Dennis and Helene Ehrke bought their house on Bennett Way in Winslow Township largely because of Anchor Lake.

"It was beautiful," said Helene, showing me scenic snapshots from the late 1990s.

"I used to take the canoe across to visit my mother on the other side," Dennis said. "It was a good fishing lake. It was as clear as could be. Now you can't even see the water."

Said Helene: "It looks like you could basically walk across the lake. It's disgusting."

Created about a century ago by construction of an earthen dam on Anchor Brook west of what is now the White Horse Pike, and by a second dam at the pike itself, the bodies of water known as Anchor Lakes 1 and 2 are privately owned.

Spatterdocks (commonly called lily pads) and various other plants have been proliferating in the lakes for at least a decade, the Ehrkes said. Portions of both bodies of water were so lush with vegetation they resembled overgrown pastures on the sweltering August afternoon when I visited.

Locals had hoped the state's $7 million replacement of the White Horse Pike dam would improve the situation. But the project, completed last year, was designed to prevent flooding on the pike, not to improve the lake.

"We thought the dam would help," Winslow Mayor Barry Wright said. "But it didn't."

Lakes 1 and 2 are owned by the Winslow Farms Conservancy, which bought more than 700 acres of land in the township in 1994 and transformed what had largely been an illegal dumping ground into a magnificent, manicured expanse of sustainable private parkland.

I wrote a column about the conservancy and its founder/owner, Hank McNeil, in 2013, after tagging along on a tour he hosted for local officials. Camden County was then weighing a potential purchase. A 500-plus acre portion of the site with "residential zoning" is currently for sale — according to a sign posted along the pike just west of Bennett Way.

Anchor Lakes

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The person who answered the phone at the number on the sign declined to provide information but did say he would relay a message to McNeil, whom I had not heard from at press time.

Wright said he empathizes with the Ehrkes, both of whom are retired.

"It's like they bought beachfront property and then found out it's in Arizona," the mayor said.

"They have a right to be angry."

The Ehrkes are not alone. Some residents of Elmtowne, a 55-and-over community on the opposite side of the Anchor Lakes, said they too miss the view.

"What are they going to do about this?" asked Jane F. Mitrovic, a retired school nurse. "You can't even tell it's a lake anymore."

When she moved to Elmtowne in 2005, the Anchor Lakes "were beautiful," she  recalled. "Now it's really an eyesore. I don't know what they did to it."

Eutrophication, a natural process through which sediment, nutrients and plant material are deposited and build up in bodies of water, is a major culprit.

Two similar views of Anchor Lake 2 in Winslow Township. The top photo, from August, shows local resident Dennis Ehrke looking across the lake from where he used to launch his boat. The bottom photo was taken perhaps 10 years ago.
TOM GRALISH
Two similar views of Anchor Lake 2 in Winslow Township. The top photo, from August, shows local resident Dennis Ehrke looking across the lake from where he used to launch his boat. The bottom photo was taken perhaps 10 years ago.

"All lakes fill up and eventually will become meadows," said Mike Haberland, Camden County agent to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Although he has not studied the Anchor Lakes, Haberland said eutrophication generally is accelerated in man-made bodies of water in populated areas, where runoff from fertilized lawns is overly rich with nutrients.

"Man-made lakes probably eutrophy faster, especially if there's little inflow or movement of water through them," he said, citing Newton Lake in Collingswood, a Camden County Park system landmark that is set to be dredged at a cost of perhaps $25 million.

Elmtowne resident Linda Shields, 69, said she and her neighbors have "lost so much" because of the condition of the Anchor Lakes.

"We've lost our ducks. We've lost our swans," the retired caretaker said.

"It's not the way it should be."