ROADS TO RUIN?
By Maggie Shannon
Executive Director, Maine COLA
Driving through fields and woods to the lake, don’t we all keep an eye cocked for glimpses of light between the trees, searching the flash of blue that signals journey’s end? We may be so focused on our destination we notice the road beneath our wheels just enough to stay on it and avoid wildlife and the occasional puddle.
Hold it! It’s time for all of us to stop and examine these familiar routes. Mild mannered as they may seem, camp roads are Maine’s Lake Enemy #1. Experts estimate camp roads contribute between 60% and 85% of all nutrient loading in our watersheds! Nutrient loading is technical talk for too much soil getting into our waters, enriching them and fast-forwarding lakes into decline.
As the lowest portion of the landscape, lakes are catch basins for water funneled from their watersheds. Roads cut across and into the landscape, disturbing gentle, natural drainage patterns. Poorly built and maintained roads channel rainwater, increasing its speed and ability to lift and hold onto soil particles as it flushes lakeward.
The end results are loss of desirable shoreline, obnoxious algal blooms, lowered levels of dissolved oxygen, and diminished lake and property values. The insidious and relentless process delivers Death by 1,000 Cuts to our lakes -- day by day, year by year, and storm by storm.
Most camp roads are primitive. Many in use today were laid out in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s with aid of little more than crosscut saw, pick axe and dump truck. Few have been rebuilt since then. Meanwhile, our use of them has changed and escalated. We drive more miles in bigger vehicles today, and there are many more of us, owning more cars per family unit, and using camp roads for extended periods, if not year round.
There are a lot of these roads, too. A surprising 65%, or about 44,500 miles of all Maine roads are private. (Numbers based on a Maine Roads GIS Dataset last updated in April, 2002.) Not all private roads run down to lakes, but many do. They are such a huge threat to surface waters that Norm Marcotte of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (MEDEP) wonders how we’ll beat “the tremendous continuing challenge Maine faces trying to prevent our “car habitat” from degrading our “aquatic habitat”.
Click here to see a diagram of typical camp road profiles (in pdf format 45kb)
Now that we’ve met the enemy and discovered it is us, what are we to do about it?
- Form a Road Association. The brand new “Guide to Forming Road Associations” from the York, Kennebec, Cumberland and Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD’s) will tell you everything you need to know. It is available from your local SWCD. This concise handbook comes with a companion CD containing templates for incorporating and obtaining tax-exempt status as well as samples of agreements, easements and meeting notices.
Maine Association of Conservation Districts listing of Maine SWCDs
National Association of Conservation Districts - find your local SWCD
- Use DEP Certified Contractors for rebuilding and maintaining your camp road. Certification involves training in erosion control and application of Best Management Practices (BMP’s) and must be renewed every 2 years. DEP’s list of certified contractors is at http://www.maine.gov/dep/blwq/training/ccec.htm
- Get a copy of the Camp Road Maintenance Manual, Kennebec County SWCD, available online at http://www.maine.gov/dep/blwq/training/ccec.htm or from DEP’s regional centers: Augusta 207-287-2111; Bangor 207-941-4570; Portland 207-822-6300; Presque Isle 207-764-0477.
- Research the services available from your local SWCD. Ask if they will be providing a ‘Gravel Road Workshop’ in your area. As experts in water protection, these folks can often provide free consultations.
- Be aware that in Maine as of July, 2005, chronic erosion sites in At-risk Watersheds will be illegal. This means camp roads which regularly channel runoff into At-Risk Lakes could be subject to penalty as of this summer. The law, known as the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Law, will apply to all Maine watersheds in July, 2010. (See “What is the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Law?”
- Conduct a watershed survey. For help getting started, contact the Division of Watershed Management at DEP, 207-237-3901, or your local SWCD.
Whatever changes have taken place in our world since the halcyon days when essayist EB White wrote "Once More to the Lake," we continue to share the famous writer’s bias, “…from then on none of us ever thought there was any place in the world like that lake in Maine.”
Let’s keep it that way.
Sources: Clyde Walton, SWCD Gravel Road Workshop; Nate Sylvester, Kennebec County SWCD for photos and diagram; A Guide to Forming Road Associations, York, Kennebec, Cumberland counties and Androscoggin Valley SWCD’s; E. B. White, "One Man’s Meat," Tilbury House Publishers, www.tilburyhouse.com.
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