Interesting Lake Health Piece on VPR

On Vermont Edition this week there was a ten minute segment about lake health in Lake Memphremagog.  The part of this lake which is in Quebec is governed by strict laws protecting its shorelines.  The interviewee is a person who patrols the lake and shoreline and reports infringing construction, destruction of the buffer, etc.  Fascinating.

Click HERE.

Two More Lakeshore Properties Improved

This year the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded the Lake Fairlee Association a grant to support our efforts to preserve and enhance our lake’s health.  By planting new shrubs and perennials we restored buffer zones on the shores of three lake residences, which will act as a filter to keep nutrients and pollutants out of the lake.  As you will have read in these posts, surface water flowing into the lake carries nitrogen and phosphorous from decayed plant matter and fertilizers, and toxic substances from pesticides and human trash.  The single best thing we can do to to keep the lake clear is to deter this runoff, best accomplished by allowing a natural ‘buffer’ to develop along the shore.  Simply by not mowing, raking, or cultivating a distance back from the shore the leaves and fallen plant matter that collect will slow the runoff and help remove unwanted contaminants.

Since our last post buffers were created on two more properties, completing the work funded by the grant.  Redwing Meadow, more recently known as the Tifft farm, has a long low shoreline.  In recent years grass has been allowed to grow tall down near the lake, excepting a mowed path or two.

Tifft’s before

Tifft’s after






The Snow’s property on Lakeshore Drive has a bank about three feet high above the water.  Here besides filtering runoff the roots of the woody plants will slow the erosion of the shoreline.

Snow’s before

Snow’s after







Now the plants are in the ground, have been mulched, and the surrounding area seeded and covered with straw. The single best thing that every lake owner can do to ensure an effective natural filter is to stop mowing, raking, and cultivating near the shoreline.  This lets leaves and detritus to collect on the ground and new seedlings to take root.  The ungroomed natural growth that results works best.

Who Made This Possible?

Money from the grant paid the cost of the plants and materials. The labor was donated by lake residents, conservation commission members, and generous neighbors.  The property owners have agreed to allow their shorelines to be used as models to show others what a lakeshore “makeover” can look like.

Some of those who helped:

  • E.C. Brown’s Nursery in Thetford provided all of the plants . . . then advised us about native choices, selected hardy individuals, and gave a generous discount.
  • Peggy Willey
  • Corey Paye
  • Julie Paye
  • Ann Stephens
  • Doug Tifft
  • Bonnie McAdam,
  • Renee Snow
  • Libby Chapin
  • John Chapin
  • Skip Brown

Thank you one and all (and any we have overlooked)

Part of the wet but happy crew at the Tifft’s

Riparian Buffer Restoration Project Update

As described in an earlier post (LINK), one of the grants we have been awarded this year is for a demonstration project to improve the buffer along several residential shorelines around the lake. Three properties were selected, one in each of the three towns that border the lake.

Many hands make light work!


The lakeshore of the Shermans’ camp in West Fairlee received the first attention.  On Saturday, September 12th, a small group of volunteers comprised of lake residents and members of the West Fairlee Conservation Commission met on a crisp cool late summer morning.



The Shermans have a lawn right down to the lake, low enough that it can get flooded when the lake level is high.

Shermans' shoreline "before"

They have a small beach, some of which is covered by a removable deck.

Before planting

The job was accomplished in a scant two hours.  We left a four foot path, and planted a buffer on either side.  We emphasized to Lee and Norm that the single most important thing they could do would be to leave the buffer area ungroomed, unmanicured, and untended.  The leaves and detritus that accumulates on the ground constitutes nature’s best filter.

Here is the finished product.  The Shermans, who were out of town when the work was done, were thrilled with their new look.

After planting

We will be planting two more shorelines in the end of September and the beginning of October.  You can read about them when they are completed here.

Restoring a Collapsing Bank

Progress Update on Shoreline Restoration Project

Where Robinson Hill Road is adjacent to Lake Fairlee a stretch of the shoreline has eroded significantly.  The road is poorly situated anyway, too close to the lake.  Constant wave action due to wind and powerboat wakes have undercut the bank dangerously.  And years of careless road maintenance have allowed the road to widen, reducing its distance from the lake.

In 2011 the Lake Fairlee Association was awarded a Better Backroads Grant which allowed us to reclaim some of the area between the road and the shore, and plant native shrubs and perennials there to stabilize the soil.  LINK  That initial step was successful, so this year we applied for and received another BBR grant to rebuild the bank and extend the shoreline farther towards the lake.

