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Protect and enhance the health and beauty of Lake James and its watershed
Board Members

George Johnson (P)
Tracy Childers (VP)
Otis Wilson (S)
Richard Spitz (T)
Jimmy Blanton
Christina Bruinsma
Jim Darsie
Alex Dergins
Sophie Foscue
Julie Lee
Bob Long
Bo McMinn
Kaitlyn McMinn
Allan Pinkul
Jack Raker

Ted Restel
Keith Smith
Wendell Sugg
John Zimmerman
Nora Coffey (ex officio)

Judy Francis (ex officio)
Donate to LJEA

Shooting Range 

In mid-July, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) decided it would reject both proposed sites for a shooting range in Burke County.  The site next to the lake at the mouth of the Linville River and the location near the County Landfill at the John's River were both strongly opposed by the public. They will continue to seek an acceptable site in Burke County or in nearby areas. The official announcement can be found here.
Fish Kill
Our last announcement about the North Fork fish kill (7-17-15) indicated that this appeared to be a one-time event, so any evidence beyond deceased specimens, such as water samples, was not revealing conclusive evidence regarding toxic substances and their specific sources.  Much additional investigative work has been done by EPA and its contractor, Coats and its contractor, and DENR staff.  For those who are interested, various results may be reviewed at
this site.


On 8-3-15, Landon Davidson, NCDENR-Asheville, pointed out that the agency bases its actions upon the science and facts that result from the investigation.  Given existing assessment data (NCDENR, EPA and consultant), it appears the most probable cause of the release relates to the floor drains connected to the storm sewer. A release by these means could’ve been exacerbated by the beaver impoundment. In areas where there were floor drains connected to the storm sewer, sodium hydroxide is used, a substance of high pH that dissolves readily. Anything beyond these points at this time would be speculation.  Mr. Davidson leads a dedicated group working on reviewing all aspects of the site (discharge permit, groundwater, storm water, fish kill event, etc.).

Sunken House Boat
You may recall that some two years ago an abandoned houseboat sank next to shore not far from Black Bear Launch area. It took a long time to resolve this matter due to an out-of-state registration and changes of ownership.  But at long last it has been removed from Lake James. Jack Raker captured this photo of preparations to dispose of the boat.
End of Wildfires

On August 24th the Bald Knob and Wolf Creek wildfires were declared 100% contained and related trail closures were lifted.  Both fires burned more than a month.  Bald Knob consumed 1268 acres and Wolf Creek, 305 acres. Our deep appreciation to those who fought these fires on the rugged, hazardous front lines.

Lake James Environmental Association



Spring-Summer 2015

 Message from President George Johnson:

After all the excitement we’ve had about a proposed shooting range near the lake, state level anti- environmental legislation, a fish kill in the North Fork River, potential annexation of lake property, and a wildfire near Bald Knob, you’d think there might be a break.  Not!!  We are in an early stage drought.  (See next item.)

In this Newsletter we update several of the above issues, announce receipt of an award, report an educational outreach activity, discuss water quality issues and  introduce our newest board member.  We also launch, with tremendous help from board member Sophie Foscue, a new vehicle for the newsletter – Mail Chimp.  You will notice a new look and it will allow you to receive communications on wider range of devices. We hope this serves you well.  Please let us know what you think.  We are still learning!

If you have an interesting lake-related photo you'd like considered for our website or a future newsletter, send it to us at  See the last item in this newsletter for a recent example.


