Farewell from SLA’s first Executive Director Rachael DeWitt
Through my entire life Skaneateles Lake has taught me many things. Growing up I learned how to swim, scuba dive, sail, waterski, and wakeboard on the lake. What started with water related hobbies cultivated a passion for water and a desire to protect and conserve water quality. In middle school I began volunteering with the SLA to spread awareness of the threats of milfoil. In high school I worked on the Milfoil Boat surveying the lake for patches of milfoil, and I began working as an Invasive Species Monitoring Steward. The foundational experiences I had growing up in Skaneateles inspired me to attend college at University of Vermont and major in Environmental Science with a concentration in Aquatic Ecology, Policy, and Management. I then went on to protect other lakes including Onondaga Lake and Lake Champlain only to return to Skaneateles Lake as the first Executive Director of the Skaneateles Lake Association (SLA). I like to joke that the SLA has kept me employed over the past 10 years.
It’s been an incredible year working for the Skaneateles Lake Association. The SLA is a unique organization in that a majority of the organization is comprised of volunteers. This year our board is expanding from 20 to 25 members. Our board is made up of PhDs, scientists, environmental consultants, lawyers, engineers, not-for-profit executive directors, political affiliates, teachers, doctors, nurses, self-employed individuals, and many other backgrounds. Combined they poses an incredible variety of skills and are providing them to the SLA free of charge. Think of what someone would have to pay to hire a consulting group with that much knowledge! This knowledge base is what I had access to this year, and this community should recognize the gift that these individuals provide at no cost. They are truly remarkable people who are willing to put in 12-hour days if it means protecting this lake.
With this foundation of people to make up the SLA, we have accomplished a lot over the past year. Our membership has expanded to over 1,000 households (or ~2500 individual members). We are expanding the Aquatic Invasive Species Stewardship Program to cover all the boast launches entering Skaneateles Lake. We’ve acquired an office in St. James Church at 96 East Genesee St (however our mail still goes to PO Box 862). We are combating harmful algal blooms (HABs) through remediation projects, educational opportunities, and scientific studies. We have identified 30 remediation projects such as catch basins, riparian buffers, restabilization of streams, settling ponds, and wetland restoration. Our identified remediation project list seems to grow daily and we are breaking ground on several of these projects this year. Unlike our board members’ ability to work free of charge, our effectiveness in preventing HABs does require money. As a result, we developed the Legacy Fund, which is specifically devoted to fighting harmful algal blooms. We have been able to raise significant funds to implement remediation projects, monitor streams, and other activities that can help reduce the likelihood of a HAB occurrence. We’ve also engaged government officials, local/state/federal government agencies, environmental not-for-profits, universities, freshwater institutes, engineering firms, environmental consulting groups, businesses, and other groups into our efforts. Collaboration is the key to success. We have also hosted several educational and fun events to inform the public about HABs, landscaping for water quality, aquatic invasive species, and general SLA initiatives. These are some of my favorite moments working for the SLA because I am always in awe of how many people come to attend these events. It truly shows how many people care about this lake and will take action to protect it. I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved or supported the SLA. I am amazed at all that has been accomplished by so many impassioned people.
Though it is hard for me to walk away from all that has been started, I know the SLA will be in good hands with our new Executive Director, Frank Moses, who has an incredible resume and toolbox of skills to carry the torch on all the initiatives that have been started. The leadership of the SLA board will guide him, just as they guided me. I will be leaving the SLA on June 14th to continue my environmental education at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California San Diego. I will be starting a Master’s degree program on June 26th in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and intend my next career path to focus on coral reef conservation. I am thankful and forever indebted to the SLA for giving me a start in this field. This job has been fun, meaningful, and is one of the reasons I believe I was accepted into graduate school. Though I will be moving across the country, Skaneateles Lake will never be far from my thoughts and I am still happy to serve as a lake conservation resource to anyone seeking advice. I will truly miss the SLA and hope to be helpful to them from across the country.
Please thank the following for their sponsorship of the Milfoil Boar for a day: Nancy & Douglas McDowell, Elmer Richards & Sons, Donna & William Davis, Mary & Paul Torrisi, Katherine & Joseph Compagni, Jane & Peter Hueber, Marjorie & Kenneth Blanchard, Alexandra & Richard Nicklas, and Libby & Arnold Rubenstein.
Please thank the following for their co-sponsorship of the Milfoil Boat for a day or multiple days: Anne & John Sveen;, Maureen & Joseph Wilson, Richard Alciati, Joan Christy & Thomas Bersani, Susan & Dana Hall, Kathy & Kevin LaGrow, Pamela & Michael Odlum, John Priest, Rhonda & Craig Richards, Patricia & David Stone, Carolyn & John Tierney, Lisa & Michael Wetzel, Paul White, Sharon & Edward Barno, George Ann & Edwin Bock, Carol & Tom Fletcher, Mark Allyn, Ann Buehler, Jacqueline Bays & Joseph McCaffrey, Elizabeth Downes & Patrick Doyle, Barbara Egtvedt, Jean Shook & Chris Johnson, Molly & Bill Spalding.
Please thank the following for their sponsorship of a Steward for a day or multiple days: Martha & William Cole, Lori Ruhlman & Dan Fischer, JJo & Bob werner, Lisa Letizia & Paul Floreck, Dr. Robert Vitkus, Dessa & William Bergen, Kathryn Pasqua & James Helmer, Suzanne & Scott McClurg, Christine & Robert Pierce, Judd Seales, Brenda & Thomas Parkes, Racquel & James Vlassis, Kristopher Scholl, Mary & Paul Torrisi, Jane & Peter Hueber.
Please thank the following for their donations to the David Lee Hardy Fund which significantly supports our Steward Program: Linda Solana & Clifford McBroom, Patty & Jim Hertz, Mary Ellen Faughnan & Gregory Kenien, Robert Warfield, Graia Koziol, Nancy Murray, Kuni & Patrick Riccardi, Carol Lynne Krumhansl & Jeff Roberts, Katherine & Joseph Compagni, Joan & Alan Coates, Mary Giroux, Kathleen & Dan Mezzalingua, Jane & Peter Hueber, Edward & Deborah Brennan.
Join all these generous donors in SLA Membership, Milfoil Boat, Steward and Hardy Fund Sponsorship and go beyond SLA Annual Membership and support the Legacy Fund for Skaneateles Lake. You can do this online at SkaneatelesLake.org or call 315-685-9106 for a Member Registration Form.
Source: Skaneateles Press Observer