Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lake Owners' Associations: Neighbors joining forces to protect their place

One way some people interact with a favorite place they visit is to own a piece of it. Welcome to cottage country. For us year around residents, knowing that others want to own seasonal homes in our locale helps us remember how special our place is. The economic planners love seasonal residents and the economic vitality they add to a place.

One particular entity within cottage country is the Lake Owners’ Association. I was not familiar with this concept until we moved here several years ago. Until then, I had not lived in places that were so desirable to visit that people owned seasonal homes there.

Property owners around lakes form Lake Owners’ Associations to protect the value of their special place, the lake. For some lakes, anyone owning property on that lake must belong to the Association. Part of the dues paid to the Association go for environmental stewardship of the lake. Invasive species management, fisheries management, use regulations (such as horsepower limitations on motorboats) are handled by the Association. Some Associations monitor water quality (e.g., sampling aquatic macroinvertebrates) and species of concern (e.g., loons) in partnership with local conservancies or other environmental organizations. That type of lake owners’ associations are not to be confused with a homeowners’ association that promulgates restrictive covenants to regulate the minute details of life in the suburbs. I’m referring to associations that protect the environmental values of the property owners’ shared resource.

Such associations are not limited to lakes, there are terrestrial versions as well, but the lake versions are common up here on the inland lakes of Northern Michigan (and I imagine elsewhere in lake cottage country).

Last week I had the pleasure of assisting a local lake owners’ association by completing an invasive plant species survey of their lake. I didn’t find any big trouble, just a few pesky plants in a few spots that can be managed. Some lake owners’ associations don’t get too concerned about invasive plants until they start fouling propellers, so it’s nice to know that some are proactive about potential problems.

Imagine puttering around with the association manager on his low horsepower pontoon boat on a beautiful fall day on a beautiful lake after most of the property owners have left for the season. A few property owners were still there, and were out enjoying the day. As we passed, they caught up on news and arranged appointments for the manager to do various chores. I don’t know if Lake Woebegon has a Lake Owners’ Association, but if it does, I rather imagine it would be like what I saw.

Public access to lakes is great, but not all lakes can be publically owned. The ones that are privately owned do well if they have a Lake Owners’ Association looking after them. So here’s a shoutout to the associations that are out there keeping their places special in positive ways.

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