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The Moody Pond Challenge

I have always lived close to the water. My wife Margaret and I moved to Saranac Lake 10 years ago, and we have lived in the Moody Pond neighborhood ever since.

For the 20 years before that, I lived on Lake Chautauqua in Western New York, a much larger lake, surrounded by homes, orchards and dairy farms. It was there that my three sons grew up. We would start swimming in May and continue through June, but by July the Eurasian watermilfoil was getting dense enough that it was difficult to swim through it. The mechanical harvesters were operating, with tons of milfoil harvested and sent off to the compost farm, but it hardly made a dent as far as we were concerned. By late July and early August, it became difficult to canoe without bringing up the noxious weed with every stroke. By late August, auto-fragmentation, the plant’s primary means of reproduction, was leaving mounds of decaying debris on the shores, stinking enough as it rotted to make the shore unpleasant, worsened by the periodic die-off of the lake’s fish. It became nearly intolerable to sit by the shore.

Margaret has for years monitored Moody Pond as a volunteer for APPIP, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, paddling out in her canoe with a double-sided rake on a rope to dredge for invasive plant species. In the summer of 2018, paddling with her, I noticed something suspicious, and on closer examination, much to our surprise, we determined it to be the nemesis of so many freshwater lakes, the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil. We were surprised because we understood this to normally be spread from waterbody to waterbody by fragments left unwashed from motorized boats. These enter Moody Pond only infrequently. But there was no doubt. AIPPIP was notified, and a representative came out to snorkel around the pond and document the extent and locations of the infestation. It already occupied 14% of the pond and was expected to expand rapidly.

The water in Moody Pond is so clear that you can see the milfoil growing 15 feet below the surface. Fish are abundant and healthy. In our 10 years here, we have never seen a dead fish wash up. Although we keep our eyes out for invasive yellow iris and purple loosestrife, these are infrequent and easily managed so far. Cattails and pickerel weed are abundant, and the peepers and a visiting loon can keep you up at night. Mallards and painted turtles can be seen every day. Common mergansers and bufflehead ducks are regulars on their migration. Herons feed on the fish and frogs. Otters visit for the freshwater clams. For the moment, the ecosystem appears to be a healthy one. It’s a wonderful place to fish and swim. But this is now clearly endangered.

Moody Pond is without a doubt a Saranac Lake treasure. A 1-mile circuit around a beautiful and vibrant pond with very little vehicular traffic, it is now busier than ever with pedestrians, so many people enjoying the outdoors as a healthy distraction from the frightening pandemic. It would be a terrible shame to allow the pond to go the way of Lake Chautauqua and so many others, clogged with weeds all summer, stinking with rotting milfoil as autumn approaches, the native plants replaced by invasives and the varieties and health of the fish changing.

In the late summer of 2019, the Friends of Moody Pond, now a nonprofit, had its first organizational meeting, resolving to move forward and organize the effort to eradicate Eurasian watermilfoil from the pond and preserve its beauty and health. We have subsequently established bylaws, subscribed members, established officers and started both a website and a Facebook page. These are the determined results of many hours of work by volunteers, but we are just getting started. We’ve listened to consultants on how to best manage the watermilfoil infestation and have tentatively decided on a combination of weed suppressant mats and hand harvesting by divers. The health of this treasure is well worth preserving, and the Friends of Moody Pond are determined to preserve it.

The task will not be an easy one, and it will be an expensive one. Our estimate is that we will require approximately $15,000 each year for three years. Now is the time to start raising the funds and you will soon be hearing about our first fundraiser, “Foil the Milfoil: The Moody Pond Challenge.” We are hoping that the Saranac Lake community will embrace the fundraiser enthusiastically and sign up to participate by soliciting sponsors for activities of their choice including walking, running, biking, swimming, bagging peaks, even sewing masks, anything you can think of. You will have the chance to be creative, to be inspired and to inspire others. Moody Pond is challenging you and we’re confident you are up to the challenge. More to come …

To keep track of our efforts, visit our Facebook page, http://facebook.com/FriendsOfMoodyPond, or our website, https://friendsofmoodypond.org. Consider joining as a member or making a donation. All who love the pond are welcome.

Steven Sonnenberg lives in Saranac Lake.

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