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Friends of Wilson Lake

Protecting a treasured resource.

Since 1989,  Friends of Wilson Lake has led many efforts to protect the 563 acres of beautiful Wilson Lake and create programs to educate the community. Hannaford has supported Friends of Wilson Lake through the Hannaford Helps Community Bag Program. Above photo courtesy of Susan Atwood.

Tell us about Friends of Wilson Lake.

In 1989, a group of Wilton residents, both in the town and on the lake, became concerned about what they saw happening around the lake. They saw people building close to the water and cutting down trees. They were concerned about older septic systems that may not have been functioning well. They were concerned about the loons and their habitat and how to maintain it. And surprisingly, they were also concerned about seagulls. We are in West Central Maine, hundreds of miles from the coast. But Wilton had an open dump throughout the 1980s, and of course, the seagulls loved that.

People became concerned about the effect all these issues had on water quality. So, a lake association with by-laws and a board was established to address these concerns.

It was important that we involve the entire community in an educational program to let them all know that the lake is a fragile being and we all have the responsibility to protect it.

Our mission is to preserve and protect the aesthetic qualities, the recreational value and the purity of the water of Wilson Lake in Wilton and its watershed.

When we formed the association, just people living around the lake joined. But then we realized that it wasn’t just the people living on the lake that could do damage, but others as well. It was important that we involve the entire community in an educational program to let them all know that the lake is a fragile being and we all have the responsibility to protect it.

So, we opened our membership to not just residents of the lake but also residents of the community, residents of the immediate area and friends and relatives of residents. We now have more than 300 people that are members.

What services do you provide to the community?

We wanted to address the issue of water quality and the ongoing need to protect it. We looked at two areas that were powerful deterrents to water quality. One was the pollution of the lake that could lead to algae blooms. We undertook a state program called LakeSmart, an education and outreach program that recognizes lakefront homeowners who manage their land to protect water quality. We inspect residential homes around the lake, and if homeowners meet specific criteria, they receive a LakeSmart Award. And if they do not meet all the criteria, we help the homeowner address the inadequacies and work toward becoming LakeSmart.

Our second service is the Courtesy Boat Inspection program (described below) to keep invasive plants out of the lake.

Then as part of our broader education program, we established a newsletter that comes out three times a year. We also give free boat rides to those attending the Wilton Blueberry Festival. About 300 people come and ride on our boats around the lake each year at the Blueberry Festival.

What sets your organization apart from others in your community?

One of our premier programs is CBI, which stands for Courtesy Boat Inspection. This program runs throughout Maine, and it is the inspection of boats for plants, particularly invasive species, going in and out of the lake. We run the program with college and high school students, primarily on weekends, and they’re supported by what we call our adult support team. What makes our approach unique is that we’re the only organization in the state that brings in community members to participate as support for the students. If I’m a student and have a problem with a boater or boat, I call my adult support, who can either come to the lake or provide advice over the phone.

The boat inspection is a courtesy to the boater; it is not mandatory. Over the years, we’ve had only one boater refuse to participate.

Both the students and adult support team members are trained. The town of Wilton helps us with processing payroll, though we pay for the program, and town police officers stop by and check on the students. It’s a real community endeavor. Local businesses can sponsor a CBI weekend and a poster advertising their services is displayed in our kiosk at the boat ramp. It gives them marketing exposure and helps pay for the program. We’re very proud of bringing in our community leaders to help with the program.

We are one of the few lake associations engaged with the community as much as we are.

The other thing that makes us so unique is our broad reach. Most lake associations only involve people that own property bordering a lake, but Friends of Wilson Lake is very community involved. We are one of the few lake associations engaged with the community as much as we are. We have the business community involved with us; we are involved with the town government. We make a point to try and get the warden, the police chief and the town manager to come to our meetings so they are aware of what we’re doing.

We encompass people from just about everywhere and anyone who wants to come and enjoy the lake and see it maintained for future generations.

Tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.

In 2006, one of the loon chicks disappeared from the lake due to some youth shenanigans, we were told. While we could not confirm the cause, we took a very proactive approach to protecting the loons.  

We ran a prominent article in the newspaper that had got front page, above-the-fold headlines with a large picture of the loons on Wilson Lake and a report on protecting the loons and what had to be done. We also started a program for the third grades at our Academy Hill School, which takes place every year. In fact, it just took place today. About 60 third-grade students watched the loon presentation: what they are, where they come from, how they live and how they migrate south in the winter. Loons are not ducks, though a common misunderstanding is that they are.

That program has really taken hold. One of our members stepped up to be the program’s annual sponsor, so the program is known as the Wayne Smith Lakes and Loons Program.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

You need to go back to the big picture: Wilson Lake is the most important natural resource in this town and, in fact, in this region. People come from all over to fish, swim and boat.

But I think there are times when people just don’t really appreciate that it’s here and clean and that we all have a responsibility to keep it that way. We don’t want people to think in terms of us versus them.

…we want to impress on folks that this is a living body, and we need to work together to keep it healthy.

The state owns the lakes in Maine, so people are free to come and enjoy them. We see our responsibility as supporting their activities on the lake, but at the same time, we want to impress on folks that this is a living body, and we need to work together to keep it healthy. It’s not just the homeowners who have a responsibility to protect the lake, but anyone using this resource does.

Photo of Wilson Lake by Susan Atwood

What do you want people to know about Friends of Wilson Lake?

One of our former board members said that from his standpoint, this was the best organization you could belong to. The membership fee is only $12. You only meet once a year. There’s very little required involvement. So, with minimal cost and time investment, you can be part of an organization that provides a great service to the community! Our dues originally were $5; we’ve only raised them $7 in over 30 years. Fortunately, many of our members are very generous and make annual donations at their discretion in addition to paying their dues.

How will you use the funds raised from the Hannaford Helps Community Bag Program?

The funds support our programs, including our free boat rides during the Blueberry Festival. We also have a loon booth during the Blueberry Festival so people can learn about loons, and we hand out related materials. The funds also help offset the cost of bringing a guest speaker from Biodiversity Research.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

We live in Wilton, eight miles from Farmington and the University of Maine at Farmington. And we have a very close working relationship with the university and the professors there, especially in the Natural Sciences department. Professors from that department helped launch temperature and oxygen sensors for us. The sensors are attached to a big orange buoy and extend 88 feet down in the middle of the lake.

Periodically the professors and their students come, pull up the lines and download the data. It helps us because it gives us information about what’s going on in the lake. But it also helps them by providing research projects for the faculty members and hands-on experience for the students. So, we all win, and we’ve maintained that relationship with the university for a number of years.

Left to right are members of the Friends of Wilson Lake Board of Directors interviewed for this story: Sandy Muller, President; Rob Lively, Vice-President and Past President; and Wynn Muller, Vice-President/Treasurer and Past-President.

Published July 7, 2023.