All the work is being done by volunteers.  Local residents and Asociation members provided much of the labor, and the town of Thetford has donated their road crew to deliver the rocks and soil.  The grant money pays for the shrubs and perennials to be planted, and for the crushed stone and soil as well.

(click on the small images to see larger ones)

September 7th


Here is what the shoreline looked like on September 7th, before any work began.





September 7th


It is hard to tell from that view how badly undercut the shoreline is, because it is obscured by the plants.  In this view you can see the erosion better.




September 13th


Here is the shoreline on September 13th.  A siltscreen is in place to reduce silting in the lake, and a large amount of crushed rock has been placed to establish a new bank.




September 17th


September 18th, a gray rainy morning.  Fabric was placed on top of the stones yesterday, in anticipation of the soil, now scheduled to arrive on Thursday.




Heavy rains forecast just when we planned to place the dirt fill on the crushed stone caused a last minute adjustment of our schedule.  We are now planning to accomplish most of the rest of the project on Thursday, September 20th. Stay tuned for updates.

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So the rain came on schedule on Wednesday, and Thursday morning was bright and clear.  The Thetford road crew  delivered the fill bright and early, and spread it in an even layer over the fabric.  The plants were delivered by E.C. Brown’s Nursery.  Around 11:00am an eager crew of volunteers showed up and did the planting, seeding, mulching, and haying.  A good time was had by all.

Here is a collection of pictures from planting day:


planting day 1


planting day 2


planting day 3


planting day 4


planting day 5


planting day 6


planting day 7


planting day 8


planting day 9


planting day 10



Shoreline Grants Update

As reported earlier [LINK], LFA has been awarded two grants this year which support our efforts to preserve the health of our lake.  A lot has already happened behind the scenes, and soon we will begin the visible work.

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The Better Backroads Grant continues work begun last fall, when volunteers began restoration of the shoreline along Robinson Hill Road [LINK].  This month we will stabilize the same section of shoreline to reduce erosion at the waterline.  The project requires that we first install a silt fence in the water to contain turbidity.  Next medium size stones (6-12″) will be placed on the lake bottom to create a stable toe of slope and a base to place fill on.  These rockes will protrude a foot above the high water line.  Fabric will be laid on top of these, and then fill sloping up to the top of the bank. Finally more shrubs and vegetation will be planted, and the slope seeded and mulched to minimize erosion.

This all should be completed by the end of September. The Town of Thetford will transport and deposit the rocks and the fill, and volunteers will install the silt fence, the fabric, and do the planting.

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The Watershed Grant from the Department of Fish and Wildlife will pay for the restoration of riparian buffers along three sections of lakeshore.  As we have explained [LINK], a “buffer” of native vegetation along the water’s edge separates the uphill land uses from the lake and benefits water quality.  We have identified three properties around the lake which will benefit from additional lakeshore planting.  Each presents a different challenge.  We will post before and after photos when we report on the completion of the project.

An example of a well vegetated residential shoreline

Being a Good Lake Neighbor

[ The following was mailed to LFA members and friends. It is good advice for all ]

There are many ways to be a good neighbor on the lake.  Here are some of them.  We ask that each of us consider the following recommendations.  Most of these behaviors are simply common courtesy.  A few are also the law.  Some of the issues may surprise you.  We believe that all are worthwhile suggestions that can help us live together as lake neighbors.

Lake Health

  • Keep pollutants out of the lake
    • Don’t use herbicides where they can run into the lake
    • Do not dispose of paints, pharmaceuticals, or petroleum products in your septic
  • Keep excess nutrients out of the lake
    • Consider runoff when making landscaping decisions
    • Stop mowing/cultivating at the shore; allow a natural buffer to develop
    • Avoid using fertilizer where it can run into the lake
  • Be aware that boat wakes contribute to the breakdown of the shoreline.  Also note that the continual wave action may deter our resident loons from making a successful nest and having young.


  • Observe 5 mph “no-wake speed” within 200 feet of shorelines, docks, kayaks, etc.
  • Stay alert for swimmers and give them a wide (200’) berth
  • Avoid excessive speed on roads around the lake, especially the straight sections of Rte 244


  • Be mindful that sound carries exceptionally well across the lake.  Be courteous to other residents and users of the lake.  Plan to end parties, and particularly loud music or fireworks, at a reasonable hour.
  • Some people find the sound of dogs barking particularly annoying.  This frequently happens when the owners leave and are not there to hear it.


