By Gwendolyn Craig
QUEENSBURY — A person who had driven up the Northway past the Exit 18 Adirondacks Welcome Center, asked state Sen. Betty Little why there was a boat wash there but no car wash.
The question made Little, R-Queensbury, consider the “boat wash” sign on the Northway, and she would like to see it changed to something with “inspection” in the title.
It doesn’t appear the state will be on board with that idea, however.
Most Adirondackers may know that “boat wash” refers to a specialized decontamination station that zaps any invasive species a boat may be accidentally harboring. The high-heat, high-pressure water prevents boats from carrying organisms like Eurasian watermilfoil, for example, from one lake to another. The Exit 18 station is run by the Adirondack Watershed Institute, a branch of Paul Smith’s College, and had its first boat decontamination and inspection season last year.
It is the first of the invasive-species checkpoints that people see when driving north on Interstate 87 from the Albany area into the Adirondack Park.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation oversees invasive species programs in the park. Boat inspections are only mandatory on Lake George, but the state also has a law prohibiting the spread of invasive species. Some environmental groups have suggested making boat inspections mandatory throughout the state, but the idea received some raised eyebrows from lawmakers and state agencies when it came to the logistics, like how to pay for it.
Generally, the voluntary program has been successful. Many boaters want to keep their lakes clean, officials said.
The DEC said it’s still crunching numbers on how the new Exit 18 station did. Zoe Smith, deputy director of the Adirondack Watershed Institute, said the station did perform the most boat washes of its 27 decontamination sites in 2019.
“We anticipate that this site will gain more traction each year as boaters become more familiar with the services we offer,” Smith wrote in an email.
As far as the “boat wash” sign on the Northway, Smith said the institute is “constantly reviewing our approach to education and outreach and assessing effectiveness.” The DEC said something similar, but added that “boat wash” was chosen because “experience has shown a negative reaction to terms such as ‘boat inspection station.’ Incremental improvements to this and all boat inspection sites are routinely considered.”
Little said the current signs are just not cutting it.
“We need a better explanation for what we’re trying to do, and why we’re doing it,” she said. “If you have a boat, and you want to boat, you want to boat on a clean lake, so do your part.”
The Lake George Park Commission released its boat inspection numbers for 2019, and they indicate the Exit 18 station may be able to do better with clearer signs.
After a boat gets inspected and cleared by any of the stations, a seal is enclosed around the boat’s trailer. The Park Commission found that “less than 250 boats, or 2.4% of sealed vessels arriving at the LGPC inspection stations had seals from this site,” referring to the Exit 18 station.
“Many boaters mentioned to LGPC Inspection staff that they saw signs for the Northway site but elected not to stop because they didn’t understand the site was a boat inspection station, because the signs read ‘Boat Wash,’” the report reads. “Signage for this important inspection site should be a point of discussion with the leadership of the Adirondack Boat Steward Program, and the commission would be available to discuss this issue at any time.”
Meanwhile, 2019 was Lake George’s busiest inspection season on record, with six stations checking more than 33,000 boats between May 1 and Oct. 31. Of those boats, 163 had visible invasive species on them, according to the Park Commission’s annual report. Boat stewards found mostly Eurasian watermilfoil, zebra mussel and water chestnut. The boats were cleaned before recreating on Lake George.
It appears boaters are taking advantage of boat inspections after recreating in a lake, too. The number of already sealed boats returning to Lake George increased by about 22%.
For more information on the 2019 inspections on Lake George, review the report at: https://lgpc.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/01/2019-lake-george-aquatic-invasive-species-prevention-program-final.pdf.