Exciting news regarding our THRIVING lake! Wait…. is it a lake or is it a wetland?

For the last year and a half, Sonja Wixom, master’s student at SUNY Oneonta has been working very hard to help Koinonia develop a lake management plan. A few weeks ago, Sonja stayed with me for a few days to gather samples near the lake. Unfortunately, the harsh weather prevented her from collecting samples. On the bright side, Sonja and I did a little brainstorming for future Environmental Education programs at Koinonia. She has wonderful ideas that will aid in growing the programs we offer to our schools and guests. We’ve started this blog so you can follow Sonja’s progress as she uncovers fascinating facts about our beautiful lake! This Friday, Sonja will return to Koinonia for sampling. Let’s all pray that the weather is bright and sunny this weekend! Sonja is a bright woman with a strong love and passion for our lake! Thank you, Sonja for choosing Koinonia!


Joanne Knudson

Executive Director

Hi everyone, my name is Sonja. I am studying Lake Management as my masters program at the State University of New York College at Oneonta (SUNY Oneonta). In this program lake associations that desire a management plan contact the college to get more information and their name on the list. Upon becoming apart of the program the lake association recognizes that a student, not a professional, will be studying their lake and surrounding areas to create a management plan unique to them– because as it is commonly said, no two are the same! There are several advantages to hiring a student through this program.

  1. Supporting a student and furthering GOOD science.

  2. Getting a more complete picture of the system because we take samples for an entire year instead of most consulting firms that usually only take 1 sample, it’s extremely rare to have multiple sample dates – consultants won’t take the time to make more trips (more money to sample more and they aren’t exactly getting paid more for more sampling).

  3. A management plan for a very discounted rate! Only a small, small fraction of the price you would pay a consulting firm.

  4. The students actually take into account the desires, wants, and dislikes of the stakeholders – not just what the consultants want. Typically a lake will state they have an issue with plants (for example), often consultants would just give a price for an application of herbicide or two. These are expensive and are the only option the consultants provide leaving stakeholders right where they started - with an issue and no real solution.

  5. It is for the last reason that these plans are more likely to be implemented too because the stakeholders wants are taken into account; instead of only one option being given by a consulting firm.

  6. The end product is a comprehensive management plan that addresses current issues, those that could happen in the future, and how to deal with both.

In the beginning of the program all the students visited the lakes on the list and spoke with stakeholders. We got to get a feel for the area and conversations about what issues they had. As it is no surprise I chose Koinonia! The area charmed me; I liked that this was the only lake that didn’t have houses right up to the edge. How special! I was immediately interested in the mission of Koinonia, their education, and community involvement. I admire that this place is so special to so many. It makes my work that much more worth it – because there are so many people who care in the same way for this beautiful place.

More about Me:

I was born and raised in Ithaca, NY on a Black Angus beef farm. I loved being outside and exploring with my three brothers. I graduated high school in June of 2010 and went to the local community college that following August. I started here thinking I wanted to be a nurse, because I liked helping people. Soon after starting my courses I fell in love with biology and environmental studies. After 3 years I transferred to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) in Syracuse in 2013. I pursued a Bachelor’s of Science in Conservation Biology with a minor in Marine Sciences. After graduating in 2016 I wasn’t sure of where I was going, what I was doing, or if I wanted to go back to school… so I decided I would apply to AmeriCorps and serve the youth of Vergennes, Vermont. I taught lake ecology to youth ranging in a variety of topics, some included plankton, invertebrates, fish, aquatic plants, history, scuba, boating & boating safety, and stream ecology. I liked it so much I wanted to learn more about lake ecology and become a limnologist. This is when I began school at SUNY Oneonta in the fall of 2016.

Teaching has been a passion of mine since I can remember. I started teaching during my first job –crafts at AC Moore. I would go on to become a gymnastics instructor, an undergraduate teaching assistant for a natural resource in American History course at SUNY ESF, a graduate teaching assistant instructing biology labs for freshman and sophomores at the college level, and also as an outdoor educator teaching lake ecology through the Biological Field Station! I am extremely excited to create a management plan for Koinonia as well as educational tools, lessons, and infrastructure for the camp!

Today I have a few very different side projects. I am a competitive lumberjack – or lumberjill if you will. Over the summer I travel all over the northeast and country competing for lumberjack association shows and with Axe Women Loggers of Maine. I also serve on the board of directors for an organization called Women of Aquatics! I am so very proud to be apart of such a community that has the core values of ‘Celebrate and Inspire’, ‘Challenge the Status Quo’, and ‘Promote Community’. This group really strives to encourage women to stay in the aquatic science field, where there are very few, and aims to inspire young girls to love and explore science! Our youth really is our legacy and I am committed to trying to make this world the best for them!

The beginning of my study:

Each student gets started by creating a ‘stakeholder survey’. This survey allows the student to get an accurate idea of what each person within the watershed is interested in within the lake, for its future. By creating and distributing a survey each participant has an equal, nonbiased voice that is not influenced by anyone else while completing their responses. I created a survey and distributed it to the board of directors for Koinonia. The main bit of information that comes from the survey helps managers to decide what the lake associations’ biggest concerns are and this will help to further direct the science and management plan. As I am sure it will not shock you much to say that the responses from my survey indicated that the main source of concern for Koinonia is aquatic plants.

The lake management program is constructed so that students will go out and sample their lakes every other week during the growing season (spring - fall) and once a month during the winter season, provided that the ice is safe enough. During the spring, summer, and fall of 2017 I attempted to do lake monitoring on Koinonia. I was having difficulty and struggled more than my peers. I didn’t understand why, and so I tried to learn as much as I could about their main issue – PLANTS. During a wetland delineation course at SUNY Oneonta with Dr. Donna Vogler I learned identification and ecology of ~120 different plant species. It was also during this time I had an enlightening idea: if wetlands are typically associated with freshwater resources like streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and reservoirs… and we always talk about the ‘wetland edge’ being where upland (dry land) meets lowland (wetlands), but where does the wetland stop and the freshwater resource (stream, river, pond, lake, reservoir) begin? I was directed to the technical report called ‘the plant communities of New York’. It was here that I finally matched up the plant communities I was seeing within the water of Koinonia and the ecosystem name in which they occur! I often refer to this moment as the plot twist of my thesis, IT IS A WETLAND. Now, suddenly all the struggles I was having makes incredibly more sense and my study has taken a new turn.

Wetland research:

Now that Koinonia is designated as a wetland and not as a lake some of the issues I was having now become more clear. I looked into online resources such as the national wetland inventory mapper that can be found here: https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/data/Mapper.html and the Department of Environmental Conservation environmental resource mapper: http://www.dec.ny.gov/gis/erm/. I encourage everyone to look and play with these online mappers. There are tabs on the left hand side that can be checked and unchecked to see different layers – type in Koinonia’s address into the top right hand corner and click around on the different layers!

While exploring these websites and Google earth you’ll notice that there is some difference in the labeling of the waters – Mill Brook, Mud Pond & Beaver Pond, or just Koinonia Lake. So what does this mean? The history kind of of tells the story…. Mill Brook was the stream that was impounded in the mid 1960s. In maps by the Army Corps of Engineers from before the dam was built, there was only Mill Brook and one pool of water called Mud Pond. Maps that have been created after the 1960s show Mud Pond and Beaver Pond that resulted from the flooding of Mill Brook’s floodzone. Since this time it has filled in and flooded so much that if you look on Google earth the water body is all one! It is pretty neat to see the progression.

So please, take a look at these resources and stay tuned for more information about your fabulous gem of a wetland!

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