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Friends of Casco Bay: 20 Years and Counting

I tried to take a rare day off from my own self-conceived anti-chemical rat race this past Saturday. I tuned into the results of the Beach to Beacon road race, which attracts elite runners from around the world to Cape Elizabeth, Maine. These competitors all land here at the behest of Joan Benoit Samuelson, the Maine native who hosts the event. At the end of this year’s race, the other organizers staged a mini celebration of the 25th anniversary of her historic victory in the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984. Maine’s singular iconic sports photo is of Joan running through the Los Angeles Coliseum wearing her American uniform (

I say I tried to take a day off from the rat race because I wound up at my friend’s cottage that afternoon. It should have been a glorious day at a Maine lake, but instead we were relegated to swimming in a thick layer of green muck. The algae bloom on the lake’s surface was so ubiquitous it literally clung to our hair and skin and thoroughly stained my 2-year-old’s pink and white bathing suit.

That made me think, again, of Joan Samuelson. Just a day earlier I had emailed her to ask if I could pick her brain about how best to launch our national movie campaign for A Chemical Reaction ( about the first town in North America that ever banned lawn chemicals. Joan has a wealth of experience acquiring the funding necessary to get major projects off the ground, and I also knew she had some affinity for our film’s subject matter.

“Sure, I’ll be glad to meet,” said Joan. “I can’t even imagine how bad the lawn runoff issues have been this year in Maine.”

As I stood in that Maine lake, waste deep in green slime, I knew she was right. The incessant rains of 2009 are washing everyone’s lawn fertilizer into the nearest body of water. It may take years to recover from the damage of all that excess nitrogen and phosphorus settling into the lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the TruGreen/ChemLawn truck in our neighborhood this year, more often than not in the pouring rain.

As I begin this week firmly back on task, I wanted to bring attention to another anniversary involving Maine’s Olympic champion. Twenty years ago Joan Samuelson was among the founders of a group known as The Friends of Casco Bay ( She and others had the courage to stand up and just say no to the would-be polluters of our once-pristine Maine shores.

I’ve seen Joan and other Friends of Casco Bay members at flower shows and back yard rallies, on public service announcements and in Letters to the Editors. For two decades they’ve been an ideal model of community activism — backed by science and fronted by articulate, professional and motivated allies.

So often I get asked the question: “What can I do?” by folks frustrated by lawn fertilizer and pesticide abuse. The truth is it’s tough to go it alone, but you need to know you are not alone. In every city and town — at the shore of every imperiled lake and river, in every park where mothers fret about those little yellow Keep Off The Grass signs — other people feel the same way you do.

You don’t have to be an Olympic champion to do something about it. Pick up the phone and find someone else who is frustrated, too. Working together, you’ll win the race.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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