GLA virtual gala will shine a light

Charlotte Prellwitz looks up at Shae the golden retriever as they sit next to a lantern during a sunset over Big Green Lake. Ric Damm photo

by Joe Schulz

As March turned to April, Stephanie Prellwitz began questioning the feasibility of the Green Lake Association (GLA) hosting its annual gala as a result of COVID-19.

“The idea of having 350 people in a room became increasingly unlikely,” the GLA executive director said.

That’s when the organization started brainstorming alternate ways to host its biggest fund-raiser.

In May, the organization decided to host the event virtually, creating the Shine a Light celebration, which will take place Saturday, Aug. 1.

At the event, the GLA will premiere a live video that features this year’s pillar projects, followed by a unified lantern lighting celebration at 8:40 p.m. 

People can purchase tickets ahead of time. Tickets will entitle them to a branded Green Lake beach bag containing a lantern, event program, s’mores ingredients, wine and other items.

The event  also will feature a raffle. Folks can purchase tickets to win a seven-day stay at Sunspot House in the Caribbean, with $2,000 towards airfare. There will be 10 drawings for a chance to win other prizes.

Leading up to the event,  GLA is asking for donations that will help it execute its pillar projects, such as Clean Streams, Green Acres and Invader Defense. 

Project Clean Streams aims to restore streams and prevent phosphorus runoff into Green Lake. Prellwitz noted  GLA has identified 11-miles of stream that require repair and aims to restore one mile each year. 

“Streams are a direct conduit to phosphorus pollution into the lake,” Prellwitz said. “Stream restorations are essential for undoing the damage to our streams.”

Project Green Acres aims to educate local farmers about sustainable practices, as over 60% of Green Lake’s watershed is agricultural.

“The average age of a farmer in the watershed is 64 years old, so we realize that there’s a generational shift on the horizon,” Prellwitz said. “We’re trying to work closely with farmers to put together a series of demonstrations to show that there are ways to farm that are good for farmers and water quality.”

Project Invader Defense aims to manage the invasive species — such as carp — already in Green Lake while preventing additional species from invading.

“We work with the sanitary district to help remove thousands of pounds of carp from the lake,” Prellwitz said. “We also have initiatives to prevent other invasive species from entering the lake.”

Invasive carp are removed from Big Green Lake by the Green Lake Association as part of Project Invader Defense. submitted photo

She added donations from the community are essential to helping GLA continue to execute those projects.

Financially, Prellwitz noted  GLA hasn’t been as impacted as other nonprofits in the area by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has given the organization a renewed sense of mission. Prellwitz noted people began flocking to the area in March, seeing it as a place of refuge during hard times.

“That really isn’t letting up,” she said. “I think for us, what it helps emphasize is that Green Lake is really important to everyone’s family — it’s a big part of our identity.”

GLA’s work doesn’t just protect the lake for those enjoying it now. It helps preserve the lake for future generations, as one drop of water can remain in Green Lake for an average of 21 years. 

“We’ve seen a long-term water quality decline in Green Lake,” Prellwitz said. “We recognize that we can’t achieve water quality success overnight — it’s going to take a significant effort to improve Green Lake’s water quality.”

Although today’s actions may not be felt for decades, Prellwitz has seen the area’s landscape change as the community has become increasingly concerned with preserving the watershed. 

The Green Lake Association last year hosted Land & Lake Family Field Day, which aimed to bring together farmers and non-farmers to learn about agricultural conservation practices happening in the watershed. submitted photo

“When we’re talking about water improvements on the lake, you can’t see results overnight,” she said. “Yet a lot of the solutions that we’re talking about like stream restoration or even keeping your leaves out of the street, those changes do happen overnight.

Prellwitz added seeing even gradual improvements and the implementation of pillar projects has been rewarding. 

“To plan for these projects and for people to implement them, it’s really meaningful,” she said.

Overall, Prellwitz hopes the virtual event can bring the community together, while they’re physically apart to support a cleaner Green Lake. 

“I imagine that many people who live around Green Lake have felt isolated and alone these past months,” she said. “We haven’t been able to connect, and the Shine A Light celebration is an opportunity to celebrate our brighter future together and realize that we’re not alone.”