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Muskrat Watershed Council Volunteer of the Year

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Submitted by the Muskrat Watershed Council

In the mid to late 1930s, a log and chink cabin was built that would come to foster a deep and abiding love of lakes in generations of women. Carol Stringer would go on to spend her summers there, would honeymoon there after becoming Carol Smith, and would eventually teach her kids, most importantly her daughter Karen, to swim in the waters of Round Lake.

Karen spent her summers enjoying the lake and surrounding nature of Round Lake. Surrounded by family, it was both a cottage and a community. Like her mother before her, Karen would honeymoon there with her husband, Rene Coulas, and teach her own daughter to swim, catch frogs, and love the lake as much as she herself does.

When Karen loves something, she devotes herself to it. As most who know her can tell you, Karen has a big heart and a boundless abundance of empathy and compassion. Given these personality traits, it’s no wonder she was moved to take on the task of working with the Muskrat Watershed Council. She knows how important a lake is to its community and precisely the kind of joy it can bring.

Karen’s husband, Rene, was approached to become part of the Muskrat Watershed Council in 2014, but knowing his wife’s skills for organization, he insisted he would only join if the two could work as a team. Over the course of their 37-year marriage, Karen and Rene have turned a former bankrupt property into a successful working farm despite numerous challenges over the years. Rene attributes this success largely to Karen’s organization, so it only made sense to bring their teamwork dynamic and complementary skillsets to the Watershed. Both being farmers, they felt passionate about seeing what could be done to protect the Watershed as they could see the environmental importance of it but also wanted to ensure that the local agricultural community was advocated for and involved in the process.

“Having added three farms and a custom business, I knew full well that I needed the organization and skillset that Karen has always used in looking after the business end of the farm. It was pretty clear that would be a great asset to have. It’s her bookkeeping and attention to detail that’s made us successful,” says Rene Coulas, MWC Co-Chair.

Karen has certainly been a true asset to the Muskrat Watershed Council. Initially when she and Rene began working with the council, they saw it as a fun hobby to both have a break from the farm and to contribute to their community. Over time, Karen found her ‘hobby’ has become an enjoyable, if demanding at times, job. Her organization and skill at thinking ahead and finding resources has aided her in working to help co-ordinate with other local groups such as Algonquin College and Watersheds Canada. She’s constantly brainstorming and looking for ways to get grant money, create practical projects, and encourage volunteer participation to keep the good work of the Muskrat Watershed Council going.

Karen’s daughter, Kristen Coulas, sums it up. “I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been spending time together and Mum gets a phone call, text, or an email relating to the watershed. She never settles until she answers them. I think it’s great. I’m really proud of her because there are so many people who have opinions and do nothing about them but Mum puts her actions behind her beliefs and tries to help. She saw that the lake was sick and she was motivated to try and help change that. She works her butt off to try and make a real difference and to encourage others to come together to fight for this valuable community resource.”

For Karen, there is no place more peaceful than to be sitting in her favourite spot, overlooking the lake. Whether she is looking out as the sun sparkles on the water or listening to the haunting trill of loons in the evening, the lake gives her a feeling of immense love and joy. She wants that feeling to be available to future generations.

Karen hopes that in future, the Muskrat Watershed Council can connect and work collaboratively with more municipalities. She often says that she would love to see more support from the local community because “many hands make light work” and the reward is something absolutely irreplaceable: the preservation of the health of our lake and our water systems.

If you would like to get involved as a volunteer or work with the Muskrat Watershed Council, check out our website at www.muskratwatershedcouncil.com