Membership at year end 2002 - 71.
Membership today - over 7000 and GROWING!!
Over 10 years ago, a few friends were reminiscing about their childhood, when the lakes in the area were clear and pure, before the green sheen of algae blooms took over in the late summer. They also remembered when the phrase "Invasive Plants" was probably the title of a low-budget sci-fi film. They quickly realized that it would take more than just themselves if they were to have any chance in making a difference in returning the waters to the conditions of years past.
Located in the Kennebec Valley area of central Maine, the Cobbossee Watershed (CW) begins at Torsey Lake in Mount Vernon, continues down to Pleasant Pond in Richmond, before traveling along Cobbossee Stream and emptying into the Kennebec River in Gardiner - 28 lakes and streams covering an area of 217-square miles. The area is well known for its abundant supply of freshwater lakes, rivers and steams, and tourism continues to supply a significant source of seasonal employment, income and recreation for area residents. Recreational activities including lodging, swimming, boating and fishing have existed for generations. In addition, property values associated with waterfront properties provide a significant source of revenue to local government. For example, the town of Readfield , ME derives over 25% of its property tax revenue alone from property around Maranacook Lake, part of the Cobbossee Watershed.
Incorporated in 2001, the Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed (Friends) obtained 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status in 2002. Since then, the Friends have experienced dynamic growth, in large part to our innovative approach towards outreach, program development and constituency-building that has attracted local, regional and national recognition.
With an initial grant from the Unity Foundation, sponsorship from Clark Marine of Manchester, ME, and support from several private donors, the Friends successfully launched the "OTTER," a 20' pontoon boat selling ice cream during the summer of 2002. Aside from its ice cream sales, the boat quickly attracted the attention of lakefront property owners and built awareness regarding the ISSUES FACING THE WATERSHED.
Though the "Ice Cream Boat" was clearly a hit, membership stood at a disappointing total of 71 at the end of that first year. The Board of Directors, realizing that involvement - widespread involvement - was necessary to quickly initiate social change, removed a potential obstacle by eliminating membership fees in January of 2003. Driving membership has allowed the Friends to communicate to a much broader audience, who themselves have become activists for positive change. Is it working? AND HOW!!
Though pleased, we know that there remains thousands of others within the Cobbossee Watershed that we need to reach – especially those that don't necessarily live directly on the water. To this end, we at the Friends seek to engage ALL constituencies, as illustrated by our response to a question from one of our new members:
"Since beginning in 2001, the Board of Directors focus has been to "Build an Army" - specifically, we believed (and still do!) that in order to be successful in protecting and preserving this natural resource, we would need to engage the masses of water property owners and users. Our mission continues to be focused on bringing about social and behavioral change by providing education, completing projects and supporting programs that will improve the waters of the Cobbossee Watershed."
"As a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, we walk a fine line on what we can and cannot do to try to influence our legislature and public policy. At the same time, we do not seek to be an enforcement agency, nor look at dividing our membership by drawing "lines in the sand" on such items as limiting lake access, restricting of jet skis and other issues that tend to polarize sides. We believe that it is our responsibility as individuals that will ultimately make a difference - again, social change is what we are after and we will continue to seek to engage all users and residents within the Cobbossee Watershed."