COOPERSTOWN — Eric Coe is a young man who stands between lakes and invasive species.
The 24-year-old Fly Creek resident is working this summer trying to make sure that non-native plant life does not enter Canadarago Lake via a public boat launch three miles south of Richfield Springs.
One month after staring the job, his work is already making a difference. On Monday, Coe found himself being credited with saving Canadarago Lake from an infestation of water chestnuts. The nettlesome invasive species has gained a toehold in Goodyear Lake — but has not been found in Canadarago.
On Sunday morning, he was standing sentry at the boat launch when a man pulled in hauling a trailer with a fishing boat on top, he recalled.
“I got down on my hands and knees and made a tactile inspection of the boat and trailer,” said Coe, whose work is being funded by grants from the Canadarago Lake Improvement Association and the Student Research Foundation at the State University College of Oneonta.
That’s when the hawk-eyed lake steward found it — a single water chestnut attached to the trailer.
Coe, who graduated in May from the State University College at Oneonta with a degree in environmental biology, said he then explained the significance of the find to the boat’s owner.
The man who had been about to roll his trailer into the lake while an invasive plant was clinging to it then explained that he had heard about water chestnuts but was not aware of the specific harm they can cause to waterways, Coe recalled.
“He didn’t understand the ecological risks associated with the plant,” Coe said.
Water chestnuts, a highly competitive plant capable of rapid growth and spread, form dense impenetrable mats at the water surface, killing out other vegetation and making sections of lakes where they take over useless for boaters and swimmers.