If you’re boating on Vermont lakes and ponds this summer, chances are you’ll be approached one day by someone in a yellow T-shirt offering to inspect your boat and trailer.
Some are volunteers and others are paid to do the job, but all the public access boat greeters around the state are there to serve as a first line of defense against aquatic invasive species.
If you launch a boat from the public access on Lake Elmore, it’s hard to miss the signs warning of an infestation of Eurasian watermilfoil. And at the height of the season you’ll also see divers hand-pulling the non-native invasive plant from the bottom of the lake.
Lake Elmore is one of nearly 100 bodies of water where the state has found Eurasian watermilfoil. It’s the most prevalent of nine aquatic invasive species that Vermont is tracking.
One way these invasives spread is by hitching a ride between waterbodies from unsuspecting boaters. And that’s where the public access boat greeters come in.
“What we do here is we try to prevent invasive species going from one lake to the other," says Bill Harm, a greeter at the boat access on Lake Eden. "So I’m here to inspect the boats and the trailers to make sure they’re not bringing anything to this lake. They’re not taking anything from this lake, which is a very clean lake.”
Lake Eden is about 20 miles north of Lake Elmore, and there is no Eurasian watermilfoil here. In fact, none of the invasive plants and animals found at other Vermont waterbodies have been detected in Lake Eden.
While there’s no way to prove the lake greeter program has prevented infestations, Harm says, “I’m sure this program has a lot to do with it.”
While some towns and lake associations spend thousands of dollars a year to control invasive species, Eden has long invested in prevention. With town support and grants from the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Eden pays for a boat greeter to be on duty 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Harm is proud to say, "This lake has no invasive species at all. And that’s what we’re trying to keep it like.”
Thirty miles southwest of Lake Eden, a new boat greeter program is just getting underway in Waterbury. Like Eden, The Friends of the Waterbury Reservoir received a state matching grant to run the program. And the group has launched a GoFundMe campaign to bridge the gap. Still, the friends of the reservoir can only afford to have a greeter on duty on Saturdays this summer.
Chuck Kletecka supervises the greeter program for the Friends of Waterbury Reservoir. He says they decided to base a greeter at the Blush Hill boat access, which is a part of the reservoir not supervised by state park personnel.
“This was an access where we really wanted to have a presence," says Kletecka. "Because it’s utilized both for boats and some swimmers and fishermen go in there as well. And the idea was to be at a place where there hasn’t been really much of a presence by the state.”
There is no Eurasian watermilfoil in Waterbury Reservoir, but it does have another non-native invasive plant called brittle naiad. In addition to invasive plants, Kletecka says greeters are also on the lookout for the spiny waterflea and zebra mussels, both of which are established in Lake Champlain.
“One of the things we do ask them where they’ve been before," he says. "And so if they’ve been in Lake Champlain, where there is zebra mussels, we ask them if they’ve drained out their bilge and drained out their motor.”
Kletecka says while talking to reservoir users about invasive species, they are also taking the opportunity to educate them about more general environmental stewardship practices.
“[We] just try to be a very friendly, non-judgmental or non-regulatory kind of face there, but to let people know that we care about the reservoir and we want to make sure that other people take care of it as well," he says.
Like Kletecka, many of the people involved in the boat access greeter programs around Vermont are volunteers. But for those like Bill Harm, in Eden, who get paid to protect the lakes they love, it’s not a bad gig.
Harm says, “It’s a pleasant job. I sort of get paid to watch the loons and watch the ducks. You can’t beat that.”