By SARA RUBERG
Charles R. Wood Park in the village of Lake George transcends a typical park.
Visitors can enjoy recreational activities at one end which includes a playground, skate park and common grounds for the festival. But the focal point of the park is just across the street: the wetlands.
The wetlands were built in response to declining water quality in Lake George. They sit next to West Brook Road, where researchers found half of the contaminants in the southern Lake George basin came from. They act as a filter for stormwater runoff, preventing contaminants like phosphorus and nitrogen from reaching the lake.
The project exceeded its pollutant elimination targets. It was planned to remove half of the phosphorus. Instead, it kept 85% of the phosphorus runoff from entering the lake. The nitrogen removal efficiency is 89% and 94% of the suspended solids are filtered.
Mayor Robert Blais was one of the leaders in creating the park. He now attends events at the park, like the Charlie Daniels Band concert last summer.
“The Charlie Daniels Band is only there one night. These wetlands are functioning every day, ”said Blais,“ This is extremely important. “
Decades ago, researchers began to see the water quality of the 32-mile-long lake deteriorate due to several factors, including old septic tanks and stormwater runoff. Various local municipalities and environmental groups joined together to tackle the problem by building the park.
The park also replaced Charles R. Wood’s once bustling family entertainment district, Gaslight Village, which closed in 1989. Dedicated in its name, it has attracted new users.
Chris Navitsky, the Lake George water warden, says the Lake George organizations have worked together for a better economy and a better environment.
“I really like to promote the duality of our built environment so that we work with nature and not against nature,” Navitsky said. “We can do it in harmony.”
Warren County, the Village and Town of Lake George purchased the property in 2008. Due to disagreements over what should be built in the place of Gaslight Village, the village ultimately bought back the town’s share.
The Fund for Lake George and Lake George Association purchased a conservation easement for $ 2.1 million, ensuring that environmental values have a place in the development. The total purchase price of the Charles R. Wood Foundation was approximately $ 4.1 million.
Since its completion about a decade and $ 15 million later, the wetlands and the park have kept many contaminants from reaching the lake. Filters have also been built under the festival grounds, and the roots of ripening trees can also act as natural filters.
“It would be the last possible place to prevent any pollution from entering Lake George,” said Walt Lender, executive director of the Lake George Association. “This property was available, it was for sale…. We saw this as an opportunity. “
Thousands of residents flock to the park for its various events, some of the most popular being the Music Festivals and the Food and Wine Festival.
Music promoter and Lake George resident Dave Ehmann says that in six years he has seen festival crowds grow from around 300 to around 3,000.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Ehmann. “The park itself is amazing.”
Today, the organizations that brought the park together are working to make the neighborhood even better. Threats from toxic algae and unwanted chemicals are still looming.
Navitsky has been researching the spread of algal blooms in the lake for 10 years. His studies have uncovered the growth of certain species of algae linked to old septic tanks. He works to promote the replacement of these septic systems in order to reduce the growth of algae.
“We’re lucky that we haven’t had a harmful algal bloom yet, but you know, it looks like we’re getting a lot closer to its potential,” Navitsky said.
Environmental organizations in Lake George and the City of Lake George are also promoting initiatives for the replacement and maintenance of local septic systems – one way for them to continue their partnership.
The Fund for Lake George, the Lake George Association, the Lake George Land Conservancy and local government agencies are joining forces further following the success of their partnership on the West Brook Conservation Initiative, which included the creation of the park.
“We must work together to take care of [Lake George]Said Jeffrey Killeen, President of the Fund. “We know very well that we had better take care of it. If he does switch, the magic wears off and everyone works together to make sure that never happens. “