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A triumphant swim on Muskrat Lake

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer


COBDEN - Sarah Hall has conquored the Muskrat Lake.

The Algonquin College professor successfully completed a remarkable feat Saturday afternoon swimming the entire length of the Muskrat, a turbulent journey of 16.5 kilometres that saw her power through strong currents and unpredictable weather conditions.

Cheers and a loud round of applause greeted Hall as she climbed out of the water at the municipal beach. Dropping into the water at Meath Hill, it took Hall, the co-ordinator for the college's environmental technician program, six hours and 20 minutes to reach Cobden. She accompanied by friend, Julie Sylvestre, who paddled in a kayak alongside her and her husband, Steve Ferris, who piloted a safety boat nearby.

“The current and the waves were against me the whole way,” said Hall, who was glad to have the trip finally come to an end. “I had my moments where I wasn't quite sure but you just have to pull through it.”

The swim was launched to increase awareness of the challenges facing the lake and to raise funds for the Muskrat Watershed Council (MWC), a volunteer, not-for-profit organization created in 2014 to improve the water quality of the Muskrat Lake Watershed. One of Ontario's highly sensitive lakes, the Muskrat suffers from phosphorus loading over the past 30 years due to high concentrations of bacteria and toxic blue-green algae blooms. The poor quality of water not only affects those who currently live there, in terms of property values and public health, but could adversely affect future development.

Restoring the water quality will require a major financial investment from both the federal and provincial levels of government. While it is a huge undertaking, the council hopes to raise enough money to rehabiliate the beach here. As of Friday night, the fundraiser had collect $4,000 in donations. While there may or may not be a process that can fix this portion of the lake, MWC president Karen Coulas, says they have to try something to save their beleagured lake.

“We can't say definitely that it will work but if we can open this beach so the kids and the tourists can play in the water then that will be a big win for us,” said Coulas.

Among the group of supporters and dignitaries who greeted Hall at the beach were Whitewater Region Mayor Hal Johnson and Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant, who offered their congratulations.

“It was amazing that you could do that,” Johnson told Hall shaking her hand. “You went in a dry swimmer and came out a hero.”

This isn't the first feat of aquatic endurance for Hall. Twice she crossed the Northumberland Strait between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. For the past nine months, she had been training hard for this moment. Hall said she believes passionately in trying to restore the lake to its ecological glory.

“It's really about the lake and believing we can do positive things here,” she said. “We can make a difference and we all have a contribution to make. We know there are some environmental challenges but it is such a beautiful area. I just want the people to have a place to swim, fish and to look out their window and know that things are going to improve.”


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