By Phelan Fretz, ECHO's Executive Director ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz paddles on Lake Champlain.  We need...

Where is everyone? Kill Kare and Burton Island State Parks, Saturday in July

By Phelan Fretz, ECHO's Executive Director

ECHO's Executive Director Phelan Fretz paddles on Lake Champlain. 

We needed to check for ourselves. At May’s annual Friends of Northern Lake Champlain dinner, many folks were wondering if this was going to be the “big” year - a winter without snow and spells of spring warmth - for a bloom like no other, blue-green algae in Missisquoi and St Albans Bays.

The kayaks slipped into the warm, clear, shallow water. It was early Saturday, with the shore’s trees reaching out into St Albans Bay with their jagged shadows. Drybags in place, cockpit organized, we headed into open water. As we skirted along Mosquito Island, a Canada geese flock dominated the rocky beach with nearly full-grown young. The Lake’s bottom is always present. Silver reflections catch the eye - probably the pearly inside of native mussels that have lost their battle.

The map tells of a rocky reef, with a human-made cut marked by two buoys. This is where the Burton Island ferry slips through as it carries enthusiastic “islanders.” Lake level is very low, so we make our way over the reef near the cut. Now on the southern, windward side of Burton, a breeze has built some chop and keeps us working. We are glad for the long, sleek hull of a touring kayak as it slips through the waves. The bottom is less apparent now, hidden below the sun’s glint off the turbulent surface. A mile later, we round the island’s southern tip and head into calmer waters.  

It’s hot. With the leeward breeze pushing us, beads of sweat now moisten our backs against the seats. The Lake’s calm surface now reveals a carpet of green algae covering all the rocks below. A couple of swimmers from the Island’s campground are lazily floating, but most folks are chair-bound on the rocky beach. It feels as if we have the Lake to ourselves.

Just ahead of us is a blue and white lake cruiser, bikes upfront and laundry hanging off the stern. We follow the cruiser into Burton Island’s marina and head for what looks like the beach.  We can hear the two-story, all-aluminum ferry’s safety announcements as it pulls away from the dock. Not many folks on the upper deck.

We are greeted with more algae at the water’s edge at the beach. One elderly couple is reading in the shade. No kids. No families. Is it really a July Saturday afternoon? We disembark and discover a huge marina hidden behind a tree covered hill.  Three boats tied up.  A bistro stands longingly across the meadow.  Where is everybody?  

While we never found any of the dangerous blue-green algae, the regular green stuff was everywhere. Invasive millfoil too. Recent storms had churned up the waters, distributing any floating algal masses that typically include blue-greens. We all hear about how the health of our waters are struggling. I just witnessed it. It’s bad, real bad. And what about the folks that make their living on “beautiful waters”?  They must be struggling.   

As we left Kill Kare Park, we passed the St Albans town beach. Two football fields of beach with shaded picnic and parking.  No one, but for three kids playing at the water’s edge. The mats of washed-up algae that I have seen in the past were not present, but the word is out, “Don’t go there - it stinks and is unsafe.”  If you listened, you could almost hear the throngs of St Albans “townees” that must have converged 50 years ago, enticed by the clear waters and cool lake breezes.

What have we done?   

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