Lakeside dwellers wary of plan for easier access

COPAKE—A proposal to create a small opening in the guardrail at the southeast end of Copake Lake has stirred up some big opposition.

While the proposal was meant to improve access to the lake, critics say such a passage way will open the floodgates of invasive species, trash, human waste and ruin business for local marinas.

Town Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski introduced the idea of making an opening in the guardrail at the July 14 Town Board meeting, saying he had received “a number of requests” from residents seeking easier access to the lake from the small public access parking area at the Lakeview Road/County Route 7 corner.

Some Copake Lake residents are worried that if the county creates an opening in the guardrail at this parking area at the south end of the lake that the health of the lake will be compromised. Photo by B. Docktor

Mr. Gansowski said he thinks it’s “worthwhile” to approach the county about cutting a small opening in the metal guardrail to allow people to walk through to the lake with their kayaks, canoes, rafts or row boats. Currently there is no opening in the rail and people must lift their watercraft over the rail or squeeze them under.

But Mr. Gansowski’s announcement did not encounter smooth sailing with the Copake Lake Conservation Society (CLCS) or Copake Lake resident and real estate broker Lindsay LeBrecht. Both submitted letters opposing the idea, which were read at the August 13 Town Board meeting by CLCS President Debra Ruggieri.

The society, Ms. Ruggieri said in the letter, “adamantly” opposes Mr. Gansowski’s plan “to make it easier to launch boats.”

CLCS’s mission is to protect the quality of the Copake Lake watershed, preserve the ecological balance and promote safe recreational use of the lake. For the past 35+ years, we have taken a lot of time and money to educate our community in applying the best demonstrated practices for living in a watershed. To have an unmonitored opening increased in size is counter-productive,” says the CLCS letter, which also notes there are about 600 families in the Copake Lake watershed.

As a main initiative, CLCS works with the two marinas on the lake to prevent invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil from entering the lake via watercraft.

The Lake Management Committee spent more than $84,000 to control invasive plants and keep the lake clean in 2015, the letter says. Not only would the proposed entryway increase the lake’s exposure to contamination, but it would take business away from the lake’s two marinas, which are “strong contributors to CLCS works and support our efforts,” says the CLCS letter.

Ms. LeBrecht’s letter says there are “already problems” at the public access area and creating an opening will make matters worse.

Thanks to a notice on the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website www.dec.ny.gov, which says there is “cartop launch located on the southeast side of the lake,” Ms. LeBrecht wrote that an increased number of people now use the parking lot and it is often full.

Not only do they use it to offload their fishing boats, kayaks and canoes, but they “put up canopies and stay for the day.”

Ms. LeBrecht contends that since there are no bathroom facilities there, “One can only assume that they are polluting our beautiful lake.” She says in her letter that despite posted signs noting “underwater hazards” and prohibiting swimming people “disregard those signs.”

People leave “bags of garbage” and there has been “an increase in theft from the private homeowner association area next to the county corner,” she wrote.

If access there was expanded, Ms. LeBrecht questioned where the extra cars and trailers would park. “Is there going to be a police presence to make sure that people are abiding by the law and not parking on private property or on the street?”

In closing, she asks the Town Board to “abandon” the idea of making an opening to the lake.

In a follow-up phone call with Mr. Gansowski this week, he reiterated that he is not interested in creating an opening big enough for boats on trailers to be launched at the corner, just one people can walk through with their kayaks or canoes. He said he met with Columbia County Superintendent of Highways Bernie Kelleher and Columbia County Department of Public Works Engineering Director Dean Knox this week to talk about his idea. He said they told him nothing is going to happen there until the matter is taken up by the Board of Supervisor’s Public Works Committee and the County Attorney’s Office.

Mr. Knox told The Columbia Paper by phone that the county acquired the land on the southeast end of the lake back in the 1930s in conjunction with the construction of County Route 7, which runs perpendicular to Lakeview Road.

The guardrail, or guiderail as it is referred to in highway lingo, was not installed until much later. Mr. Gansowski says he remembers swimming there when he was a kid and the guardrail was not there.

According to the collective memory of all those interviewed, the guardrail and no swimming signs were put in place as protective measures sometime in the 1980s after someone was cut on the foot by a piece of glass while swimming there and sued the county. The parking lot, which does not have stripes to indicate parking spaces can hold about 8 to 10 cars maximum.

Mr. Gansowski says he visits the area regularly and has not seen garbage bags, watercraft with weeds hanging off of them or evidence of people using the area as a bathroom.

According to the DEC website, Copake Lake covers 410 acres, is, 1.3 miles long and has a shoreline of 5.2 miles.

Its maximum depth is 34 feet with a mean depth of 16 feet.

Fish species that live there include: American Eel, Northern Pike, Chain Pickerel, Common Carp, Golden Shiner, Common Shiner, Bluntnose Minnow, Eastern Blacknose Dace, Rudd, White Sucker, Brown Bullhead, Banded Killifish, Mummichog, White Perch, Rock Bass, Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie, Yellow Perch and Walleye.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass over 15 inches are plentiful. Both species have been caught weighing between 3 and 6 pounds. The lake has a quality and abundant panfish population. Occasionally black crappie catches measure 10 inches or greater. The lake also has large populations of yellow perch and white perch, with averages measuring 10 to 12 inches. Anglers may also catch the occasional walleye.

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