State Proposes Precedent Setting Ban Of Non-Motorized Boats On Public Waters

Aug 4, 2017

The state is proposing a new rule for Great Hosmer Pond, in Craftsbury and Albany, and the draft language takes the unprecedented step of limiting the hours when rowing sculls and racing shells can be on the water to make room for other uses, including high speed motorboating.

The draft proposed rule states, "Use of racing shells and rowing sculls is prohibited on the pond between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and the hours of 7 p.m. and sunrise, from the last Saturday in May through the first Monday in September."

If that language makes it through the state’s rulemaking process, it will become part of the official rules for the pond, along with existing restrictions on aircraft and a ban on jetskis.

It will also be the first time the state has limited non-motorized boating on public waters.

Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Emily Boedecker says the language she’s proposing speaks to a unique situation at Great Hosmer. It is a long, narrow pond with a diverse set of users, including campers and athletes who come to the Craftsbury Outdoor Center for rowing practice and instruction.

Great Hosmer Pond is just under two miles long with tree-sheltered banks, making for predominantly clam water that is attractive to rowers.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

"It’s almost like a really elongated hourglass," she says of the pond. "And so, forcibly, users are quite close to each other. It’s not like some of our larger lakes where you’ve got much more open space."

Troy Howell is managing director of sculling programs at Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

While piloting a low-speed motor boat called a coaching launch, he explains it’s the pond’s geography that makes it a great place to row.

"The long, narrowness of it and the shelteredness of it makes it far superior to just about any body of water that I can name within a hundred miles of here," he says.

Troy Howell runs the sculling programs at Craftsbury Outdoor Center. He says the center has voluntarily capped its number of rowers and limited their time on the water, but critics say those efforts don't go far enough.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Motorboating fast enough to cause a wake is illegal in most Vermont ponds the size of Great Hosmer. But it's one of six ponds where the state Water Resources Board grandfathered high speed motorboating as a normal use, when it made the original rule for the pond in 1995.

However it’s illegal to travel more than five miles per hour within 200 feet of shore and of other people and objects on the pond. And that’s why motorboat users are upset with the number of rowers, as Howell explains.

"When the pond is empty of human-powered craft there are a couple of areas, particularly in the wider portion of the lower lake, where it’s possible to be more than 200 feet from shore and tow someone," he says. "And that seems to be an issue in this conflict."

One of the people on the motorboat side of the conflict is Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, whose family has had a camp on the pond for decades. In an email this week she said she and others are no longer speaking out on the issue, due to negative attention they’ve received.

On the other side of the conflict is the Outdoor Center, which has up to 35 campers and seven coaches on the water during its summer rowing camps. The nonprofit center has voluntarily capped the number of campers and the hours they use the pond.

In fact, the hours the state is proposing be shell and scull free on Great Hosmer, are times when the center’s rowers are already off the pond.  But the draft rule language would prohibit all shells and sculls during the specified times, including local residents and others accessing the pond from its public boat launch.

Craftsbury rowing campers, ranging in age from 13 through their 60s, take in a dockside lecture on propulsion before heading out on the water.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

That doesn’t sit well with Craftsbury resident Gina Campoli. She’s a member of the group Friends of Great Hosmer Pond, which formed last winter in order to have a voice in the rulemaking process.

"We love the Outdoor Center and we want to make sure that the Outdoor Center can thrive and benefit us economically, through jobs, through associated economic benefits in our shops, in our stores, in terms of real estate," she says. "And also, it really has a great effect on our quality of life in Craftsbury."

Campoli is particularly close to the Outdoor Center. Her husband ran the center’s Nordic ski program before he retired. But she says lots of people benefit from the center’s success and the rowing program proceeds that are used to subsidize community programs.                

"Kids ski here for free," she says of the center's extensive Nordic trails. "We hold high school races, nobody has to pay. You go somewhere else and you have to pay," she continues. "There’s free rental equipment. Highly subsidized junior programs so high school kids can train and find their way onto an elite college team," she adds "It’s really remarkable and that’s here, in part, because of the money that the rowing program brings in."

Commissioner Boedecker says the point of the proposed draft rule is to move the conversation forward. And she says she’ll suspend the rulemaking process if the community comes up with another solution.

"So, we’ve come up with the best proposal that we can at this point in time," she says. "I’m very interested in hearing from the community about ways to improve on this proposed language or other methods in which we can help everybody enjoy the pond together."

If the rulemaking process proceeds, Boedecker says the new restrictions should be law by the end of the year.