By GLENN GARNETT
While most cottagers head for the lake to get away from it all, itís ironic that many drag the ills of urban blight along with them.
All too often cottage owners choose to put their own stamp on their piece of paradise, to improve their view of the lake, or clear a section for a beach or build a solid dock for their boat. While their intentions are good, the results can be disastrous and a lose-lose proposition for both the environment and the cottager.
Thereís a growing movement to preserve natural shorelines, as well as rehabilitate altered waterfronts, across North America. But itís a tall order to change the way millions of people think about the zone where water meets land, a habitat critical to the ecological health of both.
Thatís the job of biologists like Karen Ralph of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who are encouraging cottagers to build and maintain cottage properties in harmony with nature.
"Weíre just encouraging people to think about what theyíre doing at the cottage before they go ahead and make drastic changes which will cost them a lot of time and a lot of money to repair in the future," she says. "Keeping things as natural as possible protects the wildlife habitat and stabilizes the shoreline.
"For instance, if you put in a floating dock as opposed to a concrete dock, fish can swim underneath it and itís a little environmentally friendlier in that it doesnít break up wave action along the shore and cause additional erosion," she adds.
Ralph also warns of the domino effect when man weakens or destroys a natural habitat.
"If you donít maintain your septic tank, youíre likely to get higher phosphorus inputs into the lake which will cause additional aquatic weeds to grow, which then clogs the waterfront, which means you means you canít get your boat in," she points out. "Itís just one continuing cascade of problems that disturb the environment for everyone, to the point where you donít want to be at the cottage anymore.
"Mother Nature has had millions of years to get the ticket right and for us to go along and think that we can replace nature with concrete is not necessarily the best way to go."
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is a fish habitat regulatory body, so if you are planning to make significant shoreline modifications, you would be wise to contact them for advice and to get permits.
"If people come to us and have no ideas of what they want to do, we will offer advice," Ralph says. "But we like to try to let people reach their own solutions and conclusions on what is the right way to go because every situation is slightly different. But generally the final decision is theirs."
In Cottage Lifeís publication "The Shore Primer," the waterfront is described as a lakeís "lungs, doormat, cafeteria and daycare," a "living retaining wall" for the shore. Itís a sophisticated ecosystem that serves as the "glue" holding a shoreline together, through roots and foliage. Itís also a zone where contaminants from land can be filtered, where fish can lay their eggs and where smaller critters can hide out.
To dramatize the value of natural waterfront living, and the dangers of the alternative, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority commissioned the illustrations you see here. Which cottage would rather rent or own?
The cottage above, in addition to being a bit of an eyesore, isnít environmentally friendly at all. For starters (1) its bare shoreline is subject to erosion. Its solid dock (2) not only destroys wildlife habitat, it alters currents and causes erosion elsewhere. Meanwhile (3) fertilizer spills and chemical runoff from the lawn damage water quality - lawns, by the way, are unhealthy partners for lakes. The paved laneway (4) allows pollution-laden runoff to flow into the water. The absence of trees (5) means this cottageís AC unit is working overtime to keep those inside cool - that hikes your electricity bill. The removal of vegetation (6) means more work for you and more runoff. To compound that (7), putting your lawn clippings out for garbage pickup deprives the soil of nutrients. Ornamental shrubs (8) require chemicals - and extra work. Poor fuel management (9) can lead to deadly spills. Finally, that hardened shoreline (10) eliminates the natural filter a shoreline should be, degrades water quality and blocks wildlife access. It also looks terrible when it starts to crumble - as it inevitably will.
Now this looks like a good time at the cottage. Itís got it all: youíve got the natural shoreline (1), a great wildlife habitat. The small floating dock (2) has a minimal impact on that "ribbon of life" along shore; ditto the septic system (3) which reduces water pollution. That narrow, gravel footpath (4) reduces the risk of erosion. Trimmed trees and adjustable awnings (5) provide more natural air conditioning with the view maintained. Without all that lawncare, you can relax more (6) - isnít that what cottage living is all about?
Kitchen compost (7) improves your soilís quality while low-maintenance native plants (8) provide a shoreline buffer. The cottage (9) is set back from shore and is in character with the setting while a well-maintained motorboat (10) with an electric or modern four-stroke outboard should be operated with low wake near shore.
The great thing about nature is its ability to heal itself. Itís never too late to restore an altered shore to its natural state, by replanting native shrubs and grasses, removing breakwalls and switching to shore-friendly docks. All you have to do then is recline into your hammock, put your feet up, and let Mother Nature do her thing.
For more information on waterline care, check out The Living By Water project national website at www.livingbywater.ca
Courtesy The Living By Water Project