  • Aim outdoor “path lighting” down, not out.
  • Put “security lights” on a timer or motion detector, so that they do not stay on all night.
  • Use lower wattage, warm bulbs that are a softer white.
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Being a Good Lake Neighbor – Why You Should Do It

Lake Fairlee provides a rich variety of opportunities for recreation.  Many of us find our lives enriched by its natural beauty.  Those of us who live or regularly spend time on Lake Fairlee share this valuable natural resource.

Sometimes our activities come into conflict.  For example, the noise or the wake from a powerboat can be an annoyance to those who would prefer the lake’s quiet serenity.  Or the desire to have a perfect lawn can result in unnecessary fertilizer runoff into the lake.  As the lake becomes more crowded it becomes increasingly important that we acknowledge the community in which we participate, and give a little thought to how we want to behave in this community.

Lake Health

The lake is a delicately balanced ecosystem.  Its health is reflected in the clarity of the water, the abundance of fish, and the absence of “blooms” of algae and cyanobacteria.  It can be damaged by the introduction of non-natural substances such as paints, weed killers, or petroleum products.  It also can suffer from an excess of nutrients.  One way in which nutrients are introduced are from runoff of fertilizer (even organic fertilizer) from farms in the watershed or from lawns.  Another is from earthmoving, as for road grading or home construction, because the soil that finds its way into the lake carries nitrogen and phosphorous from of the decayed vegetation of which it is made.


As the lake becomes more crowded with motorboats, opportunities for accidents increase.  The narrow “waist” that separates the north end of Lake Fairlee from the west end creates an additional hazard.  State law requires that boats over 5 mph “no wake” speed stay more than 200 feet from the shoreline (and from any docks, canoes, swimmers, etc.) and the “narrows” is only about 900 feet wide.  In fact, it is the danger posed by the narrows that prompted the State to prohibit the use of personal watercraft on our lake, which are normally allowed on any lake greater than 250 acres.

Smooth pavement and straight sections of Route 244 along the lake sometimes invite car and truck speeds well in excess of the posted 40 mph limit – this in spite of the three summer camps and frequent walkers and bicyclists that share the route.


Noises carry exceptionally well across the open water of the lake.  Lakeshore residents frequently can hear even quiet conversations from quite a distance.  It follows that barking dogs, noisy conversation, and amplified music can also disturb others across the lake.  Loud fireworks pose a singular problem.  How late should a noisy party continue?  There is no agreed guideline, but we urge all to be concerned for our neighbors’ peace.


Bright lights shining from another property into your window can be an annoyance.  The proliferation of this lighting is being called “light pollution.”  Many come to the lake hoping to escape the “city lights”, and some enjoy the myriad stars visible only in the countryside.  Security lighting does not need to be so bright to be effective.  Lights on a motion sensor can be an effective deterrent to intruders.  Pathway lighting should point down.

If you are a landlord, please share this sheet with your renters!


Mermaid Weed in our Lake – a Mixed Blessing

Last November we reported that there is a dense patch of E. milfoil growing near the mouth of Middle Brook, which our consultant (Lycott, Inc.) is recommending that we treat with a local application of triclopyr [LINK].  We are planning such a treatment, and the State has indicated its approval.  The affected area covers about eight acres, and is located in shallow water just offshore.

click for factsheet

But wait!  In late June of 2008 Leslie Matthews, a State biologist, took a group of us on a “field trip” in that location as part of a workshop to teach us how to recognize invasive plants (and others).  One of the participants pointed out a plant that Leslie could not name.  So she took a sample for later identification. She soon emailed that “it is a native plant called “marsh mermaidweed” – Proserpinaca palustris.  This plant is in the same family as the milfoils (Haloragaceae) but it is not in the “water milfoil” genus (Myriophyllum).”

Prior to the issuance of our herbicide permit in 2010 Lycott conducted an extensive audit of plant species in the lake.  The mermaid weed was not found.  Nor was it noticed in subsequent inspections by Lycott and by the State.  This might have been because it is growing in such shallow water that it is hard to get to even with a kayak.  Or its small incidence just escaped notice.

But P. palustris has “S1” status in Vermont, meaning that it is “very rare, generally 1 to 5 occurrences believed to be extant and/or some factor(s) making it especially vulnerable to extirpation from the state.”  So in the course of a routine review of our proposal the Department of Fish and Wildlife noted the presence of the rare mermaid weed in the same area.  To protect the rare weed from the effects of the herbicide we will be required to install a barrier between it and the treatment area.  And we will pay special attention to this species in the post application plant survey.

