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Conservation group growing in Oxford County
OXFORD COUNTY — An organization that formed to combat the disastrous Dust Bowl in the 1930s is starting to gain new recruits in the battle against environmental degradation.
The Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been adding new members and launching new programs, says Project Program Manager Michele Windsor.
"We've been trying to rebuild our board," said Windsor. "It's kind of, through attrition over the years, gotten really thin."
The organization has seen some success in its recruitment efforts. In January, the group added recently-elected Fran Head, a real estate broker from Gilead, to its board, rounding out the cast of five voting members.
Head is known in environmental circles for her hard work in ensuring that Farwell Mountain Estates is in compliance with all conservation requirements.
"We were looking for some really conservation-minded person that wanted to be involved in district activities, and she stepped up," said Windsor. "She's very savvy and involved and active, and we think she's going to be a great asset to the board."
Windsor says that the group may also soon add two more associate members to its roster.
The group's resurgence comes after nearly a decade of decline.
"Slowly, we've been losing them here and there," said Windsor.
Windsor says that participation was robust 10 years ago.
"We had participation from as far away as Rumford and Bethel," said Windsor. "We had a lot of agricultural people as well as well as ... foresters and water resource people."
The board of supervisors acts to oversee the direction of the organization, and guide the group to attend to the most important environmental concerns in the county.
Sometimes, says Windsor, a person will join the group in order to address a particular environmental concern in their own back yard.
A person who is concerned about the Crooked River watershed, for example, might say "'I'd like to be on your board to make sure that you're paying more attention to this, and I'd like to suggest some programs that might help people in my area to be more aware of erosion control," said Windsor.
In addition to adding new members to its ranks, the SWCD is also seeing other signs of success.
Last year, the group was disheartened to learn that Agricultural Education Day, an important platform for their educational mission, had been eliminated from the roster of the Oxford County Fair.
This year, says Windsor, the group is working with fair organizers to come back.
"We have reestablished our working relationship with the Oxford Fair," she said. "We're gonna get it up and running and make sure it doesn't fall through the cracks this year."
The SWCD is also implementing a new pilot program designed to protect lakes and ponds from runoff from gravel roads. The project asks local residents to form road associations, and works with those associations to create maintenance plans that help to protect the watershed.
"They've only selected 10 roads or areas in the state to do this project with," said Windsor. "This spring I'm working with a group that wants to form a road association on Keoka Lake and I'm working with another group [on Beechwoods Road near Thompson Lake] that already has a road association, but needs technical assistance to help develop a maintenance plan."
The project is important, says Windsor, because the phosphorous-laden runoff from gravel roads can lead to algae blooms, which can soak up all the oxygen in a lake and create fish die-offs.
Supervisors are elected or appointed to the board for a term lasting from one to three years, and must be residents of Oxford County.
Current board members include Head, Chair Merle Ring, Vice Chair Rick Miclon, Treasurer Rob Robillard, and Gary Hill of the Norway Police Department.