Lake Erie, USA - Nate Drag

My name if Nate Drag. My water body is Lake Erie. I think my relationship with Lake Erie started when I was in high school. I grew up in a small town called Dunkirk, NY which is between Buffalo and Erie, Pennsylvania.

My summer job was to be a lifeguard. I thought initially that it would be the best summer job ever because it was outside and it was pretty easy because no one really went to the beach because there was a perception that it was gross and dirty. That gave me time to sit in the sun. We had access to a rowboat so I could row out far into the lake. I had never had access to a boat so that was awesome. I got really good at skipping stones. So overall, it was the best job ever. But there were days that definitely stuck out in my mind which were not as great.

One day we walked to our lifeguard stand and there was a gull sitting behind our lifeguard stand. Just sitting on the ground, trying to move but it wasn’t flying away. And we thought that was strange because birds fly away usually when you get near them. We sat there all day but the bird still struggled but didn’t fly away. Showed up the next day, same thing but less struggle, it still seemed like it was alive. Day three and it was dead. So we called the county health department and said hey we have a dead bird here – end of story. But I was confused. Why did this bird basically die right behind our lifeguard stand. I didn’t understand that.

When I left high school and went away to college I took environmental studies classes. Before that I didn’t know what zebra mussels were and type E botulism and bird die-offs. When I found out I thought well this isn’t right we have to do something about this. After college and traveling for a bit, I moved back to the shores of Lake Erie in Buffalo. Since then, I’ve been working on these issues and trying to address an invasive species and their impacts and talk to people about it because we have the science know-how for a lot of these issues but until we tell people and we tell decision-makers, these same things might keep happening. So I guess weirdly my lifeguard easy summer job kind of changed my life and my relationship with Lake Erie.

I learned how amazing Lake Erie really is. A lot of people, even in our region, don’t realize how vast and how big it really it is. You drive by the lake that’s kind of the limit to many people’s relationship with the lake. They see it, they look at it, they say wow that sunset is really pretty. But when you learn more about it, and that’s what I was able to do at the lake every day, you see it change throughout the summer and even in the Fall and in the Winter. It is so dynamic, there is so much diversity of wildlife that is there. And you learn about what’s underneath the water, when I started fishing a little bit, I saw the variety of fish species.

I guess there’s an overall calming presence at least I get when I am at the water and on the water. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to do that in a good time in my life when I was looking for inspiration from the world. I kayak a lot, that is probably my favorite way to interact with the lake. I still enjoy the beach and still look at the young lifeguards now and hope that they’re having the same experience that I did. I like being out on the water a good amount.

Where I live in Buffalo, it’s right where Lake Erie meets the Niagara and the Buffalo River flow in there so we have these varieties of water bodies to kayak on and stand up paddle on and powerboat and sail on. But mostly I’m a paddler. So on those calm days you can go out on the lake. If it’s a bit wavy you can be on the Buffalo River or a couple of canals. So it is a cool location because you can see the interaction between the built environment and the natural environment. You have the Peace Bridge which, connects the US and Canada and you can paddle right underneath it. You can see the two countries right there.

We have amazing architecture in Buffalo that’s right on the water too so you can see the way our legacies changed the bodies of water and how they are responding to that. We had a lot of industry, a lot of that industry is gone but some of the relics are still there. We are seeing nature kind of recover itself with the help of dredging the contaminated sediment and creating public access for people. The more and more they interact with the water, the better it would be.

Lake Erie, USA
Thomas Kierstead
Nate Drag

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