New Milford seeks funding for educating boaters on invasive species

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox
Echo Bay Marina on Candlewood Lake in Brookfield

Echo Bay Marina on Candlewood Lake in Brookfield

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — The town is in the process of applying for grant funding for a new community education initiative this summer to educate boaters about invasive species, as well as offer free boat inspections.

As part of the initiative, called the Candlewood Lake Steward Program, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, Candlewood Lake Authority employees would visit public boat launches and state ramps in the area on weekends and any federal holidays through the boating season. All training and management would be conducted by the Candlewood Lake Authority.

The morning prior to arriving at a launch, the Candlewood Lake Authority would post on its Facebook page where it will be that day.

At the launch, Candlewood Lake employees, called lake stewards, would set up a small pop-up tent and provide educational materials and inspections. A thorough inspection should take 10 minutes and involves searching the entire boat and trailer.

As part of the inspection, “stewards will collect general anonymized data on which lakes boaters have most recently visited, and any invasive species prevention practices they are already implementing,” said Dan Calhoun, director of New Milford’s Parks & Recreation Department.

If boaters aren’t interested in the program, they can continue to launch their boat as they normally would. If there’s a line, the inspection can take place while the boater is waiting, and it won’t hold up anyone further back in line who might not be interested.

“One of our priorities is not slowing down people who just want to get into the lake and get boating,” said Neil Stalter, Candlewood Lake Authority’s director of ecology and environmental education. “We are more a friendly group there to offer that education.”

Stewards will remain at one launch over the course of a day and rotate to a different launch the following day or weekend.

“So, if (boaters) miss us one day, we’ll be back at that launch at least a couple of more times over the summer,” Stalter said.

The boating launches that would be involved in the program are in New Milford, Sherman, New Fairfield, Danbury, and Brookfield. Additionally, the two state ramps are Lattins Cove in Danbury and Squantz Cove in New Fairfield.

According to Stalter, invasive species can cause a lot of damage.

“Invasive species from other lakes can hitch a ride on boats and then enter our lake when those boats get launched,” he said.

One kind of invasive species, the Eurasian watermilfoil, makes up the vast majority of the plank community at Candlewood Lake, according to Stalter. It has been at the lake for 40 years.

“That has had a pretty obvious effect on the ecosystem,” he said. “It has taken over all the native plants that have evolved to live in Candlewood Lake.”

Other invasives the lake authority is trying to avoid becoming an issue are zebra muscles.

“A few solitary muscles have been found in the lake and have been removed, so we are currently accessing the current state of the muscle population, if any,” said Stalter said, adding there are also several kinds of plants the authority is concerned about as well.

Applications for grant funding for the Candlewood Lake Steward Program from DEEP are due Feb. 12. The awards will be announced late March or early April. If the program is successful, the town will examine the possible expansion and inclusion of public safety education after the boating season.

When it comes to boating on the Candlewood Lake, “We want to make sure that everyone is safe and following all the necessary protocols,” Stalter said.