LOVELL — As the last set of divers emerged Sunday from Cushman Pond, Jim Buck anxiously asked his team of 11 snorkelers and divers, “Did anybody find anything?”

Lead diver Doug Faille smiled, held up an object and said, “Just this drinking glass.”

With a celebratory laugh and with champagne flowing, the 27-year plight of Cushman Pond was finally over. Buck and his team of volunteers had successfully eradicated variable-leaf milfoil from the pristine pond.

“This is a rarity to rid a pond of an evasive plant. This was basically all done by the homeowners on the pond,” said longtime Selectman Bob Drew, who came to the town landing Sunday to support the volunteers and their four divers and seven snorkelers.

Milfoil is a densely growing invasive plant that crowds out native plant species and adversely affects the food supply for fish and wildlife.

The invasive aquatic plant had plagued the small 37-acre pond in western Oxford County since first  being discovered in 1995.

Kind of like weeding a garden, the residents painstakingly dove to the bottom of the pond several times a year to remove the milfoil after receiving instructions from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Buck estimates that his groups have spent $200,000 conducting surveys and searching for the fertile plant since it was first discovered.

At times, Buck said, his team felt like they were playing “whack-a-mole,” pulling up a milfoil plant, only to find another one a few weeks later within foot or two of where they had removed the earlier one.

“We hand harvest with a dive bag,” Buck said. “We scoop it into a bag and get it out of the water as quickly as possible.”

Hopefully, that eliminates all the seeds and fronds. To prevent regrowth, the team has often covered the area with benthic mats underwater to block the sun’s rays.

The team thought they had eradicated the plant five years ago, only to find one on their final survey. But none have been found since 2018.

According to Maine DEP standards, a lake or pond must go three consecutive years with no infestation to be declared milfoil-free.

“There are relatively few successful eradications of any invasive aquatic plants,” John McPhedran, invasive aquatic plant biologist for the Maine DEP, said. “We’re fortunate in Maine to have had a few successful cases. The people at Cushman have done a bang-up job surveying in great detail for many years.”

Cushman Pond is one of six ponds and lakes that make up the Kezar Lake watershed.

On Sunday, two pairs of divers, each accompanied by a support boat, searched the deeper waters while a team of snorkelers searched closer to shore. It’s a process the team has repeated every three weeks for the past few years. Sunday was the fifth and final survey of the season.

In past surveys, they have found milfoil in as shallow as 6 inches of water and as deep as 12 feet, Buck said.

In addition to milfoil, the underwater team has also removed all trash found at the bottom of the pond. Faille, the lead diver who lives on the pond, said the drinking glass he found Sunday was the first bit of trash the group has found in more than three years.

The crew was optimistic when they went into the water Sunday morning. Since that last milfoil discovery in 2018, the team had conducted 16 consecutive surveys with no sign of the plant.

Buck came to the town landing prepared for a celebration with champagne and a cake. More than a dozen people waited on shore for word that the pond would join a small number of lakes and ponds in the state to successfully eradicate the plant.

After success was declared, each of the divers and snorkelers celebrated with a bottle of champagne, spraying the contents like members of the winning World Series team.

It was a celebration 27 years in the making.

“It’s not common to have a lake removed from the infested lake list,” McPhedran said. “It’s certainly something to celebrate.”

McPhedran added that the Maine DEP would conduct its survey sometime this fall to confirm the finding.

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