Lake Hopatcong and the Smithsonian Partner for Clean Water

By Henry M. Holden       

Academy students L to R:  Veronica Carrion, Kailey Pasquariello, and Matthew Sinchi. (Courtesy Donna Macalle-Holly)

An unprecedented and Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) infected a vast portion, of Lake Hopatcong in 2019. The social impact of the HAB curtailed recreational use of the lake for almost a year. It was a wakeup call to prevent future HAB.

“In 2016 I came across a unique opportunity through the New Jersey Council for the Humanities (NJCH),” said Donna Macalle-Holly, Lake Hopatcong Foundation Grants and Program Director. “They were working with the Smithsonian to find locations throughout the state to feature a traveling exhibit called Water/Ways,” 

“I applied for a grant from the NJCH in cooperation with the Smithsonian and we were selected to be the first of six groups to host their Water/Ways exhibit. We finished the exhibit in July 2019. The exhibit explores water as an essential component of life on our planet, environmentally, culturally, and historically.”

“Even though it was ironic to have the exhibit while the lake was suffering the HAB, it gave people a chance to appreciate and understand that water is around everything we do.”

As part of that program the Smithsonian has another program that they offer for student groups to do the Smithsonian stories in their YES program. The program provides funding and resources to allow young people to discover and digitally document their community history.

The Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) was selected to participate in a Students & Foundation Collaborate on Digital History Effort through “Stories from Main Street: Youth Engagement and Skill-Building” Program.

The program is an arm of Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street project.  

“The LHF will work with students from the Academy for Environmental Science at Jefferson Township High School, said Macalle-Holly. “Students Veronica Carrion, Kailey Pasquariello, and Matthew Sinchi will develop three short videos which will examine the environmental, economic, and social impacts which ties in with the theme of the Smithsonian’s “Water/Ways.”

“We are pleased to continue to collaborate with the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street to educate the public about the importance of protecting our waterways,” said Macalle-Holly.

The student team came up with the recommendation to do the story regarding the hazardous algal blooms, on the lake in 2019.

“By presenting this story in our YES video, we aim to show the full effect the HAB had on the lake and community,” said student Matthew Sinchi. “We hope showing the many hardships caused by the HAB will encourage people to take action to protect our waters.”

Lake-wide cleanups were organized in 2013 and 2018, in conjunction with the 5-year 60-inch drawdown plans. Each year the NJ DEP Division of Parks and Forestry – State Park Service follows procedures to manage the water level of Lake Hopatcong.

“Right now, the plan says that every five years the lake will be drawn down 60 inches, and that was done in 2013 and 2018,” said Macalle-Holly. “We organized during both those drawdowns and had massive shoreline cleanups. 

“In 2013, more than 400 volunteers gained access to the lake from 39 different entry points and removed more than 23,000 pounds of trash from the lakebed. 

“In 2018, the LHF partnered with the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and once again, more than 400 volunteers logged an excess of 1,200 hours collecting debris from 50+ access points around the lake’s nearly 50 miles of shoreline.  

“The debris collected included 4,000 drink containers, 300 plastic bags, 175 toys, 150 articles of clothing, and more than 800 tires,” said Macalle-Holly. The removal of debris was handled by departments of public works from Hopatcong, Jefferson, Mount Arlington, and Roxbury.

“Normally the lake goes down about 22-inches per year and there is not enough exposed shoreline to do an adequate cleanup. That is why we only do it every five years to get more of the shoreline exposed.”

“YES, is an incredible program that motivates students to learn about their communities, document local history, and foster important discussions about their community’s future,” said Smithsonian’s Stories: YES Program Coordinator Sydney Thatcher.  “The Academy of Environmental Science students have already been hard at work on this project and I am looking forward to seeing what stories they have to share.”

The student project will be showcased in a virtual program hosted by the Foundation this spring and on Museum on Main Street. For more information visit   


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