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A new bridge for the Champlain Valley, seen at dawn this morning. Photo:  Brian Mann
A new bridge for the Champlain Valley, seen at dawn this morning. Photo: Brian Mann

Lakeside living on Lake Champlain

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Bill Howland is director of the Lake Champlain Basin Program, an organization that "works in partnership with government agencies from New York, Vermont, and Québec, private organizations, local communities, and individuals to coordinate and fund efforts that benefit the Lake Champlain Basin's water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources."

Sarah Harris sat down with him to discuss the geography of the Champlain Valley -- and what it means for people living near the lake.

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Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Sarah Harris: You know I think about this so often because I'm back and forth between Vermont and New York. Sometimes the Champlain Valley seems like a really cohesive unit...Other times, if I go from being in Shelburne for example, to being in Port Henry it's like I'm in two utterly different places.

Bill Howland: When it comes to baseball there's the Red Sox and the Yankees and never the twain shall meet sometimes it seems. Also in the political history New York and Vermont had quite different perspectives ages ago. But from many points of view the lake is a single unit. It's a big body of water and all of the life forms in the lake care nothing about which jurisdiction they're in. 

SH: For many people, they're back and forth a lot. And for other people it's like, "Oh, there's people over there?" I think it really depends on whether people's lives are oriented towards one state or the other.

BH: I think that's true. Also, I think the closer people get to the lake, the more they feel connected to the lake. The lake crosses the boundary, so if someone lives on the shoreline in Vermont they feel connected to the whole of Lake Champlain. And if they live  with the shoreline in New York, they also feel connected to the whole of Lake Champlain, even though there's a state boundary running down the middle. It was a battleground, a highway, a connecting feature, and a dividing feature through the years.

Now it's a little different. These days when we have an aquatic invasive species like zebra mussels, its a whole lake problem. When we have too much phosphorous or nutrients in the water, it's the whole lake. We share that problem. When we have concerns about flooding, the whole lake floods, it's lake wide, or there's a bass tournament, the whole lake hears the bass boats, and the boats cover the whole lake. I think that more and more we're viewing the management of resources and the development of the economy associated with Lake Champlain. Lake Champlain really is a unifying feature. 

SH: I wonder if there is the same sense of identity with the lake in Quebec, as there is in Vermont and New York.

BH: Absolutely. The communities that are located on the shore of Missisquoi Bay are very clearly connected to the lake. Venice in Quebec is so oriented toward the lake. The use of the lake by folks from Quebec is very high, might be higher per capita in those living in the watershed than in Vermont or New York. Many of those living in Quebec, ice fishing communities out on Missisquoi Bay in the winter time are just a phenomenon.

SH: I'm wondering what you love about the lake.

BH: I think of the lake as a wild place. I live on the shore of Isle LaMott, the west shore, so I see the lake in its many moods. It can be very tranquil and calm and it can be wild with five- and six-foot waves. So I think of myself living and working at the edge of a great wild wilderness entity that people can enjoy and that has a certain integrity. It's an ecosystem we really have to maintain so we can continue to enjoy it.

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