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Upstream: Brook Walks Around Keoka Lake

by Kim Struck and T’ing-T’ing Doore

Keoka Lake has been our playground, along with adjacent Mount Tire’m, since we were children. We swam, rock hopped, water skied — and on one occasion made unauthorized use of a catamaran — all summer, and ice skated and explored over the ice in the winter. We spent numerous happy times on Keoka, and over the years we have become very protective of it and are proud to do our part to maintain the health and beauty of “our” idyllic lake and her sources.

We conduct brook walks year-round to assess the health of the lake, the tributaries that feed it, and the land surrounding it. We look for drainage issues at the mouths of brooks, debris in the waterways, washouts, and cut banks; and track heavy rainfall, all of which tend to sweep more soil than usual into the brooks, depending on the topography. We also keep an eye out for any flora that is unknown to us and grab a sample to send to the Lakes Environmental Association (LEA). We report on drought conditions in our county, inches of rainfall throughout the year, and how the rest of the US rainfall measures up to our area. We report our findings to the Keoka Lake Association in the hope that they garner further interest in protecting the health of the lake.

Every season brings a distinct personality to the lake and when we walk the brooks, we are able to notice the changes that each season brings and to enjoy the immense beauty and serenity of the lake and its surrounding areas. In spring, the brooks are running at full force with all the melt off of snow. The water is ice cold and deep as it rushes to the lake, the ice beginning to break up as we anticipate ice out. On these walks we breathe in deep the smell of dirt and take joy in evidence of new life springing up. In the spring certain wildlife return— we are always keen to hear the first peepers and the melancholy call of the loons upon their return. As the trees begin to bud, and the days are longer and warmer, the lake, her tributaries, and surrounding area come back to life again as we all await summer.

Summer is the busiest time on the lake. The Keoka Lake Campground is open, lakeside homes are opened up, boaters and fishermen hit the water, and the public beaches are bustling. The brooks are running, but quietly and more languidly, depending on the rainfall. We often like to canoe to the various brooks; paddling quietly we are able to observe wildlife before they can sense our presence. The often-shy great blue heron once tolerated our presence enough for us to snap photos before he majestically flew off. We don our mosquito nets and tread through the woods, following the various brooks exhibiting extraordinarily little movement, and yet still vibrant. When the water is low it is easier to see the cut banks and wash outs. We notice the wildlife that use the lake: deer, raccoon, and beaver tracks, evidence that we are not the only ones who benefit from a healthy lake and brooks. We meet the most people around this time of year. Walking brooks gives us an opportunity to meet the landowners to discuss how to prevent soil erosion and plant life that prevents the erosion. This is a terrific way to meet our neighbors and be sure we have permission to walk the land. We enjoy meeting the children around the lake who are curious about what we are doing, and sometimes a little shy. We hope talking to the children about the lake and what we do will instill in them forever the same love and respect for the lake that brings them so much pleasure. They are often incredibly receptive and interested — even helping with picking up any trash we find.

As fall approaches, the air becomes crisper, the days shorter, and once again the mood of the environment around the lake changes. On our fall walks, the crunch of fallen leaves, the vibrant colors of the trees, and the comforting smell of wood stove smoke accompany us. The loons have not yet left, camps are closing up, and the docks are pulled in. It is quiet. The haunting call of the barred owl is often heard, and sometimes if we are incredibly lucky, we will see him high up in the trees. The skies can vary from vibrant blue to cold gray. The lake is quiet, calm, and peaceful. This is a suitable time to investigate the brooks after a busy summer, sometimes with little rainfall. We pick up trash while looking at drainage issues, and keep an eye out for invasive plants brought by the unwary boater. There is the hint of snow in the air in late fall as the lake, the brooks, and the surrounding areas begin to rest for the long winter. This time of year is beautiful as the light is still golden and we all become wistful for the long days of summer while anticipating the fun and quiet of winter.

Winter is the quietest season on the lake. The trees are bare, the ground covered in snow, the lake and brooks are iced in and seemingly devoid of life. On our walks during this time of year, we discover that life is still moving along albeit at a much slower pace. We can see and hear the water running underneath the ice in the brooks, hear the shift of the ice on the lake as it booms, a sound disconcerting and formidable all at the same time. Tracks in the snow are much more obvious, showing that the woods are teeming with life: deer, fox, weasels, rabbit, raccoons, porcupine, and more, despite the stillness. Winter on the lake is also fun for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and ice-fishing. Winter may be Arcadian, but it is not devoid of life.

We love our rambles through the woods to explore the habitat around Keoka and are willing to share the experience. We encourage anyone to join us on these walks!

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