Lake Ripley area property owners list water quality as the top factor in their quality of life, according to results of a survey shared at a June 28 meeting of the Lake Ripley Management District.

The survey was conducted in October 2019 as part of the lake district’s update of its management plan. The plan is updated every ten years, and opens up grant possibilities and support from agencies like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Lake Manager Beth Gehred said a committee updating the management plan, whose efforts has included surveying area property owners, hopes to complete its work by April.

The June 28 meeting was held in-person at the Oakland Town Hall. The lake management district is also planning a virtual public input session in July. Those interested should contact Gehred at (608) 423-4537, or ripley@oaklandtownhall.com.

The survey was sent to about 1,200 households.

Gehred said that the lake district received about 277 survey responses back, about a 23 percent response rate. That’s on par with the last survey of this kind, conducted a little more than a decade ago.

The survey asked residents what they thought were the biggest factors that impacted quality of life on the lake, Gehred said.

In response, lake district residents prioritized water quality, healthy aquatic plants and rule enforcement as the most important factors, Gehred said.

Gehred said she was relieved to see so many locals thought water quality was important, saying that means they understand how water quality and plant life affect the health of the lake.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said water quality was very important to quality of life, and less than one percent of respondents said it was not important.

The lake district has prioritized water quality in recent years, with water quality testing, weed harvesting and research, said Lianna Spencer, this summer’s lake researcher.

Spencer said lake district staff recently discovered a fish species and plant species had returned to the lake after disappearing for a while. This showed the lake’s growing health and diversity, Spencer said.

“I do work on other lakes in Jefferson and you don’t find the same diversity,” agreed Patricia Cicero, the director of Jefferson County’s Land and Water Conservation Department.

The lake district recently received a $25,000 grant from the Wisconsin DNR to support its planning efforts and to hire Spencer.

The biggest concerns residents named in the survey were invasive lake weeds, loss of bird and fish habitat and the overuse of lawn and agricultural fertilizers and pesticides.

The survey also asked residents how much they support lake district efforts like water quality monitoring, weed harvesting, invasive species control, maintaining the preserve, education, grants and research.

The highest priority was controlling invasive species, said 87 percent of respondents, followed by water quality monitoring.

Also at the June 28 meeting, the lake district heard feedback from a handful of area residents.

Those residents proposed ideas for improving the lake, such as by limiting motor boat traffic on certain days of the week to allow paddlers a safer experience, and increasing native plant education so that residents know what to look for.

Board members also discussed controlling geese, continuing to purchase land surrounding the district’s preserve, managing algae and reducing shoreline erosion.

Cicero offered to visit lakefront properties to educate property owners about native and invasive species.

Their favorite things about Lake Ripley, the residents also said, were its sense of community, family history and its tranquility.

The lake district, created in 1990, has taxing authority over an area bordered by County Road A, U.S. Hwy. 12, U.S. Hwy. 18 and Simonson Street in the village of Cambridge. Its boundaries align with the sanitary sewer district that was set up when sewer service was extended around the lake in 1984.

It has the statutory authority to levy up to about $250 a year on a $100,000 home but the annual bill has never amounted to more than about $50, management district officials have said.

The lake district has also funded clean-up efforts on the lake, including weed cutting, and it employs a full-time lake manager.

One of the most far-reaching things the lake management district has done with the tax revenue it collects each year from district residents is to create a lake district preserve.

Located along County Hwy. A, the preserve has about a mile of publicly accessible trails. It contains a mix of wetland, prairie, oak savannah and woodland in an area that drains into the lake. The preserve has its own 20-year management plan, adopted in 2010 and updated annually.

The only inlet stream to Lake Ripley meanders through wetland in the lake preserve that provides habitat to fish and wildlife, enhances water quality and provides flood control.

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