By MICHAEL FRETT
NORTH HERO – More than 300 bikers will take to island roads this weekend in the name of a cleaner lake.
After having been sidelined in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain’s (FNLC) “Bike for the Lake” is scheduled to make its annual return to the Champlain Valley this coming weekend.
The event, which raises funding for FNLC’s work to support clean water projects in the Lake Champlain Basin’s northernmost watersheds, has occurred annually in the islands since 2011, when the lakeside bike ride was first organized on FNLC’s behalf.
“It grew from 30 bikers eating hamburgers cooked by local Boy Scouts,” FNLC’s longtime director Kent Henderson told The Islander. “It’s now the backbone of our fundraising.”
Starting at Knight Point State Park on North Hero’s southern shoreline, this year’s event sees several “loops” or routes, starting with a shorter loop around South Hero and Grand Isle, and gradually widening from there to include detours to Isle La Motte, Alburgh and a ferry ride from New York.
Henderson said FNLC plans to highlight some of its work in the watershed alongside organizations like the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a federally designated organization based in Grand Isle that coordinates environmental efforts in Lake Champlain’s watershed.
In a way, the event also helps showcase the lake at the center of FNLC’s clean water work. The event’s routes make a point of keeping bikers close to the waterfront, bringing them along prominent lakeside roads tracing Grand Isle and Clinton counties’ shorelines.
“People get right down beside the lake… and understand what a great resource it is,” Henderson said.
CLEAN WATER WORK
Events like the annual Bike for the Lake fundraisers build out the bulk of FNLC’s operating costs, supporting its office and some of its educational outreach and programming within Northwest Vermont.
The loss of major fundraising events pinched FNLC’s budget hard. According to Henderson, the organization’s total budget had been halved as a result, and while the organization was given a lifeline through state and federal relief programs, FNLC still had to cut a staff member.
In the meantime, according to Henderson, the organization had managed to tap into grant funding for some of the most substantial projects in Lake Champlain’s watershed in FNLC’s history.
According to a projects list shared with The Islander, as of May, FNLC had around $600,000 in grant funding tied to projects targeting water quality issues in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, ranging from a shoreline project in North Hero to major stormwater improvements in the Town of Georgia, where stormwater runoff from Route 7 had carved a deep gully and destabilized a nearby brook feeding into the Lamoille River.
A few of FNLC’s current programs were targeted in the islands.
Around $15,000 in awarded funding had been used to assist with restoring a private stretch of eroding shoreline in North Hero. A recent FNLC press release said work along North Hero’s shoreline had been completed earlier this spring and had involved stabilizing the shoreline against further erosion.
There were also conversations around bringing a visiting environmental education program to Alburgh’s school, where FNLC previously helped coordinate the installation of a small wetland called a “catch basin” to help manage stormwater runoff from the school’s parking lot.
While larger projects like the stormwater infrastructure targeted for Georgia will have its impact on phosphorus runoff monitored, Henderson said monitoring costs made it harder to appreciably measure FNLC’s projects elsewhere in Lake Champlain’s watershed.
It also was not necessarily the primary goal for several of FNLC’s projects in the Lake Champlain’s basin, according to Henderson.
Instead, Henderson said the organization typically looked to model projects that could be taken up at a greater scale elsewhere in Vermont, like the two-tier ditching systems piloted by FNLC on a Franklin County farm and later advertised in the state’s tactical basin planning for the Missisquoi River.
“These are demonstration projects,” Henderson said. “The hope is others pick up on them.”
Phosphorus, a vital nutrient for plant growth, is targeted as a pollutant in Lake Champlain’s watershed due to its role in fueling sometimes toxic blooms of cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae.” Vermont is under federal orders to significantly reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Champlain.
Several waterways the Lake Champlain Basin have also been listed as impaired due to erosion issues stemming from upstream development and uneven flows of water through those streams, an issue that can indirectly lead to phosphorus-laden sediments being washed downstream into Lake Champlain.
Recent reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Vermont’s Agency of Natural resources have found Vermont is currently on track to meet federal water quality goals by 2036.
FNLC’s Bike for the Lake is scheduled for this coming Saturday, with a rolling start for riders on each of its loops scheduled between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Information about registration is available online at https://www.friendsofnorthernlakechamplain.org/event/2021bikeforthelake/.
As of last week, more than 300 riders were scheduled to take part, according to Henderson.