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Retired couple enjoys doing AIS inspection

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) inspectors Chuck and Mary Gohmann join Nicholas Macklem, environmental specialist with Hubbard County, June 15 at the Fishhook Lake public access off U.S. 71. (Photos by Robin Fish/Enterprise)

This summer, boaters visiting a public access in Hubbard County may meet one of a married couple of aquatic invasive species (AIS) inspectors.

Mary Gohmann was the first of the pair to enlist against the spread of zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and other aquatic pests. It started when the couple met an AIS inspector at the Second Crow Wing Lake access.

"I said, 'This is interesting. What are you doing?'" she said. "He told me all about it. I said, 'This sounds really good.' We talked about it."

Later, she saw an ad in the paper calling for additional inspectors. "It was mid-season or late season when they needed more people," she said. "I jumped on it."

Mary's husband, Charles, joined Hubbard County's corps of AIS inspectors this year.

"He got tired of listening to me come home with all these tales of interesting stuff," she said. "Everybody's got a story. It's just fun to talk to all these different people."

The Gohmanns are summer residents in the area, dividing their time between here and South Padre Island off the gulf coast of Texas.

"All we do down there is fish," said Mary. "Fishing has always been big for us."

Charles is a retired utility worker who has also worked at a sporting goods store and still does some lawn maintenance work. Mary worked approximately nine years at a local supermarket.

Their lack of previous conservation experience was not a problem.

"We have thorough training," said Mary. "I didn't have really great training the first year. We didn't have the intensive training we have now. What we have now is very, very good."

Full complement

Nicholas Macklem, environmental specialist since March with Hubbard County Environmental Services, says the Gohmanns are among approximately 45 AIS inspectors monitoring boat landings at about 30 local lakes.

The amount of coverage is determined in part by funding from the state, county, townships and lake associations, he said, and in part by a study regarding which lake accesses see the most traffic.

Each of the Gohmanns is on duty at a different boat access for two or three eight-hour shifts each week during the season.

"This season, we have had a great turnout for our inspectors," said Macklem. "Over two-thirds of our inspectors are returning (from previous years), so that's very beneficial. They're very familiar with these lakes."

Mary anticipated that more boat inspectors will be seen as the season picks up. "Once we get to the Fourth of July, it will expand to service more lakes, more accesses, more people," she said.

Both Gohmanns are also on the on-call duty roster at the county's boat decontamination center off County Road 6, where suspect watercraft, trailers, and other gear are power-washed at high temperature.

Both Gohmanns say most people whose boats they inspect or decon have a good attitude about it.

"They're very receptive," said Charles. "They know about the program and what they need to do."

Mary recalled a man from Nevis telling her, "I'm teaching my kids, because these are the ones this is going to affect. The ecology of the lakes has to be maintained."

Job satisfaction

After working in the Twin Cities area, where the waters are more heavily infested, Macklem said, "It's kind of a breath of fresh air to come up here and have pristine waters. I've seen the worst of the worst; so I want to preserve these lakes."

Playing a role in protecting Hubbard County waters is one thing the Gohmanns enjoy about their inspection work.

"We're older than dirt," said Mary. "It makes me feel good that I'm of some use. You feel like you're doing something good. You're doing something with a purpose."

Charles said what he enjoys about the job is "just being out with people and seeing the fish. People like to show you their fish. A lot of people are a little reluctant if they have too many or the wrong size, but we don't care. We're not the game wardens."

Mary agreed that it's fun to listen to people's stories and see pictures of their catch. She recalled a man coming to decon and proudly showing her photos on his phone of a 31-inch walleye he caught here.

"People will go out and they only have two or three fish, and they say, 'That was fun. It's just good getting out on the lake,'" she said. "There are very few people who are really disappointed to be skunked. They say, 'We'll come back another day.'"

"About half of the people are strictly catch-and-release," Charles estimated. "They just take pictures, just catch them and put them back and catch them again."

During lulls in their inspection duties, the Gohmanns read outdoor magazines and keep an eye on the scenery.

Pointing to a stand of weeds offshore, Mary said, "There's a grebe that lives in there with his partner. It's been here for three years. Loons have a nest in there, and pretty soon we'll see their babies come out. There are mallards in there, and geese. They had babies the other day."

She pointed out a red-winged blackbird perching on the weeds, the approximate location of a blue heron's nest.

"I absolutely love it," said Mary. "I'm tearing myself away. I want to see what's going on out here today."

Charles said, "It's an interesting job. If you enjoy the outdoors, it's a great job."