SARATOGA SPRINGS – Monika LaPlante is returning to her roots and working to protect the lake she grew up on.
The Lake George native was recently named managing program director of the Lake George Association, a nonprofit group that aims to safeguard “The Queen of American Lakes in Upstate New York.”
As a kid, she spent hours swimming and snorkeling in the lake. After graduating from Lake George High School in 2008, LaPlante spent several summers interning at LGA’s Lake Stewardship program, where she inspected boats for invasive species.
She studied environmental science at Northeastern University and went on to study at Pace University, where she received a master’s degree in computer science. She also received a master’s in biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Previously, LaPlante worked as a data manager for Archbold Biological Station, a research station in Florida’s Everglades.
At LGA, she oversees the new Lake Protector program, which works to reduce the impacts of stormwater, wastewater and other water quality threats. She also works with RPI and IBM Research on the Jefferson Project, which helps identify water quality threats.
The Gazette caught up with LaPlante, who resides in Saratoga, earlier this week about her new role and some of the greatest environmental issues Lake George is facing.
Q: What made you want to get into the environmental sciences?
A: I was fortunate enough to grow up on Lake George. So like all others who spent time in this area, you fall in love with the lake. I’ve always loved the water and felt a very special connection with it. Continuing my education in environmental science was just a very easy decision to make and I’ve enjoyed every minute of my career doing this.
Q: How did your involvement in the lake stewardship program play a role in your career now?
A: I actually received the LGA scholarship my senior year of high school, which is very serendipitous and after receiving that, I immediately knew I wanted to intern with the LGA. I was able to do that with the Lake Stewardship program. For three years, I worked as an intern over the summers for the LGA in the last year, I ran the program as the assistant coordinator.
I’ve also worked as a milfoil removal diver on the lake, and I’ve interned at RPI’s Darrin Freshwater Institute in Bolton Landing. I’ve been embedded in the local scientific community for a decade and a half at this point.
Q: Can you tell me about the Lake Protector program that you oversee?
A: It is our breakthrough program in which we empower people to directly participate in freshwater protection. There are a lot of programs [that focus on] passive engagement and that’s not what we’re trying to do here.
We want everybody to feel empowered and understand their role, and that we need them in freshwater protection. We take the science and we turn it into actionable solutions for Lake Protectors. We’ll tell them information about their property, things that they can do to help facilitate cleaner water and [how they can] contribute to the protection of the lake because we can’t do it alone. It’s not just about us and the Lake George Association or these other local nonprofits. Our motto is we protect Lake George together, it’s a group effort.
There’s so many ways that you can participate [including] building your property in an environmentally conscious way, implementing stormwater protections, and keeping your septic system properly maintained. If you don’t have a property, you can still participate in our citizen science programs and monitor invasive species. At the very least, communicating about these issues, and the ways you can get involved with friends and family makes a huge difference in and of itself.
We want everybody to participate. We want to connect with every single homeowner on the lake and every business on the lake. We want everybody to be involved and to feel as passionate about this as we do.
Q: What are some of the major environmental threats Lake George is facing?
A: Lake George is facing a myriad of threats at this point, stormwater and wastewater pollution leads to excessive algal growth, and also harmful algal blooms. We have the age-old invasive species and excess road salt is another big one.
Although these are very serious threats, the good news is that everything’s manageable if everybody helps out. So that comes back to joining us as a Lake Protector and joining in on the effort to participate in all of this. One person can make a pretty significant impact and if we’re all doing it together imagine what can get done.
Q: What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of working at LGA?
A: Working for a nonprofit is always rewarding but being back in the community that I grew up in and participating in that community has been very rewarding.
I love knowing that the work that we do at the LGA is going to keep the lake clean for future generations, and I’m leaving an impact in that way. Being a part of something that’s so much bigger than myself is important, and also humbling and fulfilling.
For more information or to get involved with LGA, visit LakeGeorgeAssociation.org.
“Getting To Know …” is a weekly feature spotlighting people making a difference in the lives of others. If there’s someone you think we should feature, let us know by emailing us at [email protected]