The Whitefish Area Property Owner's Association (WAPOA) hopes to engage a wider breadth of the community as they move into 2019 by working to refresh some aspects of their operations.

The board, along with several other volunteers, have started working in newly-formed strategy groups to rethink and/or expand their approach to subjects such as community education, membership retention and communication practices.

Tony Coffey, WAPOA president, said that while the structure of the organization is changing somewhat, the basic duties and mission of WAPOA remain what they always have been.

"Our mission is protecting and preserving water quality of the lakes of the Pine River watershed and surrounding area," said Coffey.

The strategy groups were just implemented this past year, and members of WAPOA split into sections related to aquatic invasive species inspection, natural resources and shoreline preservation, communication and membership retention and administrative business. Each group has reassessed how their programs have worked in the past before coming together to set a "game plan" of sorts for the coming year.

"The term 'strategy groups' was used very deliberately," said Coffey. "There used to be these silos with independent directors. We didn't want these groups to simply become bigger silos. With strategy groups, they can intertwine more so we can further the mission of WAPOA all together."

Many of the coming changes to WAPOA's operations relate to membership and communication. The quarterly newsletter will be reworked in 2019, generating more reader-related content and making the publication more visually accessible via creative design and fewer pages of dense text.

Coffey said they also want to put a greater emphasis on engaging and interacting with members on a regular basis.

"We want to engage with a larger and more diverse community, local government, other lake associations and local businesses," he said. "Working with volunteers as well makes our job much easier."

Part of the change in WAPOA's structure is coming in at the administrative level. Coffey said he wants to make it easier for members to engage with the board and have a larger hand in the work being done.

"I don't want anyone to be afraid of the workload," he said. "We're making some major changes, including hiring an independent contractor to handle some of the day-to-day operations, taking that burden off of the directors."

Community engagement comes in many forms, and WAPOA is taking their mission beyond member-only relation. Their education initiative is making its way into schools around the area as well.

WAPOA is in the process of starting up a program at Eagle View Elementary to teach the youngest community members about environmental preservation and water safety.

"We need involvement from the entire community if we want to have a chance at making a difference," said Coffey.

Getting young people involved in protecting water quality and aware of how human action affects natural resources is a significant part of keeping the lakes clean, but Coffey said it will take everyone doing things to keep the region thriving.

"I think our biggest fights are coming in terms of water quality," said Coffey. "We saw it on Upper Whitefish this year in terms of the perfect storm of heat, rain, phosphorus, weed growth and algae that we hadn't seen before. We have milfoil, and starry stonewort that makes milfoil look simple. These invasives are standing on our doorstep."

Too much phosphorus in lake water can create an excess of algae growth, limiting the ability for human recreation in the lakes and polluting the water. Milfoil and starry stonewort are invasive, dense-growing aquatic plant species that can overcrowd lakes, hinder recreation by tangling in equipment and can displace healthy native species.

According to studies done by WAPOA, milfiol and starry stonewort have not yet been found in the Whitefish Chain, but are in surrounding areas.

WAPOA, in conjunction with other lake associations, test every lake in the chain, 41 total, three times a year to ensure early detection of any water quality issues that may arise.

"People really are very interested in lake and water quality," said Coffey. "They understand the membership fee once they hear all the work we do."

Besides tri-annual water testing, WAPOA works with the Crosslakers on a stormwater project, raises money for shoreline restoration grants, works with the National Loon Center coming to the area and creates educational programs across the community.

Coffey said that WAPOA is in the middle of its 2019 membership drive and said he wanted to encourage individuals and businesses alike to reach out and get involved. New members are welcome to join at any time, however.