by Charlie Tarbell
I confess that I deeply love this lake Keoka and that I am also deeply troubled by the prospect of the lake becoming host to a milfoil infestation someday. Yes, I know, Keoka Lake Association (KLA) has taken all the best practice steps to mitigate our risks:
● Prevention (courtesy boat inspections)
● Detection (volunteer plant patrols)
● (Potential) Eradication (all that money we raised in 2019).
Nevertheless, in what I call a “belt and suspenders” move, late last summer KLA hosted an esteemed group of divers from Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) to conduct a survey of aquatic plants in Keoka. What follows is the story of our adventure that day.
I met Mike, Tommy, and Brandon at the Boat Launch at 9:00 on a Wednesday morning. The day was clear and the temperature was warming from the prior days. The guys are all veterans of the LEA Dive Crew. They spent their summer pulling milfoil (and other invasives) in Sebago, Brandy Pond, and Long Lake. The warmer temps put the guys in a good mood – their wet suits were “less cold” to put on. Meanwhile, the prospect of surveying plants and not pulling plants further buoyed their dispositions.
After donning their wet suits, the crew swam several wide arcs around the boat launch and then proceeded three abreast – one near shore, one at five feet deep, and one at ten feet – all the way down to Kedar Brook and around the point to Schoolhouse Cove. Here, they climbed aboard my small boat and rested. Brandon brought up the mesh sack – full of trash – that he had harvested from the bottom and dumped it in my boat. No milfoil.
We motored over to Starbird Point while I briefed the gang on KLA’s milfoil risk mitigation strategy (see the bullets in the intro to this story). There the crew resumed the same formation and swam around the point and through Johnson Cove over to the Boathouse. Again, they boarded my boat and Brandon dumped his sack. I got the impression from the group that this was easy duty, with combat pay. No milfoil.
We motored again to Stone’s Cove. Same swim formation around the entire cove and over past the Jacobson place to where it gets deeper. We were aiming to hit all the relatively shallow spots in the lake – prime milfoil growing habitat. But no milfoil.
By now my curiosity was getting to me. I asked “What do you think so far?” Mike answered that in his opinion “the habitat we’ve swum thus far is indeed perfect for milfoil. But,” he continued, “compared to a lot of other lakes we’ve seen, there is relatively little plant growth, making it easy to survey and identify milfoil if it was here.”
We went on to Rock Island where the guys surveyed the large growth of what we call Keoka Lake Pondweed. It appears to be a variant of Curly Leaf Pondweed that is indigenous to Keoka. The guys agreed that there was a lot of it, but that they had only seen it at Rock Island. They took a sample for further analysis. No milfoil.
We finished the day with a long swim from Marshmallow Beach, past the campground, and over to the Dam. Brandon got LOTS of trash. But no milfoil.
We returned to the boat launch just after noon. The guys humored me and did another large circuit around the boat launch and marked channel, just because I consider it the most likely area to see the beginnings of an infestation. No milfoil.
Again, I asked for their assessment. Mike spoke for the group when he said “you’ve got a lot of favorable habitat, a busy public boat launch, a campground, and proximity to infested lakes. You are in a risky position. However, that said, you are taking the right steps, you have no current infestation, and the current condition of your lake bottom, as well as a relatively clear water column, will make it easy to spot infestations. Stay vigilant.”
And so we will.
P.S. A month or so after our survey of Keoka, the aforementioned Mike, aka Michael Flannery, was hired as LEA’s Milfoil Control Program Coordinator. He will be directing a crew of 20 divers doing milfoil eradication in multiple lakes, going forward.