EDITORIAL: This barrier needs a break

WE KNOW HOW ROBERT FROST felt about walls 102 years ago when he wrote that something doesn’t love them. The famous poem hasn’t caused Donald Trump to reconsider his idea for a wall. But maybe Frost’s words might carry more weight among people who live by the shores of Copake Lake.

At issue is a guardrail at the southeast corner of the lake near where county Route 7 intersects Lakeview Road. The metal rail helps define a shallow parking area near the water’s edge. Not much distinguishes the lot from the highway shoulder except signs saying “Swimming Not Authorized” and “No Littering $250 Fine” plus a bulletin board with notices from state and local sources.

Town Councilman Stosh Gansowski has proposed cutting an opening in the rail to make it easier for people with light watercraft, like kayaks and canoes, to reach the water. It would be the site’s only amenity. More accurately, it’s just a hole in a fence. But whatever you call it, the plan has met with strong opposition from the Copake Lake Conservation Society.

The society and its supporters fear that a hole–let’s call it a “gap”–will invite all sorts of trouble, including greater use of the site and the lake, and an increase in the chances that boats carried through the gap will introduce invasive species to the lake. Critics of the gap also see it as an economic threat to the two marinas on the lake, which help support the conservation society’s efforts.

Before looking at these objections, it might help to consider some new information from the Columbia County Tourism Department and Film Office, which reported this week that of the six counties of the Hudson Valley Region (Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester) Columbia County had the biggest percentage of growth in tourism spending and the biggest increase in the region in tax revenue from tourism last year. None of the other five counties came close to the 5.7% increase in tourism spending here. Tourists handed over an estimated $130 million in Columbia County during 2015.

Like it or not, this county and Copake Lake are on the tourism map, literally. The cover of the state Department of Environmental Conservation booklet on Copake Lake resources has an outline map of the lake featuring a silhouette of a car with a boat on the roof where the parking lot is located. It’s not a matter of whether more tourists will come; the question is what the community should be doing to plan for and manage change.

Invasive species do threaten local waterways. So do some native species that can get out of hand. Unchecked, they could render a body of water as big as the 410 acres of Copake Lake unsuitable for boating and swimming. These and other concerns of Copake Lake homeowners are shared by residents of nearby Lower Rhoda Pond and members of the Kinderhook Lake Corporation. And while each body of water is unique, the pressures on all of them will only increase as the result of more tourist traffic and accelerating climate change.

Creating a gap in the guardrail wide enough for a pedestrian to walk through might encourage more people to use the site. Or, assuming there will be more people here regardless, it might remind visitors that they’re using a public facility, that they’re welcome to do so but they have certain obligations. Encouraging portable boat users to pass though the gap creates an opportunity to remind them, for example, to check their boats for unwelcome hitchhikers.

If the concern is tourists leaving garbage or other waste, make plans, offer guidance, research what works. Tell people where to find the nearest restrooms and services. Some people misbehave, but if the rules and options are clear, most people comply.

Local marinas deserve praise for supporting conservation and water protection efforts. But it’s hard to understand how a gap in the guardrail too narrow for a boat trailer would harm their business.

The site of the parking lot and guardrail is owned by the county and it suffers from benign neglect as have other non-critical parts of the county infrastructure. How could county government justify spending taxpayer funds on such a small facility when roads and bridges need repairs?

Maybe the county should rename this spot Guardrail Park and treat it with more respect. Whether or not anybody loves this wall, a little gap in the middle of it would be a big improvement.

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