Lake Champlain

Sail With Purpose: Vt. Nonprofit Has New Way to Raise Awareness of ‘Hitchhikers'

Advocates for Lake Champlain hope an eye-catching new message reminds boaters to take steps to block invasive plants or animals from spreading between waterways

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With the COVID-19 pandemic creating rises in both staycations and in physically distanced outdoor activities like boating, environmental advocates are renewing a call to protect lakes, ponds and other waterways in Vermont and the rest of New England from potential threats.

Boaters, whether launching into Lake Champlain or pulling back to land, have long been mindful of “hitchhikers.” Those include invasive plants, like the curly-leaf pondweed, or tiny animals, like the banded mystery snail, the vessels could’ve unintentionally picked up, putting the next waterway they visit at risk of infestation.

“Caring about where you live is a big part of it,” Colchester resident Taylor Bean said of boating. “The lake, the environment — you want to take care of it.”

The Lake Champlain Basin Program wants to keep awareness high by raising a new sail on a boat that’ll be in heavy use for the remainder of the season and in future years. It has a message on it: “Stop aquatic hitchhikers.”

The sail will head onto the lake from the Community Sailing Center in Burlington, which expects the eye-catching design by local artist Nikki Laxar to really spark curiosity in that message.

“Asking questions is the first step to learning more and caring more, and that’s the hope,” said Bianca Roa of the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center.

The Lake Champlain Basin Program said that, based on its tallies at inspection stations around the lake, use appears up this summer. The theory is that staycationers or short-drive visitors are embracing boating as a way to have fun while staying physically distant during the pandemic.

The program said that, this season, it has inspected roughly 15,000 boats at inspection stations looking for aquatic hitchhikers, compared to approximately 10,000 in most summers.

The group wants those folks to remember to always clean, drain, and dry their boats and equipment before going between any waterways, and to also check things like their dogs’ life vests.

Additionally, the nonprofit wants people to never dump the contents of their home aquariums into the lake or water sources that feed into it.

Boaters on Lake Champlain in northern New England are being told to be extra careful due to low levels in certain parts of the body of water.

Following these recommendations could well keep pests out of local ecosystems, and protect recreation-based economies as well.

“I think that it is really important, even if you’re not from Vermont, to understand and respect all the bodies of water that you encounter during your travels,” Laxar told NECN and NBC10 Boston.

“We do care deeply about all water across the northeast, and the country and the world, for that matter,” added Meg Modley of the Lake Champlain Basin Program. “And we really want to prevent the spread and the introduction of invasive species.”

Modley is optimistic the eye-catching sail will help remind boaters to take simple steps to protect waterways they visit.

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