In the heart of Bridgton, nestled in the woods on an 18-acre parcel of land, is a new, year-round facility designed to attract scientists and educators from all over Maine and beyond, to conduct lake-related research.

After seven years of planning by the Lakes Environmental Association, the Maine Lake Science Center opened in June at 51 Willett Road adjacent to the 66-acre Pondicherry Park. The facility is dedicated to advancing and supporting research on Maine’s lakes, according to the lakes association’s executive director, Peter Lowell, and was designed in part to enhance the organization’s work.

“It’s a very diverse property,” said Lowell, of the site. “It’s got a lot of different forest stands, wetlands, vernal pools and streams. It’s a great outdoor classroom.”

An existing 960-square-foot log cabin and attached garage on the property was purchased by the Lakes Environmental Association for about $500,000 in donations and renovated this past year to include a 50-seat conference room, three researcher-housing units, a 30-seat education center for classes and workshops, a research lab and administrative offices. The space is available for researchers to use throughout the year for no charge. Lowell said researchers are welcome to live at the center for a couple weeks, or longer, to complete their fieldwork.

Since forming in 1970, the Lakes Environmental Association’s mission has been to preserve and promote water quality in the Lakes Region and throughout western Maine. Some of its goals are to increase enforcement of Maine’s environmental protection laws and educate landowners about why lake protection is vital, according to Lowell.

The purpose of the center, he said, is “to facilitate research, because we feel that the way people were doing lake testing needed to be significantly advanced.”

“We need to find out if our current land-use standards are adequate to protect our lakes,” Lowell added. “We’re trying to help develop better lake-testing programs, which should lead to better, more appropriate, land-use standards and education programs, as well.”

The association held two open houses last week at the live-in center, which attracted about 40 people. More open houses will take place some time this winter, Lowell said.

More than a dozen researchers and postgraduate students from various colleges in Maine have stayed and worked at the facility so far, Lowell said. Several public lectures and fundraising events were also held at the center in recent months.

Amy Kireta, a doctoral student with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine who is studying the impact of climate change on water quality in the Great Lakes, stayed at the new facility a few times this summer while completing an internship with the association.

“It was terrific,” Kireta said. “I think it’s an excellent place. I hope to work there again in the future. I live three hours away. Having the facility allowed me to stay down there and work night and day.”

According to Lowell, the center, which is operated by three part-time staff members, will work closely with the academic community and other nonprofit organizations with similar goals of advancing lake research.

“We designed it primarily to serve as a home for researchers but (it is) also available for people who need conference rooms, and to hold classes there,” Lowell said.

New trails have been created on the property that connect with the Pondicherry Park trail system. A trail also links the education center to the Stevens Brook Elementary School via the Ham Memorial Bridge.

Brett Gerard, a doctoral student and research assistant at the University of Maine, stayed at the science center three times throughout the summer. Gerard’s research focuses on the condition of lowland tributaries within the Sebago Lake watershed, which governs the flow of water, sediment, nutrients and pollutants in the lake. During his visit, the Lakes Environmental Association’s milfoil control team helped Gerard install what’s called a flow meter in the Songo River to help with his studies.

Gerard said what mainly attracted him to the science center was the location.

“I used Maine Lake Science Center as a home base to go out and do work everyday,” Gerard said. “Sebago is about 2 1?2 hours away from the university. The work we do takes at least a day at a time. It allowed us to go down there and spend multiple days. It’s a great station to base field expositions out of.”

Lowell said in recent years the association felt the urge to start studying Maine’s lakes more intensively – including the several factors that cause lake degradation, such as climate change – and thus began to envision the Maine Lake Science Center. The facility, which is energy efficient, is located about a mile from the Lakes Environmental Association’s headquarters on Main Street in Bridgton and is easily accessible. In January, the group plans to start a public fundraising campaign to raise $400,000 to meet its $1.2 million goal to be able to operate the center through 2020, which is the organization’s 50th anniversary.

Lowell said creating the center was the best solution for being able to promote lake research and create partnerships between researchers, the academic community, municipalities, marinas and other groups that depend on water quality.

“We’ve tried to develop a facility that will serve the state’s lakes well, and avert water quality disasters, which many scientists feel are a decade or two away if something additional isn’t done,” Lowell said.

The new Maine Lake Science Center is located at 51 Willett Road in Bridgton. The facility, which opened in June, was created to attract researchers to conduct world-class lake research.Large groups can take advantage of the new Maine Lake Science Center’s classroom space.The workspace at the new Maine Lake Science Center in Bridgton is available to scientists interested in conducting water-related experiments.

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