Colin Holme takes over LEA leading role

Colin Holme, shown here taking a bottom of the lake sediment sample, has been named to succeed Peter Lowell as executive director of Lakes Environmental Association.

By Marguerite Wiser

Special to The News

Colin Holme stepped up to become the new executive director of the Lakes Environmental Association this winter. Holme succeeds Peter Lowell, who served as director for the past 46 years.

The transition was planned for several years, but has been in full swing for the last year, with Holme taking over the position in January. Lowell will continue through June as development director, raising funds for the new Maine Lakes Science Center, and helping in a membership capacity. Lowell notes that Holme was a logical and good choice for the job, and that LEA is lucky to have such a smooth transition.

Holme is a familiar face at LEA. Prior to taking over as director, he ran the water testing, mapping, and mitigation programs. Holme began with LEA as an intern in 1999 after graduating from the University of Maine at Orono with a degree in Environmental Science. When he joined the organization, they employed four year-round staff members, and four water testing interns. Now nine full-time staff work at LEA and 30 to 40 seasonal staff test water, control milfoil and inspect boats.

Holme has seen the lake association’s capacity grow tremendously since joining the organization, with projects and initiatives tripling. A humble man, Holme credits an amazing staff with a long-term commitment to the organization. He thinks the quality of work LEA is doing has never been better. “Our programs have just grown in every direction,”

And the staff give him high marks for his work. Mary Jewett, a teacher and naturalist with the organization commented, “Colin is funny. He is able to joke around with just about anyone and has formed friendly relationships with almost everyone involved with LEA, from our members to town selectmen. In my opinion one of his strengths is his ability to talk to just about anyone and put them at ease.” Jewett adds, “He trusts his employees to do their jobs and do them well.”

What Holme enjoys most about working at LEA is the community connection, something he hopes to grow during his time as director. “This is the Lakes Region. I think we are a lakes community. That’s what separates us from many other beautiful areas in New England. We’re known for our lakes. A goal of mine is to get everyone in this area to understand the basics of lakes—what’s good for them in terms of best practices—what’s harmful for them—how they work. By working holistically with the community, we can grow so everyone here knows how lakes work and feels like it’s part of who they are.” Holme compares this to the way someone might say, “I grew up on a farm.” It’s part of who they are.

When he joined the organization, courtesy boat inspections for milfoil and other invasive plants were just beginning. Holme remembers his first summer when Peter Lowell sent him out to a boat launch, “There were no tee shirts, no procedure for doing it, no handbook. It was just look at the boats, Talk to the boaters. Bring a clipboard so you look like you know what you’re doing.” The milfoil inspecting has since grown to a successful statewide program. Holme notes that, “Everyone expects to see inspectors. You see the signs when you enter the state of Maine about invasive plants.”  LEA hires two to three dozen courtesy boat inspectors each summer to protect local lakes from the spread of invasive plant species, particularly milfoil.

The milfoil control and removal program is also a pillar of LEA’s actions. Holme notes that milfoil is a serious threat that can devastate a lake, and people know this, so they seem to really appreciate what LEA is doing to remove, control, and prevent the spread of this invasive species. “When you look more south at how bad the threat is—we have so few lakes with invasives compared to southern New England—it’s impressive and we want to keep it that way.”

Though the lakes are frozen over and the swimming season seems far off, Holme notes that past data has indicated that the weather conditions occurring from January to May/June is the primary controlling factor for what determines the water quality for the summer months ahead.

In addition to milfoil control and courtesy boat inspections, LEA provides an increasingly wide range of services to six towns: Waterford, Sweden, Harrison, Bridgton, Naples and Denmark. This includes comprehensive lake water quality monitoring on 40 area lakes, with data and samples taken every two weeks for the sampling season. Holme takes pride in LEA’s, “robust water quality monitoring, firmly based in science,” noting that LEA is collecting more data than anyone else in the state. The long and complete data set also sets the organization apart, with the consistency of their water testing making seasonal comparisons easier. With the mountain of data, the key job is to interpret and share the insights. Holme is grateful for the expertise of staff researcher Amanda Pratt and MLSC research director Dr. Ben Peierls to increase the capacity and scope of data collection and analysis.

In addition, the LEA has jumped on initiatives and new technologies such as buoys and low cost sensors. These technologies relay what’s happing on the lakes on a day-to-day basis, as well as throughout the season.

The new LEA director fully supports the expansion of educational program for both kids and adults, now with two staff educators. Holme is excited to note that the associations’ programs are based on experiential and hands-on learning, outside and year-round.  He’s grateful for the support of funders who provide gear and equipment, especially for the schools.

Holme is pleased with the increase he has seen in requests for technical assistance from landowners, towns, and organizations in regards to lakefront development and property management. When he joined the organization, LEA had done one EPA 319 project, a watershed based program to document and control erosion, and now has 15 under its belt. These projects also helped Holme meet people invested in the lakes and get the word out about LEA and its services. He hopes to focus on developing partnerships that are meaningful and rugged to span the test of time, so people turn to LEA for a common-sense approach to problems that are facing our area. “I think that we are doing that now but I want to grow that tenfold so that we become a hub for people interested in lakes and water quality and environmental issues.”

With the new MLSC Holme hopes to add a, “strong research department to tie current initiatives and issues in with local action.” Holme hopes that it will come to fruition as, “A destination for those learning and studying lakes on a national and regional scale.” He hopes to achieve this by, “Doing innovative lake projects that the community helps design and build to better our understanding of these systems”

Holme notes that some of the biggest challenges his organization faces is in getting people to understand how their behavior affects lakes and the environment in general. “Sometimes we do things that counter our love of the area.” He notes that our economy is based around lakes, yet lakes are threatened because of climate change and instances of poor development and boating practices.

Though we are lucky to have clean, clear lakes, LEA has seen, “a slight decline in some parameters that we use to assess water quality” Holme notes, adding, “and that’s alarming.” Looking ahead, he’s ready for the challenge of countering that decline. “It looks like things are getting warmer and we’re going to have more development in this area. The key is to integrate best management practices into all development in the future if we want to protect our lakes.”

When not out on the snow, or enjoying the lakes with his family, Colin Holme can be reached at the LEA, 230 Main Street in Bridgton, by phone at 647-8580, or by e-mail colin@leamaine.org.

 

 

 

 

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