Members Provide On-The-Ground Strength
By Sharon Anderson
Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
Cayuga Lake Watershed members receive
training from Scott Kisbaugh of NYS Department of
Environmental Protection, on citizens water-monitoring.
Credit: Sharon Anderson
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
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
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.