Muskego group helps lake live a clean life
Association celebrates 45th anniversary of its ongoing efforts
Muskego — Maintaining a healthy lake is a little like swimming upstream if you don't have some friends to help you.
Little Muskego Lake got that help some 45 years ago when the Little Muskego Lake Association formed.
On Sunday, it celebrated its anniversary. Meanwhile, the lake has gotten a lot cleaner and purer in those 45 years, partly due to the association's efforts.
"Now you can go anywhere you want, the lake is pretty wide open," said Howard Schneider, who grew up on the lake and whose father was a Lake Association founder. "It's pretty amazing."
Fed up with weeds
Before the association intervened, the bays on the north end, especially at Idle Isle, were so weedy, boaters had to skirt around the edge, Schneider said. Even those little pathways through the weeds had to be created by spraying.
The main reason the weeds were so bad was from failing septic systems of cottages around the lake, Schneider said. Leakage not only gave nutrients that accelerated weed growth but it polluted the water for swimming.
"People around the lake could see things needed to improve," he said.
They formed the Little Muskego Lake Association, which encouraged Muskego to carry out its plans to install city sewers to replace septic systems, Schneider said.
After a time, the association realized that the only permanent solution to keeping Little Muskego Lake healthy was to form a lake district — to tax people living around the lake to perform lake projects. That included weed cutting.
Ultimately, the Little Muskego Lake District was formed as an offshoot of the association. It began doing the heavy lifting on projects, with the association, still a voluntary group, helping with manpower and money.
One of the things for which the association is best known is helping prevent pollution and contaminants from getting into Little Muskego Lake by buying up and protecting tracts within the lake's massive watershed. That has even involved buying land in New Berlin.
About 80 percent of the water that feeds Little Muskego Lake comes from New Berlin, Fries said.
Another major boon to water quality improvement over the years has been use of more environmentally friendly chemicals to control weeds, said Ken Fries, Lake Association president.
"There has been a vast improvement in water quality and safety," he said.
That fact has paid off in some spectacular ways.
"We have eagles that come off Big Muskego Lake now," Fries said. "We never saw those before."
Dredging up an issue
Dredging was another approach to lake stewardship, but not to the extent that was originally envisioned.
A dream of the association in the 1970s was to dredge the entire lake. To raise the money it sold thousands of commemorative beer cans, many to collectors around the world, Fries said.
"It was a very progressive thought, at the time," he said.
But eventually, the project got nixed on a narrow vote. The cash raised by the flamboyant fundraiser was used for smaller dredging projects around the lake, Fries said.
More recently in the 1990s, the association helped out with two dredging projects that made the popular Idle Isle Park more boat-friendly. One was along the park's northern perimeter, re-opening the water channels. The other was along the southern beach area and continuing down to a lake access. The two projects cost $320,000, with the association contributing $36,000.
Beach and launch care
Currently, Idle Isle beach and boat launch are getting some care from the association, which is working with the city and the state Department of Natural Resources to improve the area by planting flowers, cleaning up the erosion-control riprap along the shoreline, and getting rid of weeds.
It's also is working on establishing a station so that boaters can rinse off their boats, a practice intended to prevent pests from to other lakes.
The association has worked with youth groups, businesses and nurseries on these projects and spent $5,000 so far, Fries said.
In and out of stock
To make it more fun on the lake for everybody, the lake association and the lake district stocked 6-inch walleyes in 2008 and 2011, adding some 3,000 game fish to the lake. On a recent DNR survey, those fish were found to be nearly at the legal catchable size of 15 inches, Fries said.
While putting walleye in, the association and the district are doing their best to get the carp out.
Carp eat the young of game fish and stir up the lake sediment, making the water muddy, Fries said. So every year, a carp shoot is held with the Wisconsin Bowfishing Association. The Little Muskego Lake Association estimates that more than 3,500 carp have been removed.
Today, the association has more than 100 members. Fries felt it is valuable to Muskego residents in general because it is a voice for water quality and boating safety.
"We can speak as a group, rather an individually," he said.
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