'We are the caretakers': Ridgefield's Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund marks 50 years:

RIDGEFIELD — The heat of the blazing sun was tempered by a cool breeze, which threw a mist onto a boat as it cut through the currents of Mamanasco Lake.

As the boat steered toward the 30-foot cliffs in Richardson Park, local teenagers got a running start before taking a leap of faith off the cliffs and into the water below. Elsewhere, a child gleefully swam laps on the glistening surface as his family observed from a private dock.

Dean Williams hopes that with increased education, engagement and funding, the lake can continue to serve as a recreational jewel in Ridgefield. As president of the Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund, Williams’ goal is to uphold the mission founder Herb Camp set forth a half-century ago.

“I started the Mamanasco Lake Improvement Fund in 1971 with the goal of giving our lake community the means and structure to help preserve and protect the lake,” Camp said. “I am delighted to see the preservation efforts have continued for 50 years.”

The fund is inviting those who have helped maintain the lake over the years to an anniversary celebration Saturday at Williams’ lakefront home, which Camp once owned.

Lake history

Mamanasco’s history extends long before the fund.

The lake was dammed in 1716 to retain water for a grist mill that ground flour and grains for Ridgefield’s early settlers. Before the days of refrigeration, residents harvested ice from the lake during the winter and stored it in a house at the end of nearby Pond Road.

In the early 20th century, the Peatt family operated a resort on the northwest side of the lake, according to lake resident Jack Sanders. It comprised of cabins, a beach and a main lodge and was operational through the early 1980s.

In the mid-20th century, resident Francis Martin was known to host lively skating parties on Mamanasco Lake, which were attended by hundreds of townspeople.

“People don’t forget when they spend time on a lake like Mamanasco,” Williams said. “It’s a time many people look back (on) as a simpler, perhaps more enjoyable time versus being glued to a tablet.”

Preservation efforts

Since maintaining a shallow lake in the middle of a populated community like Ridgefield is “a challenge,” Williams said, education and fundraising are key.

The fund studies Mamanasco’s ecology and distributes mailers to more than 500 homeowners in the watershed. It contain tips on reducing environmental damage. This includes not using lawn fertilizers to avoid weed and algae growth within the lake, maintaining septic tanks and cleaning watercraft prior to using the lake to avoid proliferation of invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

“In the short term, we want to continue to find the right balance for plants, animals and humans to all coexist in our lake,” Williams said. “For the long term, we must monitor and test different techniques and technologies that become available to us.”

But preserving the lake comes with a hefty price tag, one which the fund relies on outside contributions.

The organization has received grants from the Ridgefield Thrift Shop and the Anne S. Richardson Foundation. Williams hopes the fund will qualify for the state’s new Aquatic Invasive Species Grant Program to support treatment and dredging of the lake.

In spring 2015, the fund raised $40,000 to pull 50 tons of organic, decomposed plant material from the northwest corner of the lake. Today, the area is “back to where it was,” Williams said.

“Other lakes have what's called tax districts — we do not have that,” he added. “There's never been a formal establishment of who owns this lake. ... So we are the caretakers.”

Looking ahead

Williams considers it a privilege to protect and care for the lake, he said.

For generations it has served as a recreational center point for residents and visitors, and by managing it carefully, he added, the fund can ensure it stays that way.

“So many people that have grown up in Ridgefield know this lake and they come back,” he said. “I think part of it is driven (through) this desire, that’s come from the pandemic, to (relive) those memories.”

For information, visit mlif.org.