Entering  Stage 1 Drought

We are in a Stage 1 drought, tending toward Stage 2.  Bottom line:  Conservation of water and electricity is needed.  For example:  Lawn watering should be done only on Tuesdays and Saturdays, wash full loads of dishes and laundry, etc.  Those on community and personal wells need to be careful, too. The Catawba Riverkeeper says, "...if you really want to save water, use less electricity."  (Power generation uses a lot of fresh water for cooling.  The average US Family of 4 uses 3 times as much water for electricity as it does for its daily water needs.)  Details of the drought situation and suggestions for coping with it will follow in a separate message after a review in early September.
NC Governor's Award

The Lake James Environmental Association (LJEA) is pleased to announce that they recently received the North Carolina Governor’s Award for Volunteer Service. According to the Office of the Governor,the award is given to citizens of the State who “exhibit the tradition of volunteerism that is at the heart of community service in our state.” Since 1979, the award has honored individuals and groups who work to improve their communities and the lives of others through volunteer service.

LJEA was nominated by Ms. Melanie Shaver, a McDowell County Instructional Coach and science teacher, for their continued guidance on environmental issues to local students and teachers, in particular for their work with students through the Kids in the Creek program. Kids in the Creek, a program begun by the Haywood Waterways Association (our benchmark), aims to provide students with a hands-on learning opportunity and the chance to evaluate the water quality of their local streams.
Board Member Jack Raker and teacher Melanie Shaver at the award ceremony. Jack accepted the Governor’s Award on LJEA’s behalf.

What began as a small activity in one interested teacher’s classroom has grown into a county-wide event that students look forward to every year. Thanks to the efforts of Jack Raker, board member and leader of the Kids in the Creek program, as well as LJEA volunteers and McDowell county teachers, local students now have the opportunity to interact with the environment in a way that in-classroom learning cannot provide.  This helps develop future stewards of the environment.

Lake James Environmental Association hopes to enlarge its volunteer support of Burke and McDowell county schools’ curricula, so that every student in both counties can eventually participate in and benefit from this valuable experience. LJEA is committed to the conservation of Lake James and its surrounding watershed, and engaging with youth through programs like Kids in the Creek is an important part of the organization’s mission. If you want to learn more about Kids in the Creek, or are interested in volunteering with the program, please contact Jack Raker at
Kids in the Creek:
3rd Grade Read-to-Achieve Summer Camp

In July, LJEA participated in McDowell County’s Read-to-Achieve summer camp. Nearly seventy students (going into 4th grade) enriched their reading knowledge of streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes through live experiences at the Paddy Creek section of Lake James State Park. Three groups of 20+ students rotated through three different activities:

  • An In-Creek Study of fish and water bugs to learn about water quality

  • A trail hike and Ranger Talk about reptiles and amphibians

  • A “self-guided” hike on the Holly Discovery Trail to see what they could find


Several adults escorted each group, some having as much fun as the kids.  The Creek Study was facilitated by LJEA volunteers Jack Raker (our Kids in the Creek Coordinator), Marshall Taylor, Sophie Foscue and George Johnson.  The amphibian-reptile hike and talk was guided by Ranger Jamie Cameron. The students enjoyed being in the creek (some all the way in!) and discovering the aquatic creatures that call it home.
At work in the water

Searching for aquatic life

Water Quality This Year

This spring the lake water looked murky.  Our water test readings reflected that, too, on both sides of the lake.  After studying the nutrient levels our Water Test Coordinator Bob Long’s opinion is that it was most likely due to “turnover,” the natural circulation of bottom waters to the surface caused by changes in water temperature, wind and currents, usually in the spring and fall. 
Other things that contribute to the murky condition:
  • Heavy rain storms increase water turbidity by washing silt into the lake.  (See also First Flush article below)
  • Lack of shoreline stabilization.  If you are a lake front property owner, please make this investment to protect the lake and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
  • Even when the shore is stabilized, it can erode if the water level is below normal, exposing the lake bed beyond the area of stabilization.  Then wave action can stir up silt along the waterline, creating plumes that move out into the lake. 
  • Wakes, especially large ones, from boats and personal water craft, particularly on high traffic days, are key contributors to this erosion.  At these times even the east end of the canal between the two sides of the lake is a problem. 
Boat induced silt plume

Boat owners can really help this situation by recognizing that low water makes the lake more vulnerable and controlling their wakes accordingly.  This is an opportunity to help the lake’s water quality.

