Soon after Ron Faust bought his home on Gull Lake in 1995, he joined the local lake association. His goal was to get to know the large, beautiful northern lake where he had chosen to retire.
"I just wanted to learn more about the lake and what the issues were with it," says Faust. "I wanted to learn more about the ecosystem."
Faust has now been a member of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association for 22 years, nine of them on its board of directors, and during that time he has continually absorbed knowledge about Gull and the seven connected lakes that compose the Gull chain. No longer is he simply a student of these waters, though: Faust is also an advocate and a catalyst for action.
Most significantly, he focuses on shoreline buffers of native plants. Keenly aware that land use around a lake is closely tied to the lake's health, Faust has been a champion for shoreline naturalization projects. As a citizen, he has planted natives on his own shoreline. As a lake association member, he has helped line up funding and resources for fellow property owners to complete dozens of shoreline projects in the area.
"A naturalized shoreline is essentially a buffer for what's on the land above the waterline, and what's below it. We try to prevent stormwater runoff and erosion," Faust says. "If we find a place where stormwater is getting to the lake from just flowing downhill, we build rain gardens to catch it and let it soak in."
Shoreline naturalization is hard, ongoing work that requires technical knowledge. One of Faust's roles in the lake association has been connecting property owners with the money and expertise to get the job done. A key tool has been grants, funded by the city of Lake Shore and the lake association, that pick up half of the cost of hiring resource restoration professionals to do the work. The Department of Natural Resources, local Soil and Water Conservation District offices, and native plant nurseries all provide technical help.
Faust has often worked as an ally to Heather Baird of DNR Fisheries, formerly a shoreline habitat specialist in Brainerd. Baird says Faust first came to her attention when he was advocating for a rain garden project at the city hall in the small community of Lake Shore, where he lives. Although that project didn't happen, he wasn't deterred: He kept pushing for other projects, including a planted buffer at Bar Harbor Supper Club in Lake Shore.
Says Baird: "A new owner bought the restaurant and redid the inside of the building, and Ron was able to convince the landowner to plant a buffer. So Bar Harbor now has this beautiful buffer. And without a strong local advocate, I don't think I could have gone to that owner and said 'You should really do this.'
"Ron searches out people and tries to educate them. He's not real pushy, but over time he just plucks away."
Once Faust learned how popular shoreline practices, such as maintaining lawn to the water's edge and installing riprap, were harming the Gull chain and its wildlife habitat, he says, "I thought it would be worthwhile to convince other people about naturalizing their shorelines. I knew it was an unending task, but I thought that 100 feet at a time might be a cool project.
"We call it progress if we help to create one shoreline that's natural."
During Minnesota's current Year of Water Action, Gov. Mark Dayton is urging Minnesotans to act to protect our water resources. In a state renowned for its abundant lakes and lakefront properties, lake associations are a key way for some citizens to get involved in preserving the waters they know and love best.
Faust says he has become an even more keen observer of nature since he dove headfirst into learning about his lake.
"I'm an amateur photographer," he explains. "Some people look at a nature scene and they don't really see beauty in it, or they say, oh, that's nice, let's go in and see what's for supper. Every time I look at a scene like this I have to stop and just look at the lake. I feel like my little 100 feet extends for miles across the lake, and I love it."