By Gwendolyn Craig
Hiking trails weren’t the only outdoor recreational activity to see record numbers of people this season. Preliminary boat inspection data shows numbers were up significantly for Lake George, Lake Champlain and many other Adirondack Park lakes.
That also meant a few close calls where boat inspection stewards successfully blocked problematic invasive species from entering a water body. Perhaps most notably was on Lake George, where one of the nastiest aquatic invasives—hydrilla—was intercepted at a launch.
Hydrilla is a fast-growing aquatic invasive plaguing the Finger Lakes and a few other water bodies in the state. It has been called “the Godzilla of aquatic invasive plants,” said Erin Vennie-Vollrath, with the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, said during a webinar this month.
Justin Luyk, with the Lake George Park Commission, said boat inspectors also caught quagga mussels and fanwort, two invasive species that are currently not in Lake George. Luyk called those saves “particularly exciting” because of how aggressive these invasive species grow.
“(H)ad we not inspected these boats, they would have been introduced to Lake George,” Luyk said.
The hydrilla came from a boat that had last been in the Connecticut River, Luyk said. The fanwort came from boats last recreating in Mississippi water bodies.
The Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College mans about 60 boat inspection stations across the Adirondack Park through a contract with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Stewards help boaters look for invasive species on boats. They also help boaters clean, drain and dry their vessels before and after launching. It is illegal to transport invasive species in New York.
Dan Kelting, executive director of the institute, said one of the most notable invasive species catches this season was a boat carrying zebra mussels, prepared to launch into Lake Placid.
Schroon Lake also had a boater prepared to launch his boat covered in zebra mussels, but stewards were able to decontaminate the boat before launch.
Last year, boat stewards on Lake Champlain intercepted hydrilla and quagga mussels. Meg Modley Gilbertson, with the Lake Champlain Basin Program, said no new invasive species showed up at launches this year. The program, like the watershed institute, staffs 15 launches around the lake with boat stewards.
What did catch her eye, however, was the number of boats.
“We definitely saw a huge usership increase,” Modley Gilbertson said.
The numbers are still getting crunched, but Modley Gilbertson said during a normal August, boat stewards would see between 9,000 and 10,000 watercraft. This August, stewards saw between 14,000 and 15,000 boats.
Kelting said numbers were up at the approximately 60 launches he staffs, too. The boat inspection station at the Adirondack Welcome Center off the Northway’s Exit 18 in Queensbury saw an uptick in boats. Kelting said stewards performed about 850 decontaminations, up from nearly 590 last year.
In total, the Adirondack Watershed Institute performed about 125,350 boat inspections, including checking out boats entering and exiting a water body. Kelting said that’s up about 20% from last year, however, 2019 saw a lower number of inspections than in previous years.
The most common invasive species the stewards encountered were ones already in the Adirondack Park including two kinds of water milfoil and curly leaf pondweed.
Lake George is unique in New York because it has mandatory boat inspections. Despite the three-week delay starting boat inspections this season, Luyk said Lake George had its busiest year yet.
Inspectors examined more than 36,385 boats this season, up from about 33,140 last season. Those numbers include boat inspections for entering and exiting Lake George. Luyk said at least 170 boats inspected were carrying aquatic invasive species. The most common one found was Eurasian water milfoil, followed by Zebra mussels. Lake George already has both of those invasive species, though extensive efforts are underway to mitigate them.
Kelting, Modley Gilbertson and Luyk all commended their staff for protecting Adirondack Park water bodies during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This program doesn’t work without them,” Luyk added.