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Call for National Lakeshore

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Champlain should be a national lakeshore

Lake Champlain is no ordinary lake.

At 120 miles long, it is the sixth largest freshwater lake in the United States.

The lake provides a stunning backdrop for Burlington, Plattsburgh and other communities located along its shores.

Cradled by mountains, long and deep, with islands, bays, and sandy beaches, Lake Champlain is by any standard a national treasure.

Indeed, Lake Champlain was designated a resource of national significance in 1990.

Designation as a resource of national significance provided no real protection for the lake, though it did signal recognition of the lake's enormous value to the nation as a whole.

Unfortunately, this national treasure is being degraded by poorly regulated water pollution from farms and other sources.

Air pollution from power plants is depositing mercury and other toxins into the watershed and lake.

Exotic plant and animal invasion threatens native species.

Its shoreline is being parceled out and developed. Public access is becoming more restricted by unmitigated growth.

Unless there is a significant and coordinated effort to protect the lake's shoreline and aquatic integrity, Lake Champlain's future is destined for greater environmental and scenic degradation.

The announcement that an 89-acre undeveloped parcel of land on Shelburne Point is for sale but will likely not be acquired by the public is a tragic harbinger of the future of the lake.

Though nearly everyone, including the owners of this parcel believes it should be acquired by the state and put into public ownership, state officials cite a lack of funds as the reason the tract will likely not be purchased.

In all likelihood, this parcel will be sold to a developer and all of us will lose forever the chance have this undeveloped lakeshore serve the common good.

Is this the only option for the lake's future? I think not.

A few years ago, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, tried to get Lake Champlain designated the sixth "Great Lake."

This was more than hyperbole and political machinations. In fact, Lake Champlain does have many connections to the other five Great Lakes.

All of the lakes drain into the St. Lawrence River and are part of the same giant watershed basin.

This connection to the Great Lakes is further enhanced by the presence of many locally endemic species found in Lake Champlain that are found no place else but in the Great Lakes region of the Upper Midwest.

For instance, Lake Champlain's population of endangered spiny soft-shell turtle have their nearest relatives in the Great Lakes. The same is true for many fish, mollusk and other aquatic species.

Though ecologically and aquatically connected, there is one significant difference between Lake Champlain and the other Great Lakes.

In the Midwest, national parks and national lakeshore like the Isle Royal National Park as well as national lakeshores like Apostle Islands, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Indiana Dunes, and Picture Rocks protect the nationally significant features of these other lakes.

There is no reason why Lake Champlain is not deserving of similar federal protection and funding.

National lakeshore status would provide federal funds for the acquisition of critical lakeshore lands for permanent protection.

Beyond simply protecting these valuable parcels of land, national lakeshore status would be an enormous economic boom to the region.

Study after study has demonstrated that communities near national park units sustain substantial economic benefits.

This is not just the result of tourism generated jobs, but also the result of quality of life issues. People like to live in high-quality environments.

Protection of the lakeshore as national lakeshore improves the local quality of life, and "footloose" entrepreneurs, retirees, and others with outside incomes "choose" to relocate and live near national park units.

Indeed, one of the wisest and least expensive business investments any community or state could make is protecting the quality of its natural environment.

With the Samuel de Champlain quadricentennial just around the corner, perhaps a good way to celebrate Champlain's namesake lake would be to establish the Lake Champlain National Lakeshore to preserve at least some of the lakeshore in a condition similar to how Champlain found it in 1609. It would seem fitting that Vermonters and New Yorkers join together to support national lakeshore designation for the lake.

If you agree with my perspective, please write the congressional delegation and urge them to first immediately protect Shelburne Point through federal acquisition. Secondly, direct the national park service to complete a study of the Lake Champlain basin for national lakeshore designation.

George Wuerthner of Richmond is a writer and photographer with 30 books to his credit. He is also the ecological projects director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology.

From The Burlington Free Press

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I knew it! I knew lake Champlain was the 6th largest! People kept telling me otherwise but I knew it! OK, now that's out of my system. I don't think Champlain should be the 6th great lake. It's not large enough, in my opinion.

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I don't think Champlain should be the 6th great lake. It's not large enough, in my opinion.

I don' think it really qualifies as the 6th Great Lake either, it's simply not part of the structure of the Great Lakes, though it is part of the same watershed.

I do think the idea of a National Lakeshore is a good one. The National Seashore has greatly benefitted Cape Cod in my opinion.

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