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The Lake Where You Live: Can you get the gold?

December 27, 2019 by Ted Rulseh

The way you treat your shoreline has a lot to do with the way you treat your lake. In fact, what we do on our land likely has more impact than what we do while on and in the water.

On land is where we can do the most to keep nutrients and other pollutants out of the lake, and where we can help preserve natural species diversity and scenic values. Now there’s a way to check how well we’re doing as shoreline stewards.

The Tomahawk Lake Association’s website includes a Rate Your Shoreline survey borrowed from Michigan Shoreland Stewards. The survey walks you through 37 questions where you can indicate your practices involving four shoreland zones. It takes about 30 minutes, and it’s time well spent.

While answering the questions, you can click on links where you can learn about good shoreland management practices and why they’re beneficial.

The survey starts with the upland zone, which is where you have your house, garage and sheds. It helps to keep this area well vegetated with trees, grass and wildflowers and to minimize hard (impervious) surfaces like roofs, driveways and patios. This helps limit runoff, keep the lake water cool, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Next comes the buffer zone, from the water’s edge to about 35 feet inland. Keeping this zone natural helps prevent erosion and provides rich and diverse wildlife habitat. It’s also an important line of defense against runoff and the pollutants it can carry. 

Below the buffer zone is the shoreline zone, the area of transition from water to land. It begins at the top of the bank and extends to where the waves wash up on the shore. Natural vegetation here helps control erosion. The natural condition of this zone depends on the soil types, the shape and type of lake, how much the lake water level fluctuates, and other factors.   

Finally there’s the lake zone (also called the littoral zone), which comprises the near-shore water. Again, the size and nature of this area depends on various factors, including the lake size and the shape of the lake bottom. A healthy lake zone provides young fish and other creatures with food, shade, and cover in which to hide from predators. Natural plant life in this area should be preserved as much as possible. 

When we took the survey, our shoreline on Birch Lake earned the gold rating, but we’re not smug or self-satisfied about it. At the end, the computer program listed five areas where we could improve. Now that know about them, we can take action. 

You can take the survey at https://www.tomahawklake.org/rate-your-shoreline. Register for the survey under the Tomahawk Lake Association and identify Iron County as your lake’s home county. 

It’s a worthwhile exercise, and whether you attain bronze, silver or gold, or no rating at all, you’ll learn about how you can be a better shoreland and lake steward. Besides taking the survey yourself, consider sharing it with your lake association so it gets used throughout your lake community.

Ted Rulseh resides on Birch Lake in Harshaw and is an advocate for lake protection and improvement. His Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News columns are the basis for a book, “A Lakeside Companion,” published by The University of Wisconsin Press. Ted may be reached at [email protected]

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