Group has a short window of opportunity before issue worsens
VANCOUVER — There’s a small group of individuals who are trying to make a large impact on one of Clark County’s most significant landmarks.
The Friends of Vancouver Lake are addressing a problem that is threatening to essentially make Vancouver Lake unusable to area residents who want to take advantage of the many recreational opportunities offered by this wonderful community resource.
In the past two years, Vancouver Lake has become infested with Eurasian Milfoil. According to the Friends of Vancouver Lake website (www.VancouverLake.org), the milfoil “notoriously clogs waterways and blocks boating and swimming opportunities. It grows rapidly and spreads by fragmentation. That means any boat, swimmer, fish, or wind that breaks off a piece contributes to its advancement.’’
Care for our Lake Fundraiser
When: Sun., June 9, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Where: Vancouver Lake Sailing Club, 7110 NW 25th Ave., Vancouver.
How: Suggested donation is $100 (any amount appreciated)
Why: Friends of Vancouver Lake are working to raise funds and awareness to address the milfoil weed infestation.
Who: RSVP to Kathy Gillespie (call/text) (360) 901-6538
I recently met with two members of the nonprofit organization, whose mission is “to save Vancouver Lake for its recreational purposes and economic potential.’’
“We need to treat the lake, kill this milfoil because if it’s not killed now, in a couple of years it will render the lake unusable,’’ said Friends of Vancouver Lake Vice President Jim Luce, referring to those who use the lake for recreational purposes.
Let me say this upfront: I have never been accused of being an environmentalist. And, I’m not labeling the Friends of Vancouver Lake as environmentalists, although I don’t believe they would be offended if I did. But, what speaks to me about this issue is that I am extremely protective of what makes Clark County unique — our people, our landmarks, our own identity.
I moved to Vancouver from Skamania County in 1986. Soon after, a friend told me, “that’s a big, wide river out there (the Columbia River) and a lot of people would like to keep it that way.’’ My friend was referring to the reality that many Clark County residents don’t want our area to be described as a “bedroom community’’ to the Portland-Metropolitan area. I obviously go across the river into Oregon on occasion, mostly just for social purposes, but I want to believe that everything I need to be happy, successful and fulfilled is located right here in Clark County.
I believe that Vancouver Lake is one Clark County’s treasures. It’s used by area residents for recreational purposes and many events are held there each year that makes an economic impact on our community. So, nature has delivered us a blow in terms of the milfoil infestation at Vancouver Lake and until the members of the Friends of Vancouver Lake stepped up, nobody claimed responsibility for implementing a solution to the problem.
“Nobody claims ownership of the lake,’’ Luce said. “DNR (Department of Natural Resources) says ‘we own the surface waters.’ I’m not sure why they own the surface waters, but that’s what they say. The Port of Vancouver, depending on what document you look at, owns some of the tidelands, but not all off the tidelands. Clark County owns some of the land around the lake. The city (of Vancouver) doesn’t actually own any of the lake, but it’s within the city limits and the park (Vancouver Lake Regional Park) is there.’’
In January, the Friends of Vancouver Lake was formed. The Board of Directors include President Larry Cassidy, Luce (vice president), Philip Parshley (secretary), Eric Hale (treasurer) and members Harvey Clausen, Ted Gathe, Kathy Gillespie and Alan Stewart. In a short period of time, the group has made eye-opening progress to attack the milfoil issue, which is just the latest in a long history of problems at Vancouver Lake.
The group has yet to obtain 501c3 status but they have partnered with the Vancouver Rowing Club, which is a 501c3 organization. They are a little over halfway to reaching their goal of raising about $350,000. They hope to move closer to that goal this Sunday when they hold a fundraiser.
The Department of Ecology recently issued a permit that will allow the Friends of Vancouver Lake to have a contractor address the milfoil issue. First, a group of about 30 volunteers will go out on the lake over two days in July to measure the depth of the lake and identify the exact locations of the milfoil. Then, later this summer, the intention is to apply the prescribed treatment to the milfoil. The members of the nonprofit group are confident they will safely and efficiently eradicate the milfoil.
“Very few people believed that a group of private individuals forming a 501c3 would be able to get their own permit to treat a substantial body of water like Vancouver Lake,’’ Luce said. “It’s unheard of. We’re showing up because everybody else is not doing anything.’’
Luce and fellow Friends of Vancouver Lake member Kathy Gillespie pointed out to me that at one point there was a partnership group to assess the issues at Vancouver Lake that included Clark County, the city of Vancouver, and the Port of Vancouver USA. They hope they can re-engage those entities, along with the Corps of Engineers, to take the baton in the effort to manage the issues at the lake moving forward.
“What we found out is that even though the Vancouver Lake partnership stopped meeting, there remained a lot of support for Vancouver Lake and the caretaking,’’ Gillespie said. “We (Friends of Vancouver Lake) need to pay for treatment this year, and possibly in subsequent years. The goal would be to bring back this partnership alliance and get the county, the city and state partners working well together to establish those funding streams.
“I think this shows there’s broad support and concern for the lake,’’ said Gillespie, who pointed out the lake was recently the site of a junior regional rowing event that brought 1,500 athletes to Clark County in addition to other coaches, participants and attendees. “People understand the economic piece. They understand the recreational piece. It just got left behind at some point. It’s just totally unreasonable to rely on local volunteers, in a very short period of time, to raise that kind of money, to get a permit as a private group — which is very rare — and actually do the work to the standards that are expected. It’s unbelievable what we’ve been able to accomplish so much. But, it cries out for an official presence to lay the groundwork going forward.’’
Luce pointed out there are longer-term problems with the lake that need to be addressed in addition to the milfoil infestation and algae issues, which have been treated in the past.
“The longer-term problem is the flow of the water; it just doesn’t turn over that much and because it doesn’t turn over, you have the algae issue,’’ Luce said. “There’s also a carp issue. They grow big in Vancouver Lake. They’re huge. They get down in the mud and root around and knock the milfoil loose and it floats around and re-seeds itself.’’
Luce said the group plans to hold a free carp fishing derby in the future.
“The state of Washington doesn’t require a license and there is no limit,’’ he joked.
“I feel like we’re in the beginning footsteps of a longer journey,’’ Gillespie said. “Right now, the imperative thing was to get the permit, raise the money, survey the lake, apply the solution and evaluate the results. And then, think about our next steps. Hopefully, everybody will be excited when we do what we say we’re going to do. I think people will be very optimistic about what is possible because a very small group showed in a very short amount of time what is possible.’’