Just how this will play out is unknown.  The water is less than a foot deep in the area where the barrier will be placed, which poses problems.  And while the mermaid weed has this rare plant status, the State botanist reported:

“Overall, likely thousands of genets, but hard to tell number of individuals. Very vigorous growth of plants; nearly all in fruit. Two areas, one 10×10 feet and another 15×15 feet which were colonized completely by this species with 100% cover. Another large area 40×50 feet had about 90% cover. Many plants were emergent from the water.”

Little is known about how susceptible the mermaid weed is to the herbicide tricolpyr.  It is a perennial dicot, the class of plants affected by this auxin.  Besides milfoil, the only aquatic dicot widely found in the lake are the water lilies.  They suffered some effect from the triclopyr in 2010, but they quickly recovered.

One bit of irony: marsh mermaidweed is widely advertised as a desirable aquarium plant.  Many believe that Eurasian milfoil found its way into this country’s waterways when it was discarded by aquarium enthusiasts who had purchased it for the same purpose!

Two New Shoreline Grants Awarded

The Lake Fairlee Association has been awarded two grants this spring in support of our efforts to improve the health of our lake.

The first is $8000 from the Vermont Better Backroads program to support the second of three phases of shoreline restoration along Robinson Hill Road in the southwest corner of the lake.

The second is a $5000 “Watershed Grant” from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife to help shoreline owners restore their shoreline to a natural protective buffer.

Better Backroads Grant

Planting along Robinson Hill Road

This grant will continue work done last September on the lakeshore adjacent to Robinson Hill Road.  Over the years the gravel road had become wider and wider, and the road grader and snowplow had removed most of the vegetation between the road and the lake.  We reported on the first phase of the restoration project HERE.

This grant will continue the project.  Where the bank is is “inverted:” due to erosion rocks will be added to rebuild the bank and stabilize the bank along the edge of the road.

Watershed Grant

The Lake Fairlee Association has long been encouraging lakeshore property owners to create or expand natural buffer zones along the shore.  See, e.g., earlier posts HERE and HERE.  This grant from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife we will help us make some real progress in this area.

The grant requires us to identify several (three?) properties around the lake that would benefit from riparian buffer restoration.  After obtaining the agreement of the landowners, we will develop a restoration plan for each, in consultation with scientists from the Vermont Water Quality Division.  Grant money will purchase plants and material required, and we will solicit volunteer labor to complete the projects.

We plan to choose properties that represent each of the three towns around the lake, and ones that can visibly model the beneficial improvements that we accomplish.  We will publicize these projects in the hopes that they might encourage imitation.

One of the most important techniques in developing an effective buffer is just to allow the shoreline to “go natural,” to return to its natural state.  Plant roots stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, and an undisturbed layer of decaying leaves and organic matter, called “duff,” provides a most efective filter to remove pollutants from runoff.  HERE is a longer and better explanation.

We are grateful to the State of Vermont for providing the funding that makes this kind of project possible.

A Better Explanation of Riparian Buffers

A buffer helps the lake but does not diminish the owners enjoyment

The Lake Fairlee Association has long been extolling the virtues of riparian buffers. They improve water quality, they protect the shore from erosion, and they just look good. The State of Vermont has put together a new web page that explains the whys and hows pretty well.

Choosing not to mow near the lakeshore creates a modest buffer

Vermont’s Act 250 constrains construction and other activities near the lake. Here is a LINK to a document clarifying the expectations of that Act.

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The following is adapted from this excellent web page created by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Lakeshore Vegetation and Buffers


Natural lakeshore vegetation is critical to the long-term health of a lake environment. A “buffer” of native vegetation along the water’s edge separates the uphill land uses from the lake thus providing numerous water quality, scenic, privacy and habitat benefits. On this page you’ll read about the elements of a buffer, their values, and what you can do to enhance or protect shoreland vegetation on your lake.

What is a Buffer?

A buffer is a width of vegetated land between the lake and adjacent land uses. To function as a “buffer,” the vegetation should be a natural mixture of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, and the “duff” layer. Think of it as the native Vermont woods. A buffer has many components (leaf canopy layers, decomposing material, etc.) that function together to protect the lake, and many values (wildlife and aquatic habitat, filtration of runoff, bank stability, scenery, etc.).

A buffer is a naturally vegetated width of land between the water’s edge of a lake, stream or wetland, and uphill land uses. It is composed of a mix of trees, shrubs, ground cover and undisturbed ground.

Multiple layers of vegetation make up a buffer.

  • tree canopy
  • understory trees
  • shrubs of different heights
  • low growing groundcover
  • “duff,” the decomposing organic matter on the forest floor

These layers treat runoff entering the buffer from uphill as well as allow for maximum absorption of rainfall and numerous shallow water and shoreland habitat values.

