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An Echo Press Editorial: Join this trek to find lake invaders in Douglas County

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

Starry Stonewort Closeup.jpg
The starry stonewort creates dense mats at the water’s surface. It also overtakes habitat and outcompetes native aquatic plants, potentially lowering diversity.
Contributed photo by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
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One of the biggest points of pride in Douglas County is our lakes. They not only provide scenic views and fishing, swimming and boating fun, they also draw people to our area, which helps the local economy.

But how much energy are residents putting into preserving the quality of our lakes? It’s hard to measure. Our lake associations and sporting groups have been staunch defenders of our lakes for decades but they can’t do it alone. They need members and involvement from others.

So what can the average resident in Douglas County do? They can be lake defenders too by joining Starry Trek – an annual statewide event when members of the public first gather at training sites to learn how to identify starry stonewort and other aquatic invasive species.

The newly trained participants then branch out to local water accesses to search for signs of the invasive species.

Here in Douglas County, volunteers are needed to help determine if an aggressive algae has made its way into Douglas County lakes. On Saturday, Aug. 20, volunteers will meet to train and search for starry stonewort, which spreads easily and grows into dense mats at and below a lake’s surface.

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“This is not something you want in your lake,” said Justin Swart, Aquatic Invasive Species prevention coordinator for Land and Resource Management in Douglas County. “We need people for these early detection efforts to help protect our area lakes.”Starry stonewort is an invasive algae that was first found in Minnesota at Lake Koronis in 2015 and has since spread to 19 Minnesota lakes.

Volunteers have been the ones to find starry stonewort in four of those lakes which shows how valuable this half-day event is, according to county leaders.

No experience or equipment is necessary to participate in Starry Trek. Participants in Douglas County will meet at Public Works, 526 Willow Dr. in Alexandria at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 20. Training on starry stonewort identification will be provided on-site. The day will conclude about noon.

This event is free, but everyone must register in advance. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

To register and view all safety measures, visit maisrc.umn.edu/starrytrek.

State leaders are excited about this full-throttled effort to help the lakes.

“We’re once again proud to be partnering with the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center for this event,” Swart said. “Protecting our lakes is really important and the technique used to look for starry stonewort can also help identify other aquatic invasive species like Eurasian watermilfoil.”

Early detection of this species is critical for control, according to the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.

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A 2017 discovery of starry stonewort in Grand Lake led to the lake association and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources rapidly mobilizing to hand-pull the infestation. This early intervention was widely deemed as a success, with starry stonewort continuing to be limited to the small area near the public access where it was initially discovered.

“This event is a terrific way for people to get outdoors, get educated about aquatic invasive species, and help protect their area lakes,” said Megan Weber, Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. “The information we gain at this event helps researchers and managers understand its current distribution and potentially take action if new infestations are found.”

So join the fight. Become a lake defender.

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