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Even as the lake is thawing, avid ice fishermen are out in Crescent Cove. (Photo by Jane Primerano)

“It’s been a real winter,” Lake Commissioner Fred Steinbaum said during the Monday, March 8, meeting. “Up to 12 inches of ice and a full fishing season.”

There were also six days of great ice boating weather and some great racing, all making for an extraordinary season in the minds of winter sports enthusiasts.

Steinbaum said he met fishermen from Delaware and saw a lot of children skating and playing hockey on the thick ice.

The parking lot at Lake Hopatcong State Park was full two weekends in a row.

Park Superintendent Blanca Chevrest said there was a lot of ice fishing off the park and many children sledding.

The only downside to this winter wonderland, Chevrest said in her report to the commission, is that the state has started on connecting the park to the sewers in Roxbury Township which takes up some space in the parking lot. She said the project will be done by Memorial Day, with a target date of May 21. The final item on the project list is a new rest room on top of the hill near the pavilion, she said.

Open Water

It’s not all good news on the lake, however, as there has been too much open water from ice eaters, Commission Vice Chair Dan McCarthy said. He said systems without timers can run until too much ice is melted, creating hazardous conditions for people on the ice.

Commissioner Todd Stevens also commented that the geese tend to congregate around ice eater holes.

McCarthy has been advocating for a ban on propeller-driven ice eaters and a return to the old bubbler systems that were less likely to destroy too much ice. He also advocates mandating timers on the bubblers, which would have to be done by each municipality by ordinance.

Steinbaum said with a hard freeze and a full lake, the state park can evaluate the impacts of ice on docks and other structures and better determine the extent the lake should be lowered for prevention of damage.

McCarthy showed slides of ice creep as melting began to demonstrate the potential for damage when the ice melts and the lake is very high.

The lake level is determined by the state with input from the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC). Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) representative to the commission Josh Osowski said he is hoping to set a CAC meeting for April.

Osowski also said he has not received word on when and if state-run weed harvesting will start this summer.

The DEP is still investigating the accident that took the life of harvester operator Curtis Mulch last June 24.

Steinbaum asked Osowski to intercede on the commission’s behalf. He noted the lake needs a full harvesting program.

“We’re running out of time. We’ve got to sign a contract,” Seinbaum said, referring to the commission possibly working with a private contractor.

Commissioner Ryan Gilfillan said the weed harvesting committee is drawing up bid specifications in case they have to go out to bid for harvesting because the state program is delayed. He also said the committee wants to dewater the weeds as they are removed to reduce the weight and therefore the cost of disposal and also create more options for disposal.

Osowski said the DEP would set up a meeting with Chairman Ron Smith and Commission Administrator Colleen Lyons.

Marty Kane of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation met with the lake area’s state representatives to discuss funding for the lake in 2021.

There is nothing in the state budget above the standard $500,000 allocation, Kane said. A bill, S1986, has been waiting for action for some time. The three state senators. Anthony Bucco (R-25), Steve Oroho (R-24) and Joseph Pennachio (R-26) are all sponsors of the bill that allocates $10 million in constitutionally dedicated corporate business tax revenue to grants for certain lake management activities such as recreation and conservation.

Kane credits the new Public Lakes Alliance for increasing the clout of all state lakes so he hopes the money will be released.

Steinbaum noted the DEP budget is increasing this year for the first time in years and “it may be time to consider a broad, comprehensive study of the lake’s contribution to the state economy.”

Another state meeting will be with the DEP to discuss navigational markers in Byram Cove.  The state must approve these markers which will make it easier to determine safe distances from shore, other boats and structures.

The entire lake was very busy during the pandemic summer of 2020 and Byram Cove was exceptionally crowded, Kane said.

The Foundation is now a member of the policy-making body of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, Kane noted. He said there is grant money available for tributaries to the Delaware and since Lake Hopatcong is the headwaters of the largest New Jersey tributary, the Foundation and Commission should be seeking some of the money.

New Jersey has traditionally not posted signs pointing out the watershed, Kane said. He advocates a sign on Route 15 near Gatwyn’s and the canals reminding people they are passing through the Delaware River Watershed.

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