Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Whatever happened to the Mud Hens?

by Steve Targo

June 14, 2012

BLOOMFIELD — An early spring became an early summer, which makes right now an opportune time to be poolside. But those looking to enjoy Pell Lake have been somewhat restricted this season in terms of swimming, boating and fishing.

Not by law, but by nature.

Overabundant sunshine seems to have accelerated the growth of lake weeds, which in several regions can be seen above water level. This has created a stir both in the delay of a major area event and in local politics. Not only has Village President Ken Monroe openly discussed the idea of creating a lake district as a way to manage this and other lake situations, but volunteers are helping the Badger State Outboard Association remove weeds so its power boat races can go on as scheduled June 23 and 24.

Which, in a way, brought the Pell Lake Mud Hens back into the picture. Formed in the 1990s, the Mud Hens removed lake weeds until about 2010. The group hasn't been heard from until the outboard association began removing weeds from Pell Lake without a permit prior to the original race date, June 2. Recently, the Mud Hens bought a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources so the association could continue to remove weeds from Pell Lake.

Does this mean the Mud Hens will return?

"Right now, we're on a big hiatus," Ted Lightfield, former Mud Hens leader, said during a telephone interview.

Lightfield, 53, said the group has retained its nonprofit status "in case we could do something for the community," such as helping a family whose house has been destroyed or establish a food pantry.

One need which is painfully evident is lake weed removal.

Although Lightfield said the Mud Hens still has a small weed cutter, "as far as the Mud Hens being on the lake, it's over."

The beginning

Born and raised in Burlington, Lightfield moved to Lyons but works in Bloomfield. In 1988, he began working as a police officer for what was then the town of Bloomfield. Today, he works for the Bloomfield Highway Department.

When Lightfield worked those Saturday shifts as a cop, he first encountered the Mud Hens — a group many credit to be the brainchild of the late Scott Haldeman.

Lightfield said he would watch this volunteer group "drag a bed spring across the lake" to remove weeds.

"I was like, 'OK, this is bizarre,'" Lightfield said.

Lightfield said joining the Mud Hens was a way for him to give back to Bloomfield.

"After I started working with the Mud Hens, the people and I started getting along much better," he said.

Joining the Mud Hens had another benefit.

"We used to joke and laugh and have a good time," Lightfield said. "It didn't even really seem like work."

But it certainly qualifies as work. Lightfield said he operated a weed cutter and drove a dump truck used to haul the weeds to Achy Breaky Acres, Highway H. The Mud Hens would eventually acquire three weed harvesters — two full-sized ones and a smaller one used as a weed transporter.

Lightfield also worked with Haldeman and became the liaison between the Mud Hens and the Bloomfield Town Board. According to Lightfield, once every four years, he would ask the board to help fund the Mud Hens' operation.

"It takes about $3,000 to start up one weed cutter each year, between the insurance (costs) and the license (fee)," he said.

In the 1990s, according to Lightfield, the Mud Hens started with a core group of around 15 who were "really interested in the lake and a lot of our members were young."

There was no age limit. Lightfield said all four of his children, including his son Cory, when he was 6, were Mud Hens.

Then, after Haldeman died May 5, 2008, things started to go downhill.

According to Lightfield, who took over after Haldeman's death, there were three crucial reasons why the Mud Hens eventually stopped its weed removal operation.

He said when Haldeman died, several people started to "lose interest" in the Mud Hens. The economy worsened, and Lightfield said some Mud Hens wanted compensation for their efforts.

"We didn't have the money," Lightfield said. "So, people just kind of started not showing up."

He said in the last three years, the number of people showing up each weekend to remove weeds from Pell Lake dwindled from eight people, to six, and then four.

"That's not safe," Lightfield said about the number of volunteers removing weeds on the lake. "I need a minimum of six people to run the operation safely."

He said the Mud Hens didn't just quit, but it didn't have enough funds to continue.

Recently, Kip Trumpulis, of the outboard association and organizer of the power boat races, credited the Mud Hens as the group which prompted him to bring the popular event to Pell Lake in 2009.

"For some reason, our boat racers really love this lake," Trumpulis said during a June 1 telephone interview. "They love the people, and after the first year we had (the races), we got such a good reception."

The future

In May, Monroe said he is researching options for lake management, including the purchase of a weed harvester, which he estimated could cost $250,000.

"At this time, the village just doesn't have the money to invest a quarter-million dollars in a weed cutter when we really need the money for our roads," he said.

The village is looking at a grant, Monroe said. However, he estimated that would bring the village's share down to $125,000.

Another option would be to establish a lake district — an option he said "people won't like" because this could be another taxing entity.

But Lightfield supported that idea.

"Kenny's right," he said. "They've got to establish a lake committee or district. There's got to be a set group that goes and does things. The days of volunteering are out the window."

Lightfield said if the village establishes a lake district, it shouldn't just be for Pell Lake, but all the Bloomfield lakes. He also said he would be happy to serve on it.

Lightfield said the weeds in Pell Lake are bad this year. He said he misses the camaraderie of the Mud Hens and if the group were around today "I'd still be a part of it."

While Lightfield reflected on the Mud Hens, he may have hit on something that places the lake weed situation into perspective.

"I think people took what we did for granted, to a point," Lightfield said. "You don't see that kind of volunteerism anymore. And as long as someone was doing something out there, they didn't have to worry about it."