• Bring only clean, drained and dry boats to the lake.
• Register with the Lake George Park Commission and have their registration sticker on display.
• Visit one of six inspection stations around the lake before launching. If necessary, boats will be decontaminated with high-pressure hot water.
Nobody launches their boat from Norowal Marina this summer without getting the once-over from Shari Dufresne or one of her colleagues.
Boaters arriving at the marina in Bolton Landing must, under a new lakewide law, stop for a minute or two before launching into Lake George while their vessel is inspected for signs of any invasive species.
Sometimes, the boat can’t pass until it’s been pressure-washed with hot water to kill invasive organisms, which takes another 10 to 15 minutes.
The funny thing is, few people argue or complain. Many even say “thank you.”
“Most of the boaters love the lake more than anything,” said Dufresne, an inspection site supervisor for the Lake George Park Commission. “A lot of them thank us.”
This is the first summer of mandatory inspections for all boats being launching on Lake George, and the ambitious effort will undergo a key test as boating activity on the lake’s clear waters picks up going into the Fourth of July weekend.
Because this is historically the busiest boating weekend of summer, an electronic sign alerting people to the inspection system will be up along the northbound lanes of the Northway south of Exit 21 starting today.
“We want to alert people who may be coming from Massachusetts or Connecticut or New Jersey who may know nothing about it,” said David Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission.
A full staff of 55 inspectors will be on duty for the weekend, he said, and the commission’s goal is to have no waiting lines for the inspections.
“We know we’ll get an overwhelming number of people at Exit 21,” he said, referring to the inspection site in Lake George village.
The inspection program is the key element in a massive effort to keep dozens of potential invasive species from being brought into the popular body known as The Queen of Lakes. The fear is that invasives would upset the ecological balance of one of the Adirondack region’s prime tourist attractions, undermining the lake’s native plants and fish and eventually ruining the lake’s appeal, which is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the regional economy.
“Invasive species are ultimately biological terrorists,” said Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George, which is helping to pay for the program. “We know we will lose the lake as people have come to love it for generations if we don’t pull out all the stops.”
Lake George is the first lake in the eastern U.S. to have mandatory boat inspections; inspection systems are in use at Lake Tahoe and a few other spots in the West.
The mandatory inspection program was approved last winter by the Lake George Park Commission, the state agency that oversees the lake. The decision followed years of study and a voluntary inspection system that was in place last summer.
The mandatory program started May 15. Through June 22, inspectors had examined 3,898 vessels and decontaminated 141. The number of inspections has trended upward every week and is expected to peak between the July 4 weekend and Labor Day.
Norowal Marina in Bolton Landing is often the busiest of the six inspection stations established around the lake. Dufresne and her 12-member team inspected nearly 200 boats the weekend of June 21-22, and six were washed.
“It kind of gets crazy,” she acknowledged. “This is the gateway to the [Lake George] islands.”
The inspection program is costing $700,000 for the year, but there’s no charge to boaters for either the inspections or the decontamination washings. The state Environment Protection Fund is paying half the cost, and a coalition including the Fund for Lake George and communities around the lake are picking up the other half.
The park commission and lakeside communities have already spent millions of dollars fighting five invasives already present in the lake — Eurasian milfoil, curly pondweed, zebra mussels, Asian clams and spiny waterflea — without eliminating any of them.
The goal is to hold the line at those five. For instance, Lake George doesn’t yet have the quagga mussel or hydrilla weed, to name two of the most threatening. Siy said there are more than 200 species that could invade the lake if a contaminated boat brought them in.
“Prevention is the only way to keep invasives out. The cost of treatment is just too high,” Siy said.
To achieve that goal, under the inspection program trailered boats are supposed to arrive at the lake “cleaned, drained and dry.” The theory is that boats being brought by trailer could have been in other waters that have different invasive species — species that in their youngest stages could be too small to even see — so boaters are asked to clean any loose vegetation from propellers and other boat components, drain bilges and bait wells and see that the boats are dry.
“A lot of it is just about educating people,” Dufresne said.
The other inspection stations are at Dunham’s Bay Dock in Queensbury, on Transfer Road in Lake George, at the Hulett’s Landing Marina, at the Rogers Rock boat launch in Hague and at the Mossy Point public boat launch in Ticonderoga. Boaters must visit one of the inspection sites, but once inspected, they can launch from anywhere on the lake. A seal proving the inspection is wired to the boat and trailer.
The program will run until Dec. 1.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, meanwhile, has adopted new statewide regulations requiring boaters to take steps to prevent the spread of invasive species. The rules announced in early June require users to remove visible plant and animal matter from all boats at DEC launches and encourages the drying of boats between uses.
The rules apply at more than 300 DEC boat launches. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is drafting similar rules for its launch sites. Enforcement is by the existing staff of environmental conservation officers, forest rangers and park police.
Siy said there really needs to be a statewide enforcement program, but a good place to start would be the Adirondack Park because it has fewer invasives than the rest of the state.