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Editorial: National water trails system could aid Lake Champlain

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Posted on June 26, 2014 |
By Angelo Lynn



Here’s an idea that could help the water quality in Lake Champlain. Make the lake part of the newly designated National Water Trails System. The upside is it could bring federal aid to the cause. The downside is it would inevitably make the lake more crowded and less enjoyable for those Vermonters (and others) who recreate on the lake.

Still, if it’s an idea that could help clean up lake pollution and improve the water quality, it should be seriously considered.

Specifically, Vermont and New York could appeal to the National Park Service to include key sections around the lake as part of the water trails system. Currently, just 14 locally managed water trails throughout the country are part of the system. According to the Park Service, the National Water Trails designation helps “strengthen local efforts for recreation, conservation and restoration of America’s waterways and surrounding lands…(The trails) are the pathways of rivers, lakes and bays providing a connection for current and future generations to the nature, history and adventure that can be found on the water.”

Examples include “the diverse communities and rich ecosystem of Puget Sound” in Washington state and a particularly scenic and rugged portion of the Colorado River near the Hoover Dam, as well as the Black Canyon Water Trail in Nevada and Arizona.

“These trails provide an opportunity for families to get outside and explore some of our national’s most beautiful waterways, and by highlighting them as part of the National Water Trails System, more visitors will have the opportunity to visit and add value to their local economies,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis in recent comments highlighting the partnership between federal, state and local governments to create the system.

Parts of Lake Champlain’s shoreline seem ripe for such a designation. Consider the existing state parks and historic ports of call just along Addison County’s shoreline and along the southern end of the New York side starting with the Mount Independence historical site in Orwell, Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point’s historical exhibit and the corresponding points in Vermont at Chimney Point, and the DAR historic house just for starters. State parks further north include Button Bay and Kingsland Bay, not to mention the spectacular cliffs on the New York side called the Palisades.

The Otter Creek runs from the lake to the historic city of Vergennes with its own story involving commerce on the lake and the thriving mills that used to keep boats busy plying the lake’s waters. There are numerous other state and city parks in Chittenden, Grand Isle and Franklin counties along the shoreline, and doubtless more on the New York side and into Canada. And that’s not mentioning the Maritime Museum in Ferrisburgh, the renowned Echo Center on the waterfront in Burlington, Valcour and other islands further north, and the numerous city parks with beaches.

The trail system would not need to set any more land aside as a park (though it could if something spectacular were crying out for protection), but rather use the existing parks, historic sites, museums and spectacular waterways of this sixth great lake as a natural system to explore, learn from and enjoy.

The benefit is the long-term potential for federal aid in helping clean up and restore the lake’s waters (a task too massive for Vermont’s small budget). While such aide is not guaranteed, designations like this can make the difference when allocating federal resources.

The potential for increased tourism is a mixed blessing for all who frequent the lake. While tourism brings obvious economic benefits, crowds can compromise enjoyment. But honestly, it would take a lot more visitors on the lake for anyone to consider it crowded. Midweek, the lake is practically empty of boats plying its waters or tourists flooding its historic sites or state parks. It’s busier on weekends, but even then there is ample room to accommodate others.

Lake Champlain is truly a national treasure, as well as a state and local resource. The National Water Trails System is one way to spread that word and share the lake’s spectacular beauty, historic charm and unlimited opportunities for recreation.

— Angelo S. Lynn

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