerful. … Lake stewards have lawn, but they also have more time to enjoy the lake, more money and catch more fish off their dock because they have better fish habitat,” Whitmer said.

She offered to work with Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates to share this program with all lake associations and lake home and cabin owners in Minnesota.

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For assistance with starting a Lake Steward Program, visit Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates at mnlakesandrivers.org. Registration is open for the organization’s Lake Steward training session, which will be 7-9 p.m. Thursday, April 1.

For more information on the Gull Lake program, visit gcola.org. For more information on how to make a positive impact on water quality, visit loveyourlake.info.