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President's Remarks

Presidential Remarks
Fall, 2018

As someone who has both witnessed and been engaged with the efforts of lake associations and other state and public partners that support protecting our natural lake heritage, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable and important this lake partnership is to Wisconsin. Although (unlike Minnesota, Land of 10,000 lakes) Wisconsin chooses to brag about being America’s dairyland, our state’s beautiful 15,000 lakes draw the tourists that contribute a total economic impact of over $20 billion annually to Wisconsin. 

Vilas County is especially unique: with over 1300 lakes and 70 rivers and streams, more than any other county in Wisconsin, we have one of the highest concentrations of inland fresh water in the world. In fact, 35% of Vilas County is covered by open water or wetlands, with much of the rest covered by forests. If you scaled our county to the size of Minnesota while maintaining our lake density, we would be the land of 110,000 lakes! The beauty and recreational value of our natural waters make them a true Wisconsin treasure and the backbone of our county’s tourism, which contributes a total impact approaching $300 million a year for Vilas County.

Given how important the natural beauty and vitality of our natural waters are to healthy environments and vibrant economies, it is difficult to understand how the current legislative challenge to science-informed, locally-tailored protection of our state’s crown jewels has come about.  It’s a bit like having a law that states: Wisconsin residents can wash and wax their cars once a year, and then mandating that no one (even folks with expensive luxury cars) can exceed this limit. 

Some might think that surely, the lake protection community is over reacting. How can stimulating the buildup of new houses and businesses on our lake and river shores not be good for the economy? Well, our natural waters ARE the economy here in Vilas and in much of the Northwoods; degrading these natural treasures can only have negative consequences for our lake-centered economies. We take for granted the pristine quality of our Northwoods’ environment, but we are more the exception than the rule. According to the most recent surveys on national water quality from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly half of U.S. rivers and streams and more than one-third of U.S. lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, and drinking. That is the reality elsewhere, and where we could be headed if we fail to maintain our vigilance.

Lake Associations are a key part of our communities engaged in protecting and preserving the magnificence of Wisconsin's many lakes and waterways. Because lake associations are typically made up of local lake residents and users, they represent a first line of defense to protect these resources, as well as a first responder to new threats. Collectively, lake associations provide an army of volunteers ready to deploy as needed to supplement the state’s lake management efforts, whether the need is pulling exotic plants, collecting samples and monitoring conditions, removing litter and debris from beaches, or disseminating vital information about a new threat in a timely manner to lake users. Truly, Lake Associations in Wisconsin are the lifeblood of the lake stewardship movement in Wisconsin. I am very proud personally to be part of this movement and pledge that Vilas County Lakes and River Association, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019, remains committed to fostering the engaged and informed communities that are crucial to the welfare of our lakes and rivers.

Best regards,

Tom Ewing
President-VCLRA