As the summer season winds to a close, Lake Hopatcong remains busier than even old-timers have seen it before.
Since boats allow for relatively easy social distancing, boating has been a choice of many people who might not usually spend too much time on the lake.
This can be taken to the extreme such as days with more than 400 boats in Byram Cove leaving residents unable to leave the cove or get back in, Marty Kane of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation said at the Lake Commission meeting Monday, Sept. 14. Kane said buoys might be necessary.
The number of boats isn’t the only problem, Kane said.
“It’s not just here,” he said, adding, “With people pent up there’s a lot of bad behavior. It’s crazy down the shore.”
Boaters are ignoring speed limits and no-wake zones more than usual, several commissioners agreed, and there are more instances of boats on the lake at night without running lights. There was at least one fist fight on a raft, Kane said.
In an interview after the meeting, Kane said he believes there are a lot of new boaters and a lot of complaints from lake residents about unsafe and uncourteous behaviors. He says alcohol is probably involved and many, but not all of the violators are young.
The State Police are stretched thin. Kane noted Morris County Sheriff James Gannon was being very generous by providing extra personnel for patrols.
Commissioner Fred Steinbaum said there should be some guidelines for the number of boats per dock or per marina but he has never seen any.
Commission Environmental Consultant Fred Lubnow of PrincetonHydro said there really aren’t any guidelines. Lake Hopatcong has shallow bays and coves and a deep main lake, which lends itself to different types of recreation than many other bodies of water.
The busy boating season had an upside. Lubnow said after an incredibly weedy start to the season, caused in large part by a mild winter, things got better.
“We saw a lot of floaters,” Lubnow said in an interview after the meeting. Boat propellers cut up the weeds.”
However, weeds, though a nuisance, aren’t as big a problem as algae. The lake didn’t see the sort of harmful algal bloom that ruined the 2019 season, but diatoms, or brown algae, caused the lake to appear darker.
Lubnow said examining the lake with a Secchi disk demonstrated less sunlight reaching deep into the lake.
Work is still going on to keep phosphorus out of the lake and therefore limit the possibility of future cyanotoxins in the water, Lubnow said.
He explained the team from PrincetonHydro used varied sizes of material in one of the biochar installations in Jefferson Township. That seemed to back up the storm drain system during the last storm. Lubnow said the varied size material will be replaced with all larger material to prevent further drainage problems.
He also said members of the PrincetonHydro teams are talking to the Jefferson Township Department of Public Works about helping Hoptacong Borough with cleaning some drainage basins prior to installing biochar. He said Hopatcong didn’t have the manpower to do it and a contractor the borough was going to use can’t do the work soon enough. Jefferson employees offered to help. Lubnow wants to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of aquafilters there before winter.
He was pleased the contractor was honest about his inability to do what was needed.
The team lost time in its work on Ashley Cove due to a car accident, Lubnow said, so the phoslock application may be spread over two years, which is allowed under the grant that is paying for it. He explained he wants to compare treatments in Ashley Cove and Landing Channel.
An important component of keeping phosphorus out of the lake is hooking the state park up to the sewers in Roxbury Township. A line must be laid from the former Grand Union shopping center to the park.
State Park Superintendent Melissa Castellon said the project is moving ahead. State Park representative to the commission Josh Osowski said he has obtained all necessary permits. Castellon said she is “deep in the bid process.” She said work should take six months. If work starts in November it will be done by Memorial Day weekend.
Meanwhile, Kane is working with the informal lake group that was founded during last year’s HABs crisis.
The group came about serendipitously when representatives of Greenwood Lake and Deal Lake called Lake Hopatcong to discuss the HABs.
“Last summer we worked to change the HABs policy on the state level,” Kane noted. They were successful and decided to bring in other public lakes around the state.