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Who's Going to Clean up Newton Lake?

Newton Lake is a place of peace for nature blogger Allie Burger. But after a stagnant summer, and with no word on a clean-up plan, she's got concerns as to its condition going forward.

I’m a hiker. Being able to walk to a place of scenic natural beauty is important to me. Living in Collingswood, where rows of houses and stores line every street, may seem to be at odds with my desire for scenic natural beauty. We live in a congested area!

One day, as the clouds of an ominous storm overtook the wide open space of the Wegman’s parking lot, it struck me just how congested our neighborhood is. It is not possible to watch an approaching storm or see much distance at all—there are other houses, buildings, and tall trees obstructing the view.

Sometimes I need to get away from the congestion, but I don’t want to get in my car and drive anywhere. So I regularly seek scenic natural beauty in local parks, where I fulfill my cravings for wide open space and wildlife, as well as enjoy being near a sizeable body of water.

A mile’s walk to my north brings me to Newton Lake Park, a large Camden County Park bordered by Collingswood, Oaklyn and Haddon Township. At its best, Newton Lake is lovely park to walk in, with plenty of spots where I feel refreshed by scenic natural beauty. I know the lake has been dredged at points in the past, and its current form is not entirely natural, but it’s satisfying enough for me.

Here, I regularly see birds of prey. I’ve seen a hawk perched on low-lying brush clutching a fresh kill. I enjoy the turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and the snowy egrets with their long legs.

I like the little turns and coves on the quieter Oaklyn side of the lake. I enjoy the little amble through the woods near Cuthbert Blvd. I even enjoy the big, ugly fish that surface from the bottom of the lake every now and then, like the carp.

Unfortunately, in recent months, my favorite local place of scenic natural beauty looks like crap. Last month, Newton Lake was choked with a pervasive blanket of algae so thick that trash was sitting on it.

That’s right—if you threw your broken umbrella on Newton Lake, it would rest atop the algae as if the lake was covered in a sheet of ice. Trash dotted the green lake with little clear water visible. Even with the dropping temperatures, there is still a good deal of algae in the lake. It is a total mess.

This got me thinking about how a lake ringed with continuous development (including suspiciously green suburban lawns) can be brought back to health. I’m sure the imbalance in the lake can at least partially be attributed to contaminants from run-off. A few water stewardship tips come to mind.

Avoiding chemical fertilizers and herbicides for routine lawn care is important, as they can wash off into the local lake or stream. So is avoiding washing cars at home where storm drains may lead to the local lake or stream. I know excessive amounts of feces from pets or other animals—ahem, geese—can be problematic.

Reducing sources of run-off helps too. Rain gardens or other low-lying areas that help collect run-off help disperse pollutants. I’ve seen a few rain garden projects recently, like the ones at Zane Elementary School and Saddlers Woods. These projects certainly help. I also think the excessive heat and dry conditions this summer caused the water to stagnate, which certainly challenges the health of a lake.

I think Camden County has a plan for the abysmal state of Newton Lake. I know they have recently been at work around the lake. I’ve seen weed trees and shrubs marked and removed. I also noticed some kind of project involving storm drains on the Haddon Township side of the lake. I’ve heard about an aeration plan for the lake.

However, when I’ve tried finding information on the Camden County website, all I’ve found is information on the Newton Lake Watershed Clean Up and an invitation to bidders interested in working on Newton Lake Park improvements. I have tried emailing and calling the Camden County Environmental Commission to no avail to get more information on the plans for Newton Lake. What's next?

Has anyone heard anything about what the county has planned for Newton Lake? Will it be a positive change for our local place of scenic natural beauty?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Lauren Burgoon October 16, 2012 at 01:28 PM
I'm with you, Allie. I grew up across from Newton Lake and I've never seen it look this bad. The green carpeting was disgusting throughout the summer. The ponds in Knight Park had them to some extent too, and those have aerating fountains, so I hope the county plan doesn't rely entirely on them. The other problem with the lake (the "first" lake, we call it, as opposed to the sections on the Collingswood side) is the island that has been building up ever since the housing developments on Newton and Kraft courts on the backside of the lake were built. There are places toward Cuthbert totally cut off from the main body of the lake now and that island is big enough to support trees. It impedes the water flow and I assume contributes to the aeration problem (although I'm no environmental expert.) I really hope the county has a solid plan and gets it done soon. I'd rather have the lake "fixed" than have time, effort and money put toward those new banners that ring every county park.
Anne Carroll October 16, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Agree with Allie and Lauren!
Will McGowan October 18, 2012 at 06:00 PM
I hear you! I live on Newton Lake park and see it every day. The intense summer heat combined with lack of rain caused this "turf" to grow. I was told by those who "know these things" better than me that it will take a cold spell or even snow to clear it out. Unfortunately, I believe that it is under the jurisdiction of Camden County Parks and not Collingswood proper so they may the ones (or a combined effort?) to get it worked on. The other thing I noticed was a push in the summer to clean up the overgrown foliage of weeds and overgrown brush along the scenic part by Bettlewood, Merrick, etc...but then they just seemed to stop? I think this part of Collingswood has some of the most pristine scenery short of Kelley Drive but it often seems so neglected. I always though that it should be a showpiece. Simple stuff: fountain, let some artists display sculpture, etc. As for the turf, we are hoping it just gets killed off the same way it came.
Allie Burger October 23, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Lauren, I am also concerned about the aeration plan. I don't understand it will enough to know if it will work, or what its impact will be. I was hoping to discuss it with someone from the Camden County Environmental Commission, but they have been unresponsive so far. Maybe I should stop by? I agree that I would rather see money spent on improving/supporting the natural features of the park rather than things like banners. Will, I also noticed that push to clear unwanted foliage seemed to stall! I support making way for the more desireable species and hardwood trees, and clearing invasives, but I am not sure what the plan was. Really, more communcation from the County would be helpful. They have a good website with county news on plenty of other topics-- why not include news about Newton Lake Park?

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