Utilizing Local Support to Yield a Valuable Program: Watercraft Stewards on Canandaigua Lake

By: Sam Beck-Andersen, Watercraft Steward Program Manager

Since the inception of the Finger Lakes Institute’s (FLI) Watercraft Steward Program (WSP) in 2012, Canandaigua Lake has been one of our strongest partners. Besides being a close neighbor to Geneva and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Canandaigua Lake groups including the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association (CLWA) and the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Council (CLWC) have continually provided monetary and hands-on support to operate an expanded program on the Lake. These groups have been close partners in planning, promoting, and maintaining aspects of the program, and continue to do so. With these contributions, Canandaigua Lake has consistently had expansive watercraft steward coverage. For example, over the past three years, the Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park had had a steward present seven days a week, ten hours a day Monday through Friday, and twelve hours of coverage Saturdays and Sundays. During the same time period, the Woodville DEC Boat Launch at the south end of Canandaigua Lake has been covered for ten hours a day, seven days a week by FLI stewards. The FLI has also pilot tested developments to the steward program including our first foray into the world of digital data collection for boat inspections. And, in 2017 and 2018 FLI also executed a pilot program exploring boat traffic during the boating “offseason”, into late-September and through October.

 Another reason Canandaigua Lake has been so valuable to the FLI WSP development is the sheer number of boaters that visit the Lake year after year. In the past three years, Canandaigua Lake State Marine Park has been the first or second busiest boat launch, by number of inspections per day, covered by the FLI. The Woodville DEC boat launch at the south end of the Lake has been in the top five busiest launches covered by the FLI during the same period. On average during the 2018 season, FLI stewards inspected about 70 boats and 41 boats on average per day at the Marine Park and Woodville, respectively. Other high-volume launches in our program include the Port of Rochester launch with an average of 88 inspections a day and Owasco Lake’s Emerson Park with 49 inspections per day on average. Relatively high inspection numbers at these launches is not confined to the Finger Lakes region. According to statewide inspection data, Canandaigua Lake experienced the highest number of inspections in the state for 2018, with a total of 8,689 inspections by FLI staff alone (NYS Park Stewards also inspected 2,859 boats at the launch). The second highest number of inspections contributed to the statewide database by one boat launch occurred at the Saratoga Lake State Park, with a total of 6,428 inspections.

Table 1. Important differences between the State Park and Woodville boat launches on Canandaigua Lake. These differences likely contribute to the differences identified with data analysis during the off season.

Another valuable contribution provided by Canandaigua Lake’s boat launches is the opportunity to compare two different types of boat launches on the lake. So, what differentiates the State Park at the north end from the Woodville DEC launch at the south? Despite both launches being a stone’s throw from Rochester and several smaller population centers, data analyses of inspections at these launches can tell us a great deal about how these two launches diverge. What influences the way that boaters access a waterbody? Some major differences between these launches include cost of use, distance from major roadways, reputation/reviews, access to popular lake locations, and the capacity of the launch. Some of these important differences are outlined in Table 1. Other differences are also noted.

Figure 1. Total user group composition for watercraft using Canandaigua Lake boat launches. While general recreation dominates both launches, angling makes up double to percentage of users at Woodville than at the State Park. Data only includes FLI steward inspections.

Figure 1 displays the composition of user groups using the two Canandaigua Lake launches. At the Woodville launch, anglers make up more than twice the overall percentage of boaters than at the State Park. This marked difference could potentially be a product of distance to cities or proximity to good fishing locations. Figure 2 displays the composition of watercraft type inspected at the two launches. While motorboats are consistently the most common watercraft type at these two locations, launch characteristics such as cost and presence of hand-launch facilities likely attribute to a much higher percentage of canoes and kayak inspections at the Woodville launch.

Figure 2. Total watercraft composition for inspections at Canandaigua Lake boat launches. Motorboats dominate this variable at both launches, but the percentage of canoes and kayaks is much higher at Woodville. Data only includes FLI steward inspections.

How can we use these analyses to improve our program, and ultimately further reduce the spread of invasive species in Canandaigua Lake and across the Finger Lakes Region? Each off-season, program coordinators and the program manager have a chance to assess the goals and objectives associated with the program, and reevaluate management strategies utilized by the program to reach those goals. Should we change staffing schedules? What materials should we provide to boaters? What visitors do we need to give extra attention to when inspecting a watercraft? All of these questions are important in keeping our program relevant, effective, and efficient, and the analyses in this article help to answer some of them. By identifying differences and similarities in prominent user groups at the two launches, we can customize training for each launch. Instead of going about the education of the public with a one-size-fits-all approach, this information can help us provide customized strategies for each lake and launch in our range to specifically connect with the prominent groups at those locations.

Figure 3. Most common waterbodies for boat launching into Canandaigua Lake. Many of these top sources contain species not yet introduced to the Canandaigua Lake Watershed. Non-risk launches coming from Canandaigua Lake and more than two weeks out of water were omitted. Data only includes FLI steward inspections.

During watercraft inspections, stewards always ask where the visitor used their boat last before launching. When analyzed, this data can tell us a lot about the risks facing Canandaigua Lake. Figure 3 displays the most common last waterbodies visited by boaters launching into Canandaigua Lake. Right away, top sources of launching boats jump out as being high-risk: Lake Ontario and Irondequoit Bay, the Erie Canal, the St. Lawrence River, and Cayuga Lake. All of these waterbodies contain high-risk invasives not yet introduced to Canandaigua Lake. Maintaining a continued effort against the spread of invasive species requires repeated evaluation. Figure 4 displays organisms found during watercraft inspections, one metric for the success of this program. Although the most common organisms found during inspections are either native or are already found in Canandaigua Lake, this graph points out two instances of successful interceptions of Variable-leaf watermilfoil, a species not yet introduced to Canandaigua Lake.

Figure 4. Organisms, native and otherwise, found during steward inspections of boats entering Canandaigua Lake. Although many of these species are already introduced or established into Canandaigua Lake, this figure demonstrates one metric of success for this program: the ability of stewards to identify and intercept invasive species while inspecting incoming watercraft. Data only includes FLI steward inspections.

2019 brings new opportunities for the WSP on Canandaigua Lake. The FLI will continue to collaborate with The CLWA and CLWC, and the NYS Parks Steward Program to provide consistent steward coverage for length of the boating season and beyond. For more information about the Finger Lakes Institute’s Watercraft Steward Program, please visit flisteward.com. We are always recruiting for new stewards all around the Finger Lakes Region. Part-time or full-time college students, high school and college graduates, and retired persons are all encouraged to inquire about opportunities for the 2019 season. To inquire please email beck-andersen@hws.edu

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