Ticonderoga Residents Lend Helping Hands & Watchful Eyes to Protect Lake George

The future of Lake George is in our hands. Ticonderoga residents Jill and Tom Cunningham take that both literally and figuratively.

Eight times each summer — guided by GPS and faithfully accompanied by first mate Koko, their chocolate Labrador retriever — the Cunninghams pilot their boat to the exact same location in Heart Bay (N 43 degrees, 47 minutes 54.7”, W 73 degrees, 27 minutes 16.7”) and return home carrying water samples that are used to help the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation track the long-term health of the Lake.

The Cunninghams are in their fourth summer volunteering in DEC’s Citizens Statewide Lake Assessment Program (CSLAP), a citizen science initiative coordinated on Lake George by the Lake George Association. Through CSLAP, trained volunteers conduct biweekly water clarity tests and collect water samples to measure for chlorophyll, nitrogen, phosphorus and other water quality indicators. The Cunninghams are among four sets of LGA volunteers working on this program.

Jill and Tom Cunningham

The CSLAP volunteers also act as “eyes on the Lake,” looking out for signs of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and other visible water quality concerns. The information and samples they collect contribute to scientists’ understanding of the potentially toxic blooms that have devastated lakes and lake-based economies across the country. It was an LGA citizen scientist that spotted the first confirmed HAB on Lake George last November.

With more than 7,500 lakes, ponds and reservoirs to monitor, DEC relies on organizations like the LGA, the Jefferson Project, the Lake George Waterkeeper and our volunteer citizen scientists to help with this vital service. The LGA has been coordinating the local CSLAP program for nearly 20 years, along with other essential citizen scientists programs, and is always looking for more volunteers.

“It’s important work,” says Tom, a Ticonderoga native who recently retired after a 42-year career as a commercial diver that took him across the country and around the world. “It’s important to follow the health of the Lake. If you don’t see the trends that are taking place and figure out what’s going on, you can’t protect against them.”

“Lake George is the economic generator for the area. It’s the heart of the economy. If it doesn’t stay healthy … all the communities around this Lake are going to suffer.”  

– Tom Cunningham

Jill, a New Jersey native, has been in love with Lake George since first accompanying Tom on a visit in the fall of 1999, the year before they were married. Tom had just purchased a lakeside property that had been in his family since the 1940s, and the couple soon decided they’d retire there. In 2008, they returned to Ticonderoga and began building a new home on the property, which they moved into in 2010.

In 2018, Jill learned that the LGA was looking for a CSLAP volunteer in their area and quickly signed the couple up. She has a natural interest in science, with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in transfusion medicine, but more than that, she says, “I live on the Lake, we take our drinking water from the Lake, it seemed like something we should do.”

“Lake George is the economic generator for the area. It’s the heart of the economy,” Tom adds. “If it doesn’t stay healthy, if it’s not the attraction that it is today for tourists and second-home owners, all the communities around this Lake are going to suffer.”

Learn more about the LGA’s citizen scientist opportunities and how you can help keep our Lake clear and clean.