By SARA RUBERG
Charles R. Wood Park in the Village of Lake George transcends a typical park.
Visitors can enjoy recreational activities on one end which features a playground, skate park and festival commons. But the focal point of the park lies just across the street — the wetlands.
The wetlands were built in reaction to Lake George’s declining water quality. They sit beside West Brook Road, where researchers found half of Lake George’s southern basin’s contaminants came from. They act as a filter for stormwater runoff, keeping contaminants like phosphorus and nitrogen from reaching the lake.
The project has exceeded its goals for pollutant removal. It was expected to remove half of the phosphorus. Instead, it has prevented 85% of phosphorus runoff from entering the lake. Nitrogen removal efficiency is at 89%, and 94% of suspended solids are filtered.
Mayor Robert Blais was one of the leaders in creating the park. He now attends events at the park, like last summer’s Charlie Daniels Band concert.
“Charlie Daniels Band is only here one night. Those wetlands are working every day,” Blais said, “That’s extremely important.”
Decades ago, researchers began to see the 32-mile-long lake’s water quality degenerate due to multiple factors including old septic systems and stormwater runoff. Various local municipalities and environmental groups teamed up to battle the problem by building the park.
The park has also acted as a replacement to Charles R. Wood’s once bustling family entertainment district, Gaslight Village, which shut down in 1989. Dedicated in his name, it has attracted new users.
Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper, says the Lake George organizations worked together for a better economy and a better environment.
“I really like to promote the duality of our built environment so that we work with nature and not against nature,” Navitsky said. “We can do it in harmony.”
Warren County, the village and the Town of Lake George bought the property in 2008. Due to disagreements over what should be built in place of Gaslight Village, the village eventually bought out the town’s share.
The Fund for Lake George and Lake George Association purchased a conservation easement for $2.1 million, ensuring environmental values to have a place in the development. The total acquisition price from the Charles R. Wood Foundation was about $4.1 million.
Since its completion about a decade and $15 million later, both the wetlands and the park have prevented many contaminants from reaching the lake. Filters were also built below the festival commons, and maturing tree roots can act as natural filters as well.
“This would be the last possible place to stop any pollution from getting into Lake George,” said Walt Lender, the executive director of the Lake George Association. “This property happened to be available, it happened to be for sale … . We looked at that as an opportunity.”
Thousands of residents are flocking to the park grounds for its various events, some of the most popular being the music festivals and the wine and food festival.
Music promoter and Lake George resident Dave Ehmann says over six years he has seen festival crowds increase from about 300 to about 3,000 people.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Ehmann. “The park itself is incredible.”
Now, the organizations that brought the park together are working to improve the area even further. The threats of toxic algae and unwanted chemicals still loom.
Navitsky has been researching the spread of algal blooms in the lake for the past 10 years. His studies have found the growth of certain species of algae connected to old septic systems. He’s working to promote the replacement of these septic systems in order to reduce the algae growth.
“We are fortunate we haven’t had a harmful algal bloom yet, but you know it seems like we’re getting much closer to its potential,” said Navitsky.
Lake George environmental organizations and the Town of Lake George are also promoting initiatives for the replacement and maintenance of local septic systems — one way they are continuing their partnership.
The Fund for Lake George, the Lake George Association, the Lake George Land Conservancy and the local government agencies are teaming up more after their partnership success on the West Brook Conservation Initiative project, which included creation of the park.
“We have to collaborate to take care of [Lake George],” said Jeffrey Killeen, the Fund’s chairman. “We know full well we better take care of this. If it tips, the magic disappears, and everyone is working together to make sure that never happens.”