Boat stewards work to ensure smooth transition to mandatory inspections, although staffing remains an issue
By Zachary Matson
Boat stewards Jim Reynolds and Kevin Kennedy chatted a recent Friday morning with longtime friends and neighbors as they looked over a slow parade of boats at the Poplar Point state launch on Piseco Lake.
Intending to join those boaters, Christine Honka and Thomas Noffer arrived from Frankfurt with their Tracker fishing vessel in tow. Honka emerged from the truck waving a piece of paper in the air for the stewards to see
The document, a self-issued certification, attested that the Tracker had been cleaned, drained and dried and was free of visible plant or animal matter – a new state requirement for all motorboats launching in Adirondack waterways.
“We just keep a stack of them in the truck,” Honka said. “It’s easy enough to do. If I can do it, it’s got to be easy.”
The boat sparkled in the sun as Kennedy, a regional supervisor with the Adirondack Watershed Institute boat steward program and longtime summer resident of Piseco Lake, checked it was indeed free of invasive species.
At launches across the Adirondack Park, stewards like Reynolds and Kennedy form the last line of defense against the spread of invasive plants and animals that latch onto boats and trailers on their way to a new water source.
“We look them over hard,” said Reynolds, who has been spending summers at the lake since the late-1950s. “We like our clean lake.”
The stewards can claim an amount of success: Pisceo Lake has been infested by spiny waterflea, microscopic zooplankton that can glob onto fishing lines, but none of the other invasives that pervade many nearby lakes and rivers.
For boaters less prepared than Honka, the stewards carry a stack of certification cards they can give out after confirming that the boat is up to standard.
The new certification requirement for all boaters launching motorized watercraft in the Adirondack Park or within 10 miles of the Blue Line went into effect June 8. AWI was unable to incorporate the new requirement into this year’s preseason training program, but regional supervisors communicated the new law to local stewards as they passed out the small certification cards.
“We found out the week before Memorial Day that this thing will happen in two weeks,” Kennedy said. “I traveled around to all 14 of my folks and gave them the same message: this is the card, this is what you do with it, this is how you fill it out.”
The stewards said awareness has grown throughout the season, and many boaters are showing up to launches with their certifications in hand.
The stewards survey each boater they meet, collecting data on the number of boats, the number of people, the last waterway a boat launched in, whether boaters had previously met a steward and whether they take steps to clean their boat. The stewards this year are not tracking how many boaters they provided a certification to or how many showed proof of self-certification.
Staffing and housing challenges limit the number of stewards and the hours they can fill at any particular site. Supervisors shift site staffing throughout the season based on availability and what sites are seeing the most traffic. During the end of the season, the many college and high school students employed as stewards start to leave before the final weekends of the season.
Bill Brosseau, who is in his first year as stewardship director at AWI, said available labor, affordable housing and pay levels are the major barriers to full staffing. The institute is working with partners to expand housing options and are considering creating more part-time work options to appeal to summer residents. Brousseau said AWI will begin recruitment for next year in February or March, marketing the jobs as “a learning opportunity and a chance to have a meaningful impact with people and the natural environment.”
Department of Environmental Conservation officers are charged with enforcing the new law, as well as other new environmental protections involving firewood transport and wetlands. Officers have been told to check launch sites for boater compliance, especially during busy holiday weekends.
Matt Krug, director of conservation officers at the state Police Benevolent Association, said he wasn’t aware of any tickets issued under the new certification requirement and that he suspected fewer than 10 would likely be issued this season. He praised the work of boat stewards whose ranks are as understaffed as the environmental conservation officers. “The reality is you need the enforcement if you are going to pass the law,” Krug said.
He said in the future officers would likely ticket some of the worst offenders, especially those who are rude or harassing boat stewards, sending a message that the law is enforced.
“Examples are usually the best way in small town America,” Krug said. “That gets out there quickly, that little bit of teeth.”
IT’S DEBATABLE: Should NYS enforce boat inspections?
Stewards focus on educating boaters about the importance of preventing invasive spread, reasoning that an informed boater is less of a risk whether a steward is present or not.
Rory Fraser, of Granville, has worked as a steward for five years, including the last four as a regional supervisor covering the Great Sacandaga and Caroga Lake areas.
“It’s a great way to connect with the resources I care about,” Fraser said.
The program staffs four launches on Great Sacandaga Lake, the sprawling reservoir in the southeastern corner of the park. Stewards are located at the Northampton state campground and launches in Northville, Broadalbin and Day. Rory’s territory includes a popular boat wash station on the Northway. Fraser said ideally the boat wash station would be manned by two stewards each running their own washing machine but that there has only been one steward there for much of the season.
Kelly Bonnville has worked as a steward for four years, spending summers from school at her family’s camp in Wells. She said the job has been a great way to spend the summers protecting resources she values and making new friends. Bonnville, who usually works at the Northampton campground, recently intercepted a water chestnut from the padded bars of a boat trailer, a common place for the nuisance water plants to hitch a ride. She said more boaters seem to understand the importance of cleaning their boats and watching out for invasive plants than when she started in the job.
“Now, when I ask people they say, ‘I always wash it,’” she said. “[The certification law] hasn’t changed the message at all. It’s an extra layer of protection.”
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Gene Porter says
This is a great program for combatting invasive vegetation, but why not also fight invasive baitfish? The round goby is getting a lot of attention as a threat to native species in Lake Champlain and elsewhere. Shouldn’t there be a program to inspect the bait supply chain, as the gobies look very much like many bait fish?