APPLETON — If you’re concerned about zebra mussels, boat landing fees, walleyes, algae blooms or swimmer’s itch that can accompany a dip in Lake Winnebago, a new five-county collaborative wants to hear from you.
Backed by a $50,000 matching grant from the Department of Natural Resources, the group is in the first phase a project to protect all aspects of the system that connects Lake Winnebago to Lake Poygan, Lake Winneconne, Lake Butte des Morts and parts of the Fox and Wolf rivers.
The five counties — Calumet, Fond du Lac, Outagamie, Waushara and Winnebago — hope to build on local public feedback to identify key issues with the Winnebago System.
“Usually a government entity comes up with a proposal and then you have to respond to it,” said Mike Lizotte, president of the Winnebago Lakes Council. “This way, we might go about identifying threats to the system, or just gather a public wish list.”
The group has an interactive Web portal designed to gather feedback with surveys and discussion boards at winnegabowaterways.com. So far, invasive species, algae blooms, water quality and boating fees have attracted the most attention.
A series of public meetings also will gather input from fishermen, boaters and others who use the system. The Appleton meeting is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Atlas Coffee Mill, 425 W. Water St.
Lizotte said not all suggestions will result in expensive, publicly funded projects.
“I hope somebody has some brilliant idea that doesn’t cost a lot of money and we can use it as a way to work together,” Lizotte said. “The real benefit from this may come in working together and trusting each other in our mutual interests.”
Julie Schmelzer, director of resource management for Calumet County, said the project could lead to broader recognition of the 132,000-acre Lake Winnebago that supplies water to more than 250,000 residents.
“Locally, people view the lake as a good recreation source for fishing, but the water quality might have hurt other opportunities for swimming and other activity,” she said. “We have one of the largest inland lakes in the country and it could continue to bring us economic opportunities, but not if we don’t deal with water quality, invasive plants and blue green algae together.”
After the data-gathering, the team will filter through the material.