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Colby College’s Commitment to the Belgrade Lakes Region


For the past six years, nine Colby faculty and 60 students have been working with the Maine Lakes Resource Center and five other non-profit partners to investigate the resilience and adaptation of the Belgrade Lakes watershed to long-term catchment development.

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network has produced a full-length documentary, Saving Our Lakes based on Colby’s work.

Here are some highlights of Colby’s accomplishments:

  • Over the past six years, Colby College has invested more than $750,000 in Belgrade Lakes Watershed ($500,000 in the form of a grant from the National Science Foundation and $250,000 in in-kind resources).
  • Colby has completed and disseminated its work with the help of the Maine Lakes Resource Center (MLRC), a community-based, environmental resource center that serves as a research laboratory, field station, conference space, and teaching resource in the Belgrade Lakes region for Colby College.
  • Colby project collaborators have participated in dozens of public meetings and presentations about this work.
  • Colby has photographed the shoreline of five Belgrade Lakes to create “Colby LakeView” to document shoreline condition. The photographs are available to the public here through a free Google Earth interface.
  • Colby has produced a digital archive of Sense of Place interviews and an evocative short film based on case studies they completed of the environmental and social history of the Belgrade Region.
  • Colby has completed a virtual geologic field guide for the Kennebec Highlands subregion of the Belgrade Lakes watershed as an educational resource.
  • A full geologic map of the watershed is in production.
  • Colby has completed a pilot study that included a contingent valuation survey of 172 households (from 550 surveys mailed to residents on three lakes) that evaluated resident knowledge, self-assessed conservation behavior, lake buffer characteristics, willingness to pay, and assessed a range of socio-demographic variables.
  • Colby has linked 152 survey respondent buffers to geotagged shoreline photographs.
  • Colby has completed a preliminary analysis of 219 LakeSmart certification evaluations.
  • Colby has completed the 2012 and 2013 Statistical Abstract for the Belgrade LakesWatershed, which reports and integrates demographic, economic, landscape data, and includes a comprehensive economic impact analysis of the lake watershed environment.
  • Colby has expanded the lakes education program to serve over 500 children in grades 6 to 8 in central Maine schools.
  • Colby has developed bathymetry maps of all the Belgrade Lakes and are collaborating with Navionics, the world leader in electronic charts, to provide digital maps of the Belgrade Lakes Watershed to help promote economic development through increased recreational use of the lakes.
  • Colby has collaborated with Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on an extensive investigation of the impact of shoreline development on littoral zone ecology, and are actively engaging stakeholders through stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and surveys. All spatial data are being collected in an extensive GIS database.
  • Colby has completed an investigation of impacts from residential shoreline development on riparian and littoral habitats. Protocols were developed in collaboration with the Maine DEP and adapted from Merrell et al. (2009, 2013). Sites were selected visually based on features reflecting compliance with Maine’s Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act (MEDEP 2003, 2008) and with the support of lake associations. We have assessed 72 shoreline properties on three lakes (East, North, and Great Ponds) representing reference (R) sites, buffered developed (B) sites, and unbuffered developed (U) sites. Onshore, riparian habitats at U sites provided significantly less shading to littoral habitats and had significantly narrower buffer habitat with less heterogeneous plant growth than B and R sites. In the littoral benthic habitats, U sites were composed of significantly more sand, less cobble, and exhibited a greater degree of embedded rocky substrate, less aufwuchs cover (i.e., algae and sessile invertebrates), and less woody structure than R and B sites. Overall our results agree with those of Merrell et al. (2009, 2013) in their assessment of the effectiveness of shoreline protection.
  • “Goldie” our research buoy is creating expanded research opportunities investigating lake dynamics and a new web-based dashboard has been created to communicate this data to the community.
  • Colby has become members of the Global Lake Ecological Observing Network (GLEON), a group focused on using high resolution lake data to understand fundamental ecological process in lakes.
  • Over thirty Colby first-year students were involved in a four-day community service orientation program to upgrade the Colby Outing Club shoreline property on Great Pond to LakeSmart status, a program to encourage sustainable shoreline development. This experience gave the research group hands-on experience working with the DEP LakeSmart program, significantly informed our research activities, and has provided an educational model for others to view.
  • The research team was involved in 2013 and 2014 in delivering a two-week lakes curriculum for the underrepresented students involving lectures, labs, and field work exploring the geologic history of the Belgrades, nutrient limitation and basic chemical stoichiometry, plankton enumeration, and shoreland zone assessment.   As a final project, the students evaluate a private property against LakeSmart standards and work with MLS evaluators to present the results to the homeowner.   In this way we are integrating our research efforts with the community, Colby faculty, and a broad cross section of the Colby student body.