The winds of change are blowing at For The Love of the Lake (FTLOTL), the local volunteer group that works to improve White Rock Lake and Park. Maria Richards, a board member and longtime volunteer, began her one-year term as president of the group this year.

On staff in the geology department at SMU, Richards spends her days as a researcher in geothermal energy. Now she’ll be dedicating many of her evenings and weekends working for White Rock.

Richards has been involved in the group since its earliest days, joining not long after she moved to our neighborhood eight years ago. One of her initial duties was helping organize the first John McCutcheon concert, an annual event that has become the group’s primary fundraiser.

Since then, she has held various roles within FTLOTL, including serving on the board last year and chairing the 2002 McCutcheon concert.

What does Richards hope to accomplish during her term?

“My goal is to get the board to look a little further down the road in our plans. We’re such a new group, we still focus on immediate needs, and I’d like us to have five-year goals.”

Though she has been praised by board members for her creativity and new ideas, Richards says she wants to work on the basics while she’s in office.

“We’ll be going back to the nuts and bolts this year,” she says. “We’ll use most of the funds raised to replace some of the original cans and benches we installed when the group first got started. It’ll be more of a project year.”

Another primary goal of Richards’ is to “enhance the park as much as possible, with the smallest footprint,” she says. “We want to make improvements without people really knowing we’ve done something, and keep the changes as natural as possible. I want to work on things like erosion problems and other issues to prevent adverse changes.”

So rather than building new buildings or adding new man-made structures, Richards hopes to focus on issues such as working with the parks and recreation department on where they mow, to allow wildflowers to return to the prairie areas along the lake.

She says the group stays in close contact with the city in shaping its goals and desired improvements for the lake. To accomplish that, volunteers meet every week with park employees. Items discussed range from drinking fountains not shutting off properly to the installation of new equipment and signage.

“We act as an extra set of eyes and ears for them, so they know sooner what needs their attention. We save them time by finding things that are broken and need repair. That way, they’re better able to spend time putting in trees and doing other things around the park.”

Richards expects her role as president will take up most of her Saturdays for the next year, along with two to three hours a day during the week.

“Lots of it will be related to sending e-mails, making phone calls, sending letters, that type of thing. I want to try to keep it down to 15 hours a week.”

Working full-time and putting that many hours a week on the position’s administrative duties, Richards will have to work at making time to enjoy the lake. One thing she already does is meet with a few board members as she exercises at the lake in the mornings. And living on the west side of the lake, she bikes around it to get to the FTLOTL office on the other side.

Steve Tompkins, the group’s president for the past two years, says he’s “ecstatic” about Richards being the new president.

“I believe Maria’s going to take our group to a whole new level,” he says. “She really epitomizes what our group is all about. She’s full of creativity and energy, and she’s passionate about the lake.”