MEREDITH — While Lake Winnipesaukee is a perennial summer playground, this year the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association has converted it to a classroom by offering floating educational tours designed to encourage stewardship of this unique and valuable natural resource.
The "Floating Classroom" includes an introduction to the geology, history and ecology along with practical experience assessing different aspects of water quality under the direction of a qualified environmental scientist. Passengers can collect water samples, measure water clarity and take water temperatures as well as watch what is living in the lake on the monitor of an underwater camera.
Leaving the dock at The Weirs, Captain Dave Joyce headed across the lake, rounded Spindle Point and snaked through Sally's Gut, the narrow passage between the foot of Meredith Neck and tip of Stonedam Island. Naturalist Heidi Baker noted that Stonedam Island, the last home of the Abenaki on the lake, is a nature preserve owned by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. Clearing Sally's Gut, the boat anchored on the northeast side of the island in 40 feet of water.
Baker, who trailed a plankton tow through Sally's Gut, explained that plankton — from the Greek meaning "wanderer" or "drifter" — may be either plants, like algae, or animals, like protozoa, and the first element of the food chain. Then she tested the clarity of the water by lowering a Secchi disk, which is divided into black and white quarters, into the lake and measuring the depth at which the white quarters became invisible. Noting that a depth greater than four meters indicates good water clarity, she found that the disk disappeared at 8.4 meters. "Between eight and 10 meters is common on Lake Winnipesaukee," Baker said.
The water in the lake, Baker said, is divided into three layers, with the warmest at the top and the coldest at the bottom, and turns over twice in each year in the spring and in the autumn. At the surface, the water temperature was 74 degrees Fahrenheit, but dropped 23 degrees, to 51 degrees, 30 feet down.
With a rig called a Van Dorn Bottle, Baker collected water samples at various depths, which she said could be sent to the University of New Hampshire to be tested for levels of phosphorus and nitrates, the major pollutants in the lake.
Pat Tarpey, executive director of the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association, said that stormwater, which carries phosphorus into the lake, is the primary source of pollution. The watershed stretches over 381 square miles and encompasses 19 municipalities, eight of them fronting the lake itself. Tarpey stressed the role of trees and shrubs, whose roots hold the soil while absorbing and filtering the stormwater run-off, in reducing the level of phosphorus and protecting water quality. "To ensure water quality in the lake, we have to look to the land," she remarked.
The "classroom" pontoon boat will carry eight passengers in addition to the captain and crew. The tour runs for approximately 90 minutes. "The Floating Classroom" departs from Weirs Beach on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am. and 1 p.m. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for children younger than 16. Tours must be booked two days in advance by calling (603) 581-6632 or registering on-line at www.winnipesaukee.org.
The project is funded with grants from the Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation and New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and enjoys the support of 16 corporate sponsors and underwriters.
CAPTION FOR FLOATING CLASSROOM: Naturalist Heidi Baker explains the workings of a Van Dorn Bottle to Laconia City Councilor Armand Bolduc during a recent "Floating Classroom tour of Lake Winnipesaukee. The device is used for collecting water samples at various depths. The tour was hosted by the Winnipesaukee Watershed Association. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Ed Engler)