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  • Jodi Eberhardt

How to Start a Lake Steward Program

Lake Steward: Restore Your Shore, Protect Your Lake

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers announces a partnership with Lake Steward of GCOLA to bring Lake Steward to your lake association. With only 3 volunteers, and one email to members, Lake Steward of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association has mobilized their membership to protect, improve or enhance over two miles of shoreline in just two years.

Lake Steward has 3 simple steps:

1. Quiz about shoreland best practices

2. Site Visit to the property

3. Lake Steward Award, a sign for the end of the dock.

MLR will assist you in each of these steps:

1. Here is the link to the 10-question quiz for you to email to your members: MLR Lake Steward - Score Your Shore. In one step, the program is launched.

2. MLR will provide free training through a one-hour training video and a webinar where attendees can ask questions - produced by a professional educator to support the volunteers who make site visits and award Lake Steward signs.

3. MLR will provide funds to defray the cost of the beautiful Lake Steward signs, which provide publicity for your lake association and attract others to be Lake Stewards. You will order your signs directly from MLR.

Results from the Lake Steward of GCOLA show that members care deeply about their lake and water quality; they were simply waiting for an opportunity to act. Of 614 members who had email addresses on file and were contacted to take the quiz, hundreds have done so. In only 2 seasons, 51 Lake Stewards have been awarded, and there are currently more than 72 candidates, and inquiries about shoreline restoration have increased significantly.

If you are interested in starting a program, go to Take the 10-question MLR Lake Steward - Score Your Shore quiz. Feel free to leave comments, or contact Jeff Forester of MLR at or Dorothy Whitmer, Lake Steward of GCOLA, at

Detailed steps for starting a program follow

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates Lake Steward

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates launched Lake Steward to support lake associations as they improve water quality, increase lake association visibility, and boost membership efforts.

Lake Steward has succeeded where other efforts have failed, by using a quiz to get lakeshore owners interested, and then making contact which is personal and centered on the individual lakeshore owner, their family, and their relationship to their land and the water. Lake Steward, by its nature, builds the feeling of community around the lake while improving water quality.

The Lake Steward idea is simple and powerful.

Your lake association sends out a simple ten question quiz that your members can take to “score their shore.” Results go to a volunteer from the lake association, who then visits the member’s property. If the candidate meets the Lake Steward standards, they are awarded a beautiful sign with the lake association logo, designating them as a Lake Steward. The sign is displayed at the end of the dock, visible to other lakeshore owners who then want to be a Lake Steward (and lake association members) also.

If their shoreline does not meet the criteria, your lake steward volunteers can talk with the property owner about steps they can take, if they want, to improve their shoreline in order to meet the criteria. MLR will provide details and contacts so your volunteers can provide information to the property owners about companies that can do restoration work and matching grant opportunities.

Results from the Gull Chain of Lakes Association (Lake Steward of GCOLA), show that members care deeply about their lake and water quality; they were simply waiting for an opportunity to act. Of 614 members who had email addresses on file and were contacted to take the quiz, hundreds have done so. In only 2 seasons, 51 Lake Stewards have been awarded, and there are currently more than 72 candidates.

Step 1: Assemble a Lake Stewards team

A successful program is led by a small group of landowners (1-3 depending on the size of your lake) that can help respond to surveys, visit properties and share education and grant resources with the shoreline owner.

In April, MLR will offer an online training course for these volunteers in an effort to provide consistency across the state. The training will provide some knowledge of shoreland practices so Lake Steward volunteers will be able to mentor property owners that don’t know how to start. MLR will provide resources that you can share with the land owner to help them do the work, including guidelines on do-it-yourself projects, businesses that specialize in shoreline plantings and restorations, and grant programs that can help defray the costs of these projects.

Step 2: Distribute the Lake Steward Survey to Your Members

The MLR Lake Steward - Score Your Shore quiz is a 10 question quiz that can help landowners compare their management of their land to best practices for water quality. Although there are points and a score, that is not the purpose of the quiz. Rather, it is a starting point and a way to get members interested, and it informs lakeshore owners about what practices are beneficial for the lake.

Emailing a link to the quiz to all members was by far the most effective way to get responses from GCOLA members. However, other means were also helpful; posting the quiz on the GCOLA website, offering paper copies at meetings, promoting Lake Steward in the mailings asking for membership dues, and members contacting neighbors directly.

Step 4: Contact Quiz Responders and Ask to Visit the Property

A personal email was set to each quiz respondent thanking them for their interest, replying to any comments, and asking for a site visit, no matter how high or low the score was.

High scorers set a good example, but low scorers have the most impact if they make changes to their property. Usually the team chose a date and asked to be allowed to visit the property within a 2-hour time window, and stated that the property owner did not need to be present. That was the most efficient method for owners as well as the Lake Steward team. If the owner is not present, 10 or 15 minutes is sufficient for a site visit.

Step 4: Conduct Site Visits

On site, the Lake Steward team checks whether the lakeshore owner meets criteria for the award by making observations and taking photos and measurements. A list of criteria will be provided by MLR during the Lake Steward training in April.

Some of the more rewarding visits have been when owners are present, but contact can also be made by phone or email afterward. The site visit can provide an opportunity to listen to property owners’ concerns and goals, and in some circumstances to award the sign and take photos of the new Lake Steward with their award sign. If changes are needed, the team can offer advice about obtaining grant funds to defray costs.

After the site visit, an email is sent thanking the participant, describing the findings and either offering congratulations or advising on what changes could lead to the award. Even if changes have been discussed in person with the owner, it is important to write them down in an email for everyone’s reference.

GCOLA found that participants fell into three groups: Already a steward, Want to Be a Steward, or Just Curious. All three groups are very important to the program. The curious have lots of questions and the team was prepared to answer.

Step 5: Order Signs

The Lake Steward signs are 12x18 inches, aluminum, UV coated. They are $45 each. They are locally designed and made and should last a long time.

There is space at the bottom of the sign for the lake association logo. There is room for additional sponsors if you wish to ask other organizations to participate.

MLR has developed a grant to pay 50% of the costs for the first 100 signs. At a time that works best for your lake association, email Jeff Forester at with a high resolution copy of your Lake Association logo, and include the number of signs that you need. MLR will send the signs directly to you.

Step 6: Use the Awards to Promote the Program

Once the program is up and running, here's how the awards can promote additional participation:

  • Encourage people to put the signs at the end of their docks where they are most visible.

  • Publish a Google map of properties that have received the awards. That helps residents to find and view properties from the water, but the map also reinforces how many residents are on board with water quality efforts and is encouraging to all.

  • Publish photos and family stories of Lake Stewards in lake association publications, thanking them for protecting the lake.

Watch as a new standard is set, neighbors come on board for better water quality, and a culturalchange for clean water, healthy habitat starts to happen.

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