By Gwendolyn Craig
The coronavirus pandemic is not keeping boaters or invasive species from traveling to Lake George, according to a mid-season inspection report by the Lake George Park Commission. In fact, this summer has been the busiest, at least since 2014.
The numbers are even more staggering considering the mandatory boat inspection program had a three-week delayed start due to the pandemic.
Through July 31, staff inspected more than 19,000 boats, up from about 17,800 boats last year. The numbers include inspections of boats both entering and exiting Lake George.
“Record-breaking activity, near-record summer high temperatures, and the added stress of working with the public during a national health pandemic have made for a difficult season for the inspection staff,” the report from David Wick, executive director of the Park Commission, read. “Credit is due to these individuals who continue to maintain a high standard through challenging conditions.”
Staff also stopped the spread of what could have been two new aquatic invasive species to enter the lake this year—fanwort and quagga mussels.
Boat inspectors found fanwort, a kind of tassel-looking plant, on a boat coming from Lake Boon in Massachusetts, according to the report. “Fanwort is an aggressive invasive species and can cause disruption to aquatic environments, fishing, swimming and boating activity. Most of fanwort’s negative impacts are due to its dense foliage,” the report said.
Quagga mussels may be small at less than half an inch, but they can turn into a big problem. The mollusks easily reproduce and can attach to any hard surface. When a lake becomes infected, the Park Commission report warned, “these mussels can cause significant problems with water intakes for homes, power generation facilities, public recreation (very sharp shells coating rocks), and water intake/cooling systems for boats.”
Kristen Wilde, of the Lake George Association, assists the Park Commission with identifying invasive species.
“This was a great catch by two different sets of vessel inspection technicians,” said Walt Lender, executive director of the LGA, in a news release.
Invasive species already in Lake George include Asian clam, Eurasian watermilfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, Chinese mystery snail, spiny water flea and zebra mussels.
Lake George has six mandatory boat inspection stations. They opened May 21 and will operate through Nov. 1. Lake George and Loon Lake, in Chestertown, are the only two water bodies with mandatory boat inspections.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation contracts with the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute for a park-wide voluntary boat inspection program. Boats that get inspected after exiting a water body, either at Lake George or at an AWI site, will have a seal put on their boat trailer signifying that the boat has been clean, drained and dried. This allows for a quicker launch into the next water body it visits.
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Of 6,880 boats with seals, about 305 came from an AWI inspection site, according to Lake George Park Commission data.
The newest AWI boat inspection station is off of the Northway’s Exit 18 at the Adirondack Welcome Center rest stop in Queensbury. A spokesperson for the DEC said it compiles a report at the end of the season for how the inspection stations did.
Back on Lake George, the Park Commission confirmed just over 60 boats inspected were carrying aquatic invasive species, up from about 50 this time last year. It is illegal to knowingly transport invasive species in New York, and boat inspection and decontamination stations are a crucial way to keep boaters from inadvertently spreading them.
Inspections may also include decontaminating a boat—that is pressure-washing it with extremely hot water. Park Commission staff performed about 430 decontaminations so far, down from 570 last year.
The inspection stations at Million Dollar Beach and Mossy Point were the busiest this year, followed by Norowal Marina, Rogers Rock, Dunahm’s Bay and Hulett’s Landing.
Also collected at the inspection sites were Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels, both of which are already established invasive species in Lake George. The Park Commission, through partners and grants, spends nearly $500,000 a year on managing milfoil in the lake.