What is "First Flush"?


The first inch of rain after a dry period tends to wash off impervious surfaces (i.e., hardened soil, roads, driveways, roofs, parking lots, etc).  It “flushes away” all sorts of things that have accumulated on these surfaces, such as molds, bacteria and viruses, fertilizers, pesticides, petroleum products, and loose dirt, as well as by-products of combustion rinsed out of the air. These contaminants run into nearby streams, rivers and lakes and can potentially harm people who enjoy being in fresh water, especially children, seniors and others who may have compromised immune systems.


After a significant storm, how long should vulnerable people stay out of the water, i.e., postpone swimming, wading, water skiing, wake boarding, jet skiing, etc.?  The general advice is, “Until it clears.”  Here’s why.  Even after the initial storm, rushing floodwaters can seriously erode unprotected soil and scour stream/river banks and bottoms. If there is significant flooding, sewage overflows can occur and previously deposited contaminants on stream and lake beds can be stirred up and sent downstream.


Most contaminants are virtually invisible because they are microscopic or dissolved in water. But sediment which caused turbidity is visible. More turbid (silty), unclear water is associated with increased bacterial contamination.  If normally clear water has turned cloudy or muddy, it is an indication that unhealthy things may be present.  It is wise to stay out of the water until it clears again.


If your recreational water is normally unclear or muddy it is wise to stay out of the water for at least a couple of days after a big rain storm, especially if you have any open cuts or wounds.  As an added precaution, wash off with soap and clean water after getting wet.


Something to keep in mind during water activities.

Meet New Board Member Julie Lee Julie Lee

In mid 2015 I was offered the opportunity to serve as a board member for the Lake James Environmental Association. I was happy to accept as the goals of the organization mesh well with my interests. We all have an obligation to preserve the bounty and beauty of the places we call home.


I grew up in southern Ohio playing in creeks and catching tadpoles and frogs. My dad taught all four of his daughters to fish at an early age. I have always wanted to be outside!


I moved to Atlanta after college and began my work as a speech pathologist. My real interest in the environment began in 1990 when we purchased a cabin on Lake Burton in the north Georgia mountains. It is the first of seven lakes in the Tallulah River watershed. During those sixteen years I learned much about soil erosion, invasive plant life, water quality, seawalls, and light pollution. Lake Burton is managed by Georgia Power and straddles two very rural counties. A good working relationship with both counties and Georgia Power was important for sustaining the quality of life on that lake. There are many similarities to Lake James and the challenges we in this watershed area will face in the coming growing years. I continue to have strong interest in water quality as I swim in the lake all summer. Light pollution is another issue I would like to see addressed. Keeping outside lighting to a minimum is crucial for successful bird migration in the spring and fall. Monitoring growth plans for all the areas surrounding the lake and rivers is vital to keeping a healthy watershed. I would enjoy serving as a cove keeper and helping with Kids in the Creek programs.


After an extensive search of lakes and coastlines, my husband, Steve Hurd, and I retired to this beautiful spot in North Carolina in May 2013. It felt like home from the beginning.....the beauty of the area and the friendliness of the people. Lake James reminds me of Lake Burton twenty years ago. We are poised for the same kind of growth and the same issues that accompany new development. Working together we can keep the area beautiful, maintain the watershed, and preserve the clean environment for the next generation.


My husband and I are members of the Carolina Bird Club and have enjoyed three migration outings with the group. I volunteer as an English language teacher to a group of immigrants through Burke Literacy - a most enjoyable experience. I also paddle with the Lake James Dragonboat team. We live here full time when not traveling to visit extensive family spread all over the country!


Thanks....Julie Lee

Non-poisonous Northern Water Snake tries to swallow a catfish for lunch. 
Eyes bigger than jaws?  (This is not a Copperhead!)

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