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Flathead Lakers celebrate 65 years of conservation

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POLSON — The Flathead Lakers will celebrate their 65th anniversary of working to preserve Flathead Lake and beyond at The Barn on Finley Point the evening of June 21. Complete with a video commemorating the occasion by local filmmaker David King, all in the community are invited to attend. 

Not to be confused with the Kalispell Lakers baseball team, the Flathead Lakers is a nonprofit started in 1958 to protect clean water, a healthy ecosystem, and a lasting quality of life in the Flathead watershed. According to Executive Director Kate Sheridan, their biggest goals are to advocate, conserve, and educate about Flathead Lake. 

“The Lakers were started by a group of homeowners concerned about the future of and potential impacts to the lake, so they got together and as a volunteer group they worked on many issues, including the phosphate ban on detergents in the ‘80s,” Sheridan explained. “They gradually got more and more staff and became more formalized in the mid to late ‘90s and have been a staffed organization since then.”

One significant accomplishment of the organization occurred in the last 10-15 years when they teamed up with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes during the rise of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) as a serious problem, and with their coordination they’ve been able to expand education and awareness. Sheridan explained that this year alone there have been 25 instances of invasive zebra mussels found hidden on aquatic vehicles. These were discovered before entering the state and before they could hit the water. 

“I really appreciate the foresight that the folks who initially got together had - knowing that Flathead Lake is incredibly unique,” Sheridan stated. “With resources like this, one of our concerns is it will be loved to death, and to have that foresight in the beginning to work on issues throughout the first 50 years have really led it to being one of the cleanest lakes in the world today.

“I think I was struck most by the diversity of people and organizations who are instrumental in preserving the high quality of the water in Flathead Lake,” King commented of his time making the commemorative video. “It seems that they come from all kinds of different directions and walks of life, and it’s just beautiful to see all these people agreeing on how important it is to preserve Flathead Lake.”

Some of the Lakers’ current work includes spring education trips for students, including mussel walks for middle schoolers. These are held in collaboration with the Yellow Bay Biological station and CSKT to help students learn at an early age about the potential danger of invasive species and how to be responsible and aware. “We feel that it’s important for kids to understand where they live and the importance of being watershed citizens, as we call them,” Sheridan commented. 

Currently, the Lakers are working on a fundraising project with the Flathead Land Trust and Flathead Audubon Society to secure a permanent conservation easement for the Owen Sowerwine natural area. Sheridan explained that conservation such as this is crucial to maintaining the health of Flathead Lake. The Flathead River directly impacts how clean the lake water is and all the lands along the river are currently some of the fastest growing areas in the country. 

To learn more about the Flathead Lakers, the issues they track, the education they provide, as well as how to get involved or volunteer, visit: 

“You know that history repeats itself, so now we have an influx of folks that we’ve seen since the pandemic … so knowing that we also need to reach out to this new wave of folks too,” Sheridan said. “I just think that there’s a lot to be said about the longevity of our organization, the health of the current organization and that we’ve just been very relevant this whole time.”

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