Young environmentalists address tackle problem at Lake Dunlap

The death of a mother swan at Lake Dunlap prompted some local teens and environmentalists Sunday morning to get involved so—they hope—it doesn’t have to happen again.

“We haven’t always had swans here, but they arrived for this season,” explained Chris Filmer, president of Friends of Selleck’s Woods, which works in cooperation with the Darien Land Trust to preserve Selleck’s & Dunlap Woods Nature Preserve at the base of Parklands Drive.

Many people observed the pair of adults, along with their three babies—or cygnets—roaming the seven-acre lake along the south side of I-95 for several months. Then recently they noticed the mother wasn’t joining the others, but staying by their nest.

“On closer inspection we saw that she had fishing tackle around her legs, which contorted them and she couldn’t paddle,” said Filmer, with the discarded fishing line also wrapping around her neck.

Last week a rescue operation got her to a facility for help, but she died overnight, leaving the father alone on the lake with the other mute swan cygnets—most recently trying to teach them to fly.

“That kind of spurred us to say, ‘We know there’s fishing tackle around. Let’s get rid of it,’” Filmer said.

And so, led by some volunteers from Darien High School, the group set out to collect the littered tackle from around the lake. Further, it hopes to discourage anyone fishing at the lake from leaving discarded lines behind.

“I come here to Selleck’s Woods almost every day,” said Aidan Kennedy, 15, who took part in the cleanup. “I read here and I’ll go for a walk.”

He had even taken pictures of the visiting swans on his phone prior to the death of the mother swan, who was named Henrietta.

“I come here so often I thought I’d come and help clean,” he said.

Saskia Zimmerman, 16, and a member of the high school’s Eco Citizens Club, said the group had contacted the land trust about how it might be able to help in terms of similar cleanups later this year.

“This came up,” she said, “and this was just a little more urgent than any regular cleanup, so I just wanted to help.”

“The clubs haven’t even met yet,” Elizabeth Harmon, executive director of the Darien Land Trust, noted, but students—led by Zimmerman—were already getting out and involved.

“Within 24 hours she had a small army lined up with kayaks and a lot of can-do spirit,” she said.

Fishing is allowed at the lake, but it is a private lake and this is at the discretion of the groups.

“I’m a big fisherman,” noted Sig Buchmayr, a board member with the friends group, who believes in giving children and their parents the opportunity to learn to fish on the catch-and-release facility.

However, he and others stressed the vital importance of visitors being conscientious and not leaving behind materials—lines, hooks, litter and more—that could potentially kill animals.

“They leave the line in the water and you can see what happened,” Buchmayr said.

“They need to be vigilant.”

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