FOCA & Lake Stewardship: a brief history

When FOCA formed in January 1963, two of the top issues that needed the attention of this new province-wide group were Water Quality, and Lack of Zoning, Planning and Building By-laws

Stewardship and FOCA 2001Pioneers in the area of lake stewardship, FOCA and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) piloted in 1993 one of the first programs for lake stewardship in Ontario. This successful pilot was operated out of the Minden office of the MNR and involved training “Lake Stewards”, a designated cottager from each member cottager association, in the many environmental issues facing cottage owners. The Lake Stewardship Manual was written and delivered to around 250 cottagers who volunteered for the position of Lake Steward within their local cottager association.

This was the beginning of FOCA’s highly successful network of Lake Stewards across Ontario. The Lake Stewardship Newsletter, edited and published by FOCA and its series of volunteer Editors, was born! FOCA has published an issue every year since that time. FOCA member presidents and Lake Stewards look forward to this annual newsletter to stay informed about environmental issues and share project stories.

FOCA has run the FOCA Lake Stewardship Program exclusively with volunteers since the early 1990’s.

In 1998, the Lake Stewardship Manual was updated as Take The Plunge. The creation of the manual represented 3 years of work by FOCA volunteers and was another successful volunteer venture with over 50 contributors discussing water quality, septics, forestry, shoreline restoration, fish habitat, the Environmental Bill of Rights, environmental legislation and more. Importantly, tips on how to organize for successful environmental stewardship of your lake were included. This information was not provided in the original pilot. Lake Stewards had found that the key to successful stewardship was being informed about the issues, networking with the local community, accessing the local political representation and working with volunteers to achieve project goals.

TTPcover2Take the Plunge was updated and republished in 2009  and is still available through the FOCA office.

FOCA’s Lake Stewards continue to grow in knowledge and effectiveness as the program continues. Some Lake Stewards have been with the program since its inception. Others join when the original lake steward retires from the position.  Currently, about half of FOCA member associations have a Lake Steward, and more are always welcome.

The dedication of the Lake Stewards and cottagers in general towards environmental stewardship is clearly in evidence, whether through the growth of grassroots initiatives, or participation in FOCA’s environmentally themed events. Even during the SARS outbreak, FOCA was able to bring over 200 cottagers to Scarborough for a conference on the environment.

FOCA works with many partners to support lake stewardship, including many colleges and universities, federal and provincial government agencies and non-government organizations such as the MNR Private Land Stewardship Program, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Conservation Authorities, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and others active in stewardship issues that can offer programs and partnership in programs to FOCA and its members.

One outcome of the development of the original lake stewardship program was the formalization of the partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Environment in the Lake Partner Program (LPP).  Long-term water quality monitoring has always interested FOCA Lake Stewards, who are the backbone of this program. In combination with related “Dip-In” programs in other provinces and the United States, the LPP is the largest volunteer program for monitoring water quality in North America!

Over the years FOCA has supported lake stewardship with training seminars, literature,  and programming including the Docktalk program.

For all this history and success, the important work of lake stewardship carries on at FOCA through our members, and our partnerships.

Ontario’s lakefront communities are experiencing changing demographics, increased development pressure, and many uncertain but significant climactic changes.

We thank all the many volunteers who helped initiate and support voluntary lake stewardship in Ontario over the past @30 years.  And we look forward to supporting the efforts of all of the dedicated volunteers who have the long-term view, the first hand experience, and intimate firsthand knowledge of their local water body!

Terry ReesFOCA & Lake Stewardship: a brief history