MLR Lake Steward Program

Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates launched Lake Steward to support lake associations as they improve water quality, increase lake association visibility, and boost membership efforts.

Lake Steward has succeeded where other efforts have failed, by using a quiz to get lakeshore owners interested, and then making contact which is personal and centered on the individual lakeshore owner, their family, and their relationship to their land and the water.  Lake Steward, by its nature, builds the feeling of community around the lake while improving water quality.

The Lake Steward idea is simple and powerful. Your lake association sends out a simple ten question questionnaire that your members can take to “score their shore.” Results go to a volunteer from the lake association, who then visits with the property owner.  If the candidate’s property meets the Lake Steward standards, they are awarded a beautiful sign designating them as a Lake Steward.  The sign (with your Lake Association Logo) is displayed at the end of the dock, visible to other lakeshore owners who then want to be a Lake Steward (and lake association members) also.

If their shoreline does not meet the criteria, your lake steward volunteers can talk with the property owner about steps they can take, if they want, to improve their shoreline in order to meet the criteria. MLR will provide details and contacts so your volunteers can provide information to the property owners about companies/resources that can help them do restoration work as well as matching grant opportunities.

Results from the Gull Chain of Lakes Association (GCOLA Lake Steward), show that members care deeply about their lake and water quality; they were simply waiting for an opportunity to act.  Of 614 members contacted to take the quiz, hundreds have done so. In only 3 seasons, 63 Lake Stewards have been awarded, and there are currently more than 90 owners working to become Lake Stewards.

Step 1: Assemble a Lake Stewards team

A successful program is led by a small group of landowners (1-3 depending on the size of your lake) that can help respond to surveys, visit properties and share education and grant resources with the shoreline owner. 

In April, MLR will offer an online training course for these volunteers in an effort to provide consistency across the state. The training will provide some knowledge of shoreland practices so Lake Steward volunteers will be able to mentor property owners that don’t know how to start. MLR will provide resources that you can share with the land owner to help them do the work, including guidelines on do-it-yourself projects, businesses that specialize in shoreline plantings and restorations, and grant programs that can help defray the costs of these projects.

Step 2: Distribute the Lake Steward Survey to Your Members

The MLR Lake Steward quiz is a 10 question survey that will help shoreland owners compare their management of their shoreland to best practices for water quality and enjoyment.  Although there are points and a score, that is not the purpose of the questions.  Rather, it is a starting point and a way to get members interested, and it informs lakeshore owners about what practices are beneficial for the lake.

Emailing a link to the questionnaire to all members was by far the most effective way to get engagement from GCOLA members.  However, other means were also helpful; posting the quiz on the GCOLA website, offering paper copies at meetings, promoting Lake Steward in the mailings asking for membership dues, and members contacting neighbors directly.  

Step 3: Contact Quiz Responders and Ask to Visit the Property 

A personal email was set to each quiz respondent thanking them for their interest, replying to any comments, and asking for a site visit, no matter how high or low the score was.  

High scorers set a good example, but low scorers have the most impact if they make changes to their property.  Usually the team chose a date and asked to be allowed to visit the property within a 2-hour time window, and stated that the property owner did not need to be present. That was the most efficient method for owners as well as the Lake Steward team.  If the owner is not present, 10 or 15 minutes is sufficient for a site visit.

Step 4: Conduct Site Visits 

On site, the Lake Steward volunteers from your lake association will check whether the lakeshore owner meets criteria for the award by making observations and taking photos and measurements. A list of criteria will be provided by MLR during the Lake Steward training in April, 2021.

Some of the more rewarding visits have been when owners are present, but contact can also be made by phone or email afterward.  The site visit can provide an opportunity to listen to property owners’ concerns and goals, and in some circumstances to award the sign and take photos of the new Lake Steward with their award sign.  If changes are needed, the team can offer advice/respources about obtaining grant funds to defray costs.

After the site visit, an email is sent thanking the participant, describing the findings and either offering congratulations or advising on what changes could lead to the award.  Even if changes have been discussed in person with the owner, it is important to write them down in an email for everyone’s reference.

GCOLA found that participants fell into three groups: Already a steward, Want to Be a Steward, or just Curious. All three groups are very important to the program. The curious have lots of questions and the team was prepared to answer.

Step 5: Order Signs

The Lake Steward signs are 12×18 inches, aluminum, UV coated. They are $45 each. They are Minnesota made and should last a long time. There is space at the bottom of the sign for the lake association logo. 

MLR has developed a grant to pay 50% of the costs for the first 100 signs with the participating lake association paying the other half. At a time that works best for your lake association (after site visits), email Jeff Forester at with a high resolution copy of your Lake
Association logo, and include the number of signs that you need. MLR will invoice your lake association for half the cost.

Step 6: Use the Awards to Promote the Program 

Once the program is up and running, the awards will promote additional participation:

  • Encourage people to put the signs at the end of their docks where they are most visible. How are they attached? Screwed?
  • Publish a Google map of properties that have received the awards.  That helps residents to find and view properties from the water, but the map also reinforces how many residents are on board with water quality efforts and is encouraging to all.
  • Publish photos and family stories of Lake Stewards in lake association publications, thanking them for protecting the lake.

Watch as a new standard is set, neighbors come on board for better water quality, and a cultural change for clean water, healthy habitat starts to happen.

To see a video of Dorothy Whitmer talking about the Lake Steward Program on Gull Chain of Lakes – CLICK HERE: