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A crowd of anglers, conservation professionals and curious onlookers cheered this morning as one UH-60 “Blackhawk” helicopters from the New York Army National Guard placed weighted hardwood tree stumps on the bottom of Lake Ronkonkoma as part of a project to construct submerged reefs that will improve fish habitat. The project is the product of a partnership that includes the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, Long Island Bassmasters, Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and the State Department of Transportation (DOT).

According to DEC Regional Director Ray Cowen, DEC staff and members of the Long Island
Blackhawk just over stumps.JPG (766289 bytes)Blackhawk lifting stump.Blackhawk hoovering over water.JPG (452549 bytes)Splash DownBassmasters fishing club had wanted to use stumps to create fish habitat and improve fishing in the lake for several years, but had no means of moving such heavy objects. The solution was found through GuardHELP, the New York National Guard’s community support program linking the Guard’s training requirements to community needs across New York State. Launched in 1998 by Governor George E. Pataki, GuardHELP has put the Guard’s unique skills, capabilities and equipment to work for dozens of communities throughout the state.

The Lake Ronkonkoma project provided an opportunity for troops based at Army Aviation Support Facility #1 at MacArthur Airport to train in “slingload” operations -- a critical battle skill for Blackhawk aviators and crews. Instead of merely moving objects around at a military installation, the crews accomplished their training while providing a lasting benefit to the people of Suffolk County.

Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Maguire, Jr., The Adjutant General of New York State said, “The interagency and community partnership involved in this project typifies the GuardHELP program perfectly. The sportsmen and women of New York State and Suffolk County get improved game fish habitat in Long Island’s largest freshwater lake, and the National Guard soldiers get an excellent training opportunity and a chance to give back to their community. This is a great win-win.”

“It took a lot of planning, coordination and effort to make this project happen, but it was worth it because it complements our other fisheries management strategies for the lake and should benefit the angling public,” Director Cowen said. “Developing strong partnerships among government agencies and concerned citizens is the best way to conserve shared natural resources like Lake Ronkonkoma, and this project will produce many long-term benefits.”

“This project is a fine example of various environmental and community organizations working together to improve the parks and their natural habitats,” said Suffolk County Executive Robert J. Gaffney. “Through the efforts of these organizations, residents can continue to enjoy the many recreational opportunities that this lake offers for many generations to come.”

The project was made possible with donated assistance from local businesses and volunteers. North Shore Express carting company of Sound Beach transported the stumps to Lake Ronkonkoma County Park. Barrasso and Sons Mason Supply of Islip Terrace provided concrete blocks to sink the stumps. At the lake, members of the Bassmasters attached concrete blocks to the stumps and prepared them for airlift.

Smaller stumps were bound together and larger stumps were airlifted individually. The Lakeland Volunteer Fire Department supplied a pumper truck and crew to keep the beach wet to minimize flying sand, and an ambulance and emergency medical technicians in case of emergency.

Approximately 160 stumps of varying size were used. Most of the stumps were provided by the State DOT from land cleared to extend the Long Island Expressway Service Roads.

"I would like to personally thank the volunteers of the Long Island Bassmasters for all their help and cooperation,” said Mark Capozzola who led LIB members through the design and construction of the stump structures. “These efforts will help to improve the bass habitat and recreational fishery in Lake Ronkonkoma.”

Fishing is an important recreational activity at Lake Ronkonkoma. A DEC study conducted during the summer of 2000 estimated that anglers spent more than 13,000 hours fishing Lake Ronkonkoma between May and October. The stumps should begin attracting baitfish and bass immediately, but it will take a few years to see to what extent the new habitat encourages an overall expansion of the bass population. The stumps will provide fish with places to feed, rest and hide. Such places are scarce in the lake today.

The stumps will be in approximately fifteen feet of water when the lake is full. This depth was chosen so that the stumps would provide the best habitat possible for largemouth bass and other game fish without creating an eyesore or a hazard to navigation in years when the lake level is low. Angers can call the DEC Bureau of Fisheries office at 631-444-0280 to obtain a map of the stump locations with GPS coordinates. Permits for the project were issued by the Town of Islip, DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


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