“Lake George … is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw … it’s water limpid as crystal and the mountainsides covered with rich groves of fir, white pine and paper birch down to the water’s edge …” – Thomas Jefferson (1791)
Lake George is known for its beauty and exceptional water quality. With water as one of the most attractive visual elements of the landscape, Lake George is a unique natural resource that lures many residents and visitors. As the area has become more accessible via the Northway, there has been an increase in visitors, boat traffic and second family homes. Permanent residences have also increased as the Lake George area has become a destination for retirees.
Development in the watershed has increased substantially over the past 25 years, with more homes being built on the lake and surrounding uplands. This has intensified pressure on the water quality of Lake George and the natural resources throughout the watershed, resulting in a deterioration of the very things that made Lake George so popular in the first place.
For the last 10,000 years, Lake George has been predominantly oligotrophic, the highest water quality status, and has been going through its natural aging process. For the past 30 years, Lake George’s water quality and its lake bottom along the shoreline has changed. Even within the past five years, the decrease in water clarity and the increase in algae growth are evident. Aquatic plants grow, die and decompose, which is the natural process. When aquatic plants are over-abundant due to nutrient load in the water, the aging process is accelerated. We are witnessing Lake George aging within our lifetime.
Uplands and Shoreline Protection Program concerns
The primary concerns of the Uplands and Shoreline Protection Program are:
- Increased demand for available land;
- Inconsistent regulations throughout the watershed;
- Inconsistent application and enforcement of current regulations; and,
- Change in character of rural landscape.
Increased demand for available land
The development boom has increased property values and the amount of construction on previously undeveloped land. The demand has also initiated redevelopment of shoreline properties, where small cabins are being torn down to be replaced with much larger homes. Rapid development of the shoreline has created a serious negative impact on water quality; the shoreline has lost much of its buffering and filtering capacities, with large lawns and driveways replacing forested areas. Since the Lake George shoreline is a limited, finite resource with most of the shoreline developed, year-round residences and vacation homes are now being constructed upland, on the steep slopes surrounding Lake George. Upland development has serious environmental and scenic impacts. Development high on steep hillsides and along ridgelines is responsible for serious stormwater issues, as standard practices for road construction, grading, cut and fills, and lot clearing generally change the natural hydrology of the area. This type of development often causes major impacts from stormwater runoff that overwhelms natural streams or flows directly into the lake. In addition to the shoreline being impaired from excessive development, the natural filtering process from buffered streams and forested slopes within upland areas has also been compromised.
Inconsistent regulations throughout the watershed
The Lake George watershed is made up of nine municipalities located within three different counties. Additionally, there are state agencies involved with regulations and practices that impact the watershed. There is growing recognition among residents, local governments and state regulatory agencies that the current development trends and practices are not sustainable and are negatively impacting Lake George. The wide variation in the level of local development controls is ambiguous and threatening to the long term protection and restoration of Lake George. A set of best management practices for protecting the water quality and scenic beauty of the area should be incorporated into a basic set of controls (zoning, site planning, permits) for all municipalities within the watershed.
Inconsistent application and enforcement of current regulations
Local and state regulatory agencies and local government boards, using adopted zoning, subdivision and stormwater management codes must address the inherent threats to both water quality and scenic beauty. Local communities are overwhelmed in their inability to regulate development and protect water quality. Enforcement is lacking around the lake and there are no regulations to protect the scenic beauty of Lake George.
Change in character of rural landscape
In addition to negative water quality impacts from the sustained building boom over the past two decades, there has been a significant change in the area’s scenic beauty. Land clearing creates openings on forested hillsides as new, large houses are built, and roads are constructed on the steep hillsides, changing the character of the natural environment.
Above: The current condition on Lake George and a visual projection of what could happen if current trends and practices continue.
Formation of the Uplands and Shoreline Protection Program
In 2003, the FUND for Lake George launched its Upland and Shoreline Protection Program to promote responsible development within Lake George’s watershed. The Upland and Shoreline Protection Program is designed to complement and support the work of the Lake George Waterkeeper; it aims to assemble the necessary information concerning the impacts of development, and subsequently offer solutions to lessen the impact.
Mission of the Uplands and Shoreline Protection Program
High water quality and scenic beauty define Lake George. The Upland and Shoreline Protection Program promotes responsible practices for low environmental impact and visually sensitive development for all who build and develop in the watershed. This includes property owners and residents, contractors, land use development professionals, and local and state land use agency regulators. The Uplands program advocates for environmentally sensitive standards for development regulations for local governments and state agencies.
Focus of the Uplands and Shoreline Protection Program
2006: The FUND published the Lake George Planning, Permitting & Management of Growth and Development for Sensitive Shoreland & Upland Areas PROJECT MANUAL. This manual identifies a number of the critical issues associated with shoreline and upland development from an aesthetic standpoint. Numerous design practices are suggested to minimize the visual impacts of development on the hillsides and shorelines.
2007: The Project Manual received the Award for Excellence at the Vermont Chapter of the Society of Landscape Architects. This work has also been recognized by our regional press.
2008: The Program’s current work plan is focused on the following multi-year objectives:
- Establish scientific linkage and causal connections between development and negative impacts to water quality.
- Continue advocacy and public education for stream corridor protection currently being reviewed by the Lake George Park Commission. The FUND is advocating for vegetated buffers on stream corridors, the first stream protections in the Lake George watershed.
- Develop model regulations for upland and shoreline protection at the state and local levels.
- Develop a campaign to advocate for adoption and implementation of the standards by property owners, the professional development community, and local and regional land use regulatory agencies.
- Include local Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals, Planning Administrators, Code Enforcement Officers and state agency staff to solicit feedback on model regulations.
- Host public forums to engage developers, architects, engineers, realtors, environmental planning firms, and homeowners to solicit feedback on the proposed model regulations.
- Finalize model regulations and develop campaign for engagement and implementation at the local and state levels.
Updates on the progress of these objectives will be posted periodically on this website.
How Can You Help?
We are fortunate to have clean water, clear skies, and the natural wildlife, fish and plant species that are critical to Lake George. As a community resident or guest to the Lake George watershed, it is important that you understand the issues that will affect your future enjoyment of this unique resource. We must develop our shoreline and upland hillsides wisely, but to do this we must each gain a respect for our fragile environment and then work together to preserve the water quality of Lake George.
Get involved with the work of the Lake George Waterkeeper and the FUND for Lake George. Together we can make a difference to preserve, protect and restore Lake George’s water quality and improve our lives and our enjoyment of this gift.
Below is a visual simulation of shoreline clearing. Starting with a 25% clearing, then 50%, then 75% and 90%. Shoreline vegetation protects water quality by filtering nutrients and pollutants before they reach the water.