Lake Champlain

The Lake

The Year on the Lake 2015

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Last year at this time, we opened our April lake story with the news that Lake Champlain was ice-bound — frozen over for the first time since 2007 (when the ice went out on March 2). So it’s no small surprise that we find it again locked in.

As I write this on March 22, no trucks have gone through the ice, thanks, maybe, to the fact that this year’s ice is even deeper than last year’s, which went out in mid April (the exact date hasn’t been entered yet on the NOAA website). There have been reports of cars being driven across the lake to Plattsburgh. (continues)


KEY

  1. Boat Headquarters Vt. Rte. 78 – 183 North River St., Swanton
  2. Northland Boat Shop 134 Northland Lane, North Hero
  3. New England Marine LLC 1429 East Lakeshore Drive, Colchester
  4. Leisure World Pools 1245 Airport Parkway, South Burlington
  5. Creative Sound 500 Lawrence Place, Williston
  6. Shelburne Shipyard 4584 Harbor Rd., Shelburne
  7. Small Boat Exchange 2649 Shelburne Rd., Shelburne
  8. Upper Ten Trailer Sales & Service 747 Terrace Dr., Williston
  9. Darling’s Boatworks 821 Ferry Road, Charlotte
  10. Point Bay Marina 1401 Thompsons Point Road, Charlotte
  11. Chipman Point Marina 68 Chipman Point Road, Orwell
  12. Woodard Marine Inc. 614 Creek Rd., Hydeville

(continues) Only a few days are left before all shanties, autos, and trucks are required by law to be off the lake. People, too, we hope, will find their fun on shore till it’s time to put the boats in. In the meantime, the annual game of guessing when the ice will go out is heating up around the state.

“It’s not Joe’s Pond, you know,” quips Bruce Deming, the manager of Champlain Marina on Malletts Bay, referring to what’s probably the state’s best-known lottery on when the ice will be out.

If anybody has a handle on ice-out dates on Malletts Bay, it’s Jeff Lefebvre, the owner of New England Marine. His work boat, The JW Curtis, is the first boat on the bay at ice-out and last off in December. “I always say the ice will be gone by April 15, but it will be a challenge this year. “I think it got almost 3 feet in places, but because the water’s so low right now, the ice is down to the bottom in the first 150 feet of my shoreline. There’s been no snow cover, and it’s been exceptionally cold.” He adds that he’s seeing moorings starting to pop up. “Once it gets started, it goes fast.”

Shelburne Bay has had up to 18 inches out in front of Shelburne Shipyard, according to owner Mary Griswold. Regarding when the ice will be out, she won’t make a guess. “The temperature has to change. Right now, it’s just awful.”

Last year’s season was busy and productive — “Terrific, actually,” says Todd Smith, general manager of Point Bay Marina. “Last spring was one of the later starts we’ve ever had, but it ended up being just a beautiful summer. The ice hung around last year, but the lake approached record warm temperatures in July, which is hard to think of now.” He’s hoping for a repeat.

Like almost all of the lake-related business owners/operators, Deming echoes Smith’s positive outlook. He cites his Canadian traffic and an increase in “Loopers” — boaters doing the Great Loop, circumnavigating eastern North America by water.

“The last two to three years, the big boats stay here a week or two to re-provision, pay bills, or go home, and a lot of those transition into winter storage customers,” says Deming. “That’s a customer we might not have had three to four years ago. We get three or four of those a year now.”

Before the ice goes out, but after the start of mud season, is when boat owners start to percolate. It’s also a time of year when Stephen “Frosty” Frost, co-owner and managing partner at Upper Ten Trailer Sales & Service in Williston starts getting calls for help from boaters whose trailers have broken down or become stuck or damaged.

“I can go out and, if need be, winch the whole setup — if the boat’s not too big — onto my trailer and take it to my shop or to the shop of their choice,” says Frost. Upper Ten does not sell new trailers, but can modify a trailer to handle a bigger boat, add winches, and do custom repairs (“for anything and everything,” says Frost with a laugh).

There’s been a lot of recent attention to Lake Champlain’s water quality, something marinas are happy to see. “It’s great to see there’s funding coming in to help with the lake,” says Smith. “We have seen improvement in the last few years from what they’ve done to control the zebra mussel population. Where we are on the lake is a lot of agriculture, and that’s a big culprit. If there’s federal assistance to help the farmers with business practices, we’ll all be the better for it.”

“People still swim in the lake,” says Deming, “and that’s a good thing, but once it goes beyond the pale, it’s hard to clean it up.”

“I’d like to see more control upstream,” says Lefebvre, expressing concern over runoff into the bay from development up some of the creeks that feed into it.

Although Lake Champlain is the largest lake in this part of the country, Lake Bomoseen is the largest lake with boundaries entirely in the state of Vermont. And Woodard Marine does a thriving business with boat sales and dock and boat rentals (a fleet of 26 for rent on the lake, along with standup paddleboards for sale or rent). Eric Splatt runs the business with his wife, Lauren.

Last summer was also good on Bomoseen, says Splat, who added more docks last year, bringing the total up to 150 slips. This year, he’s already seeing interest from people wanting to buy boats. “There definitely seems to be a lot of pent-up cabin fever interest,” he says, adding that his sales season starts in the middle of January concurrent with the New York City boat show. He estimates that the ice on Bomoseen reached about 30 inches.

Eventually, every conversation this time of year meanders back to the ice. Until it’s out, only daydreams and visits to local boat dealerships will fill the void. “Everybody says it has to be done by the sun,” says Griswold at Shelburne Shipyard, “but until the wind stops blowing ... soon, I hope.” •