The different layers of leaves both hold rain (up to 1/2 inch of rain can be held on the tree leaves) and slow its descent. Rain falling gently will erode the ground less or not at all.

The ground vegetation slows the runoff on the ground, encourages it to be absorbed into the soil, and catches and holds sediments that may be in the runoff.

The groundcover functions to both hold the soil in place and to treat runoff from uphill. Groundcover is a critical component of a buffer.

The duff, or decomposing organic matter, is an essential component of a buffer. Its spongy and absorbent characteristics allow for absorption of runoff from uphill land uses.

The lack of a duff layer is the reason why lawns do not provide the runoff treatment of a buffer, as lawns tend to be hard packed and offer little absorption. A lawn, even under trees, also does not provide most of the habitat values and benefits of a buffer.

The natural uneven ground of woods provides numerous crevices and small basins for runoff to be absorbed and removed of its pollutants

Values and Benefits of Buffers

The shoreland is the critical interface between the lake and the terrestrial environment.

  • Aquatic life gains important habitat materials (fallen leaves, branches and trees), food (fallen insects), and shade from overhanging vegetation
  • Many birds and animals depend on proximity to water for breeding or feeding and use the wooded buffer
  • A well-vegetated buffer will filter pollutants such as sediments and phosphorus out of runoff from uphill land uses
  • A buffer of diverse tree, shrub and plant species provides long-term bank stability
  • A wooded shore adds beauty to a lake experience

A naturally vegetated buffer along lakes provide numerous benefits to people and the environment, from protection of the water quality and beauty that bring people to the lake, to the functioning of the lake as part of a healthy ecological landscape.

Mown grass has shallow roots and cannot withstand the erosive forces of waves and high water.

A naturally vegetated shore provides bank stability through a complex mix of root depths and patterns.

Removing shore trees and shrubs exposes the adjacent shallow water to more sun and to increased sediment and phosphorus runoff. The increased light, warmer water and additional nutrients result in increased algae and nuisance plant growth in the immediate nearshore area.

In addition, a lake without, or with little, buffering vegetation will experience an overall increase in phosphorus concentration, meaning more algae growth everywhere and less water clarity.

People generally agree that shoreland vegetation increases the beauty of a lake

Continue reading

A Riparian Buffer Success Story

Abbey outlines the task

On September 16th a group of volunteers gathered to plant a buffer of native vegetation along several hundred feet of Lake Fairlee’s shore.  In recent years this unpaved section of Robinson Hill Road has been washing into the lake.  It is well understood how runoff harms lakes and streams, accelerating their eutrophication and contributing to harmful algae growth.  Thanks to a grant from the Better Back Roads Program we have begun the process of restoring a healthy lakeshore.

The Better Back Roads program is in its 15th year helping Towns and private organizations keep silt and sediment out of our waterways with better maintenance practices.  Late last spring a small group of residents learned that a grant might be available for a project that would “promote the use of erosion control and maintenance techniques that save money while protecting and enhancing Vermont’s lakes and streams.”  They approached the Lake Fairlee Association and the Town of Thetford, inviting both to help provide the ‘local match’ required by the grant.

Ready for planting

A plan was developed, an application filed, and by early July the grant was awarded.  The project was scheduled for September.  Several hundred feet of Robinson Hill Road would be regraded to provide a wider shoulder for the new planting.  The grant of $1980 paid for screened topsoil, 26 plants, winter rye seed, and bales of straw mulch.  The Town of Thetford donated their heavy equipment (a backhoe and dump truck) with two men to operate them, as well as labor to dig the ditch, dispose of the fill they dug, transport the topsoil, and distribute it along the ditch.

Volunteer labor

A dozen volunteers provided labor, including representatives from the Lake Fairlee Association, the Thetford Conservation Commission, the West Fairlee Conservation Commission, and a few unaffiliated friends of the lake.  Two staff members from Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources were present at the site with shovels in hand: Ben Copans, Coordinator of the Ompompanoosuc Watershed District, part of the state’s Water Quality Division, and Abbey Williard, Manager of the White River Natural Resources Conservation District, who consulted about the buffer plan, and oversaw the project.

Mulching finishes the job

The planting date was delayed by tropical storm Irene, but the morning of September 16th was sunny and brisk as our volunteers met along the old Camp Norway shore.  Many hands (and shovels and rakes) made easy work.


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It is a pleasure to report some really good news once in a while!

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More photos of the planting party can be found HERE.