If you see a yellow-capped kayaker or boater come close to your dock next month, there’s no need to panic. He or she is likely a volunteer, keeping an eye out for an invasive species that could wreak havoc on the Lake Hopatcong community: the water chestnut.
The Knee Deep Club is partnering with the Lake Hopatcong Yacht Club Paddlers and other local residents in an effort to curb any potential water chestnut growth—and the work comes to a head for a two-week period in June when dozens of volunteers will scour the lake to see if there is any sign of the ecosystem-choking weed. “This is the biggest risk to our lake ecosystem,” Tim Clancy of the Knee Deep Club told the organization at a March meeting. “We need to try to get out ahead of it.”
The water chestnut has taken over large swaths of the Lake Musconetcong basin, just downstream of Lake Hopatcong. None of the weeds has been identified in Lake Hopatcong yet, but state officials at the Department of Environmental Protection have indicated that it might just be a matter of time before it arrives, if it hasn’t already.
To nip any spread of the weed in the bud, the Knee Deep Club is spearheading an effort to search the lake for any sign of the water chestnut. Known as “water scouts,” the volunteers plan to cover all of Lake Hopatcong, including every edge of its 44 miles of shoreline. “Paddlers are the ones who can get into the nooks and crannies,” said Willa Scantlebury, the leader of the LHYC contingent of kayakers.
Specifically, the water chestnut has a blue-green leaf that rests on top of the water, with a stringy plant below that secures itself into the mud. In addition to choking the ecosystem, the plant can wrap itself around motorboat props until they can no longer turn. And because they have no natural predators in the lake environment, they can take over large expanses relatively quickly, creating dense mats at the water surface that prevent light from reaching organisms below.
Water chestnut seeds have a 12-year life span, which is why it’s important to remove the plant as soon as it is found. Those who will be volunteering their time in search of the plants next month will first identify any locations where they are found, and then a harvest plan will be implemented.
Immediately following the Knee Deep Club’s monthly meeting, held at 8 p.m. this Friday at the Hopatcong Civic Center, there will be a lengthy discussion on water chestnuts and a water scout seminar, and residents are welcome to attend to learn more (that portion of the meeting is expected to begin at 8:30 p.m.). Anyone interested in joining the water scouts next month is urged to contact Tim Clancy, James Salerno, or Willa Scantlebury to get involved.
Even if you don’t have the time to scour the shores, there are things you can do. First, get acquainted with the weed itself (click here to read the government information on the water chestnut), and if you happen to see it during your travels around the lake, report the location to the Lake Hopatcong Commission or Department of Environmental Protection immediately so that removal efforts can move forward. And if you launch your boat in another lake, make sure you empty your boat of any excess water before launching it back into the Lake Hopatcong watershed.
And be sure to cheer on those water scouts: they’re helping to keep the lake beautiful, healthy, and accessible for the rest of us. Just look for those yellow caps.