LAKE GEORGE — With the start of mandatory boat inspections on Lake George just two weeks away, a little drizzle Wednesday wasn’t going to stop the new inspectors from being trained.
More than 50 newly hired boat inspection technicians ignored occasional raindrops while learning how to check arriving trailered boats for invasive species and how to steam-clean them if necessary.
Cleaned, drained and dry is how inspectors want to see boats being brought from other water bodies that might have invasive species not yet found in Lake George.
“With any standing water, you’ll want to drain and decontaminate it,” said Justin Luyk of Queensbury, a park ranger recently hired by the Lake George Park Commission to oversee the new inspection program.
The park commission this spring is launching the first mandatory boat inspection program in the East in an effort to keep invasive species such as the quagga mussel and hydrilla weed out of the popular lake, which is already fighting several other invasive species.
Inspection sites will be open seven days a week, with varying hours. Volunteer monitors will also watch for off-hours activity, though they won’t have the legal authority of the inspectors.
“It will be 24-hour coverage,” said Jessica Rubin, director of development for the Fund for Lake George.
The mandatory inspection program was approved by the park commission over the winter after approvals from the governor’s office and state Department of Environmental Conservation. The inspection plan has widespread support because of fears that invasives could disrupt the ecology of a large lake whose natural beauty is at the heart of the economy in the southeastern Adirondacks.
“Seeing the training is really heartening, because it is the culmination of a lot of effort,” said Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George.
The fund provided a $10,000 grant to bring trainers D and Michael Davis from Lake Mead, Nev., to provide days of training to the new crew of boat inspectors.
“I love that they have buy-in from the community,” said D Davis, who has seen some resistance to mandatory inspections in the West, where it’s been used at Lake Mead, Lake Tahoe and other recreational lakes. “It has been effective in the West.”
The new inspectors are being taught how to deal with uninformed or angry boat owners who show up to launch, as well as how to do inspections and hot-water decontaminations.
In the back lot of the Lake George Forum on Wednesday, they practiced on various kinds of watercraft: boats with inboard motors, boats with outboard motors, boats with bilges and personal watercraft. Steaming-hot water will come from washing machines mounted on trailers; the wash water is collected and vacuum-filtered to remove any invasive organisms.
Luyk said the high-pressure cleaning will heat interior spaces like bilges to 120 degrees and can heat boat exteriors to 140 degrees to kill what can be microscopically small infant clams or weed seeds.
There’s a growing awareness of invasives, said the recent environmental sciences graduate of Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks.
“Pretty much every class I took touched on invasive species,” he said.
Former heavy construction equipment operator Jackie Dunsmore, 48, of Hague, said the job will be physically demanding, but she wants to be an inspector to help protect the lake, “so that there will be more generations after me to go swimming and enjoy the lake the way I have.”
Dan Fisher, 24, of Altamont, is another recent college environmental sciences graduate. He said he jumped at the chance to work on Lake George this summer.
“Invasive species are a huge issue now at lakes like Lake George,” he said. “With the number of boats coming and going, especially on big weekends like the Fourth of July or Labor Day, helping keep these things out of the lake is a huge priority for us.”
Lake George officials have spent more than $7 million in recent years fighting established invasives, including Eurasian milfoil, zebra mussels, Asian clams and the spiny waterflea. Dave Wick, executive director of the Lake George Park Commission, said the commission is having success against and even hopes to eradicate milfoil, but hasn’t been able to stop the spread of Asian mussels first found in 2010.
The inspection program’s goal is to keep any more of those species out and to head off possible invasion by quagga mussels and hydrilla, which Wick called “the Godzilla of invasive species plants.”
The inspection program is costing $700,000, and for this year is being covered by the state Environmental Protection Fund and the SAVE Lake George Partnership, which includes the Fund for Lake George and communities around the lake. For this year, there will be no cost to boaters.
Once started, the mandatory inspection program needs to be permanent and ongoing, everyone agrees. Siy said the Lake George inspection system — with its blend of private and public funding — should be a model used across the state to prevent the spread of invasives.
“We need a statewide system,” Siy said. “We’re at the vanguard here in Lake George.”
He said a similar system is needed throughout the Adirondacks to protect the region’s 3,000 lakes and thousands of streams.