Freshwater ecosystems, especially lakes, have long inspired human interest, passion, and investment. These systems are valued for the ecological services that they provide suc h as potable water, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic benefits. Across the globe, citizens have organized themselves into lake and watershed associations to help protect aquatic ecosystems and to provide education and outreach to citizens, student s, and local governments. These groups do not often engage with scientists (or vice versa), nor do they use real - time sensor data to enhance their missions. Here I discuss my sabbatical experiment with a forward - looking lake association in New Hampshire and the resultant research program on understanding why, where, and how cyanobacteria are blooming in oligotrophic lakes across northeastern North America, and how lake associations and a global network of scientists focused on understanding the ecological function of lakes — the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON) — have become important partners in advancing GLEON’s science.