By Sharon Anderson, Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
Through the years there have been many efforts aimed at preserving Cayuga Lake, but none had focused on the watershed as a whole. The many groups working to protect water quality in the Finger Lakes Region limited their focus by stopping work at a county boundary, concentrating on a particular audience such as agricultural producers, or focusing on a single topic such as lake levels. In 1996 when New York’s Clean Water, Clean Air Bond Act passed, long-time residents began to talk about a watershed-oriented organization that would be eligible for Bond Act funding and other grants.
In 1998 with start-up support from GLAHNF for a mailing to watershed property owners, Cayuga Lake Watershed Network (Network), a new grassroots organization centered on education, communication, and leadership was born. Our mission is to promote understanding of how to maintain and improve the ecological health, economic vitality, and overall beauty of the watershed environment. We work to accomplish our goals through programs promoting education, communication, and leadership within the community. We encourage individual stewardship throughout the Cayuga Lake watershed by raising awareness of watershed concerns among citizens.
A strong membership has been key in working toward our mission. Members provide a pool of the volunteers necessary to accomplish our programming. Volunteer projects include stream clean-ups, erosion control projects and water monitoring. Our newsletter and website are used as vehicles to both get information to members on how their actions make a difference in protecting water quality and as a source of information on current watershed news.
In order to achieve continued success in our efforts we knew we needed a way to recruit new members, maintain the bulk of our existing membership, and entice the renewal of lapsed memberships. In 2001 we received a second grant from GLAHNF to help increase our membership through a multifaceted approach, which included engaging citizens in a water quality monitoring project, an educational program to improve aquatic habitat through sediment reduction, and a targeted direct mailing.
We were thrilled with the results of this campaign. Sixty percent of our lapsed members rejoined the Network and most of our members renewed in response to the campaign. Our success was in a large part due to the fact that we designed and conducted a direct mail campaign that was radically different than previous efforts. We began to consider how all our mailings, and the timing of their receipt, “looked” from the receiver’s perspective. We redesigned our renewal packet and created a database tracking system. Having each mailing and promotional piece coded in our database, allows us to easily collect information on the effectiveness of each type of mailing.
Through the tracking system we have learned our newsletter is a good way to seek renewals and also to get new members. By comparison during an 18-month period only one new membership resulted from distribution of hundreds of promotional brochures. We now have a membership article in each newsletter and we are revising the promotional brochure.
The benefits of the water quality monitoring project and our educational program on sediment reduction will continue to ripple outward. These portions of the campaign served to inspire members and citizens, providing them with the necessary tools to be better watershed stewards.
Through the water-monitoring program, sponsored jointly with the Fall Creek Watershed Committee, we built on a fledgling water-monitoring effort in Fall Creek. Volunteers were provided with additional training and equipment. Knowledge of aquatic habitat and organisms has greatly increased as a result, and volunteers are regularly monitoring this largest tributary to Cayuga Lake. With the increased knowledge gained through these programs, monitors have been able to informally mentor new volunteers by adding them to existing monitoring teams. Citizens from Taughannock Creek on the west side of Cayuga Lake attended much of the training and are beginning monitoring efforts there as well.
The data collected by volunteers has helped to ensure the proper design of a large stream bank restoration project. Volunteers will help with the planting and long-term stewardship of the restored site. In addition to collecting data volunteers are committed to learning more about the watershed and protecting local streams. During the past three years of an annual Fall Creek clean up, approximately 8,700 pounds of trash have been removed from the creek and its banks.
A very successful workshop on erosion control was held as part of our educational program to improve aquatic habitat through sediment reduction. The workshop focused on landowners in Six Mile Creek, the second largest tributary to Cayuga Lake. Attendees of the workshop learned about the benefits of having vegetative buffers to hold soil and filter contaminants. Workshop participants indicated that they would implement techniques they learned, have follow-up site visits, and have made plans for erosion control projects. The success of this workshop prompted funding for a second similar workshop and the workshop will be used as a model for other additional programs within the watershed.
Thanks to GLAHNF we had a budget for a successful membership campaign, we have enhanced our water-monitoring program, and we have worked to educate landowners on soil stabilization techniques. Success on the initial membership campaign has been inspiring. This project has helped to strengthen our volunteer base, has given us an easy-to-reach audience for important watershed information, and has strengthened the Cayuga Watershed Network for our on-the-ground work.