Dedicated Volunteers Help Lake Musconetcong Stay Cleaner And Clearer
By Jane Primerano
Lake Musconetcong sits in the shadow of its bigger neighbor in many ways.
Lake Hopatcong is the famous resort lake, scene of boat races and wakeboarding and waterskiing and jet skiing and antique boat shows.
Both lakes are good for fishing. But Lake Musconetcong is small, shallow and underappreciated by those who don’t know it well.
Those who do know Lake Musconetcong do appreciate it: the fishing, the birds, and the ability to go out on a small boat on a quiet lake. And a passionate corps of volunteers are keeping the lake clean and free of weeds.
The Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board along with the Lake Musconetcong Community Association work hard to keep the lake clean. Both groups have members from the four municipalities that touch the lake. Most of the shoreline touches Netcong, Stanhope and the Port Morris section of Roxbury Township, but a tiny stretch is Byram Township, the section “left over” when Hopatcong (then Brooklyn Borough) seceded from Byram on April 2, 1898.
Earl Riley, chair of the regional planning board, has become the champion of Lake Musconetcong. He spent the Stanhope Street Fair in June at the LMRPB table with some fish caught by children in the fishing derby that morning, attracting visitors to his table.
“Forty kids caught more than 100 fish,” he said.
Riley isn’t shy about speaking of the lake’s problems. European milfoil was an issue this year but was treated within a week. The board uses 2-4-D herbicide against milfoil and water chestnuts. It is an oil-based herbicide.
The planning board owns one weed harvester and has another on loan from the Lake Hopatcong Commission.
About 90 percent of the lake can be harvested with the big harvester owned by the planning board, Riley said. That boat went in early in the season. The smaller one entered the lake in late June. The average depth of the lake is 4.5 feet, he explained. The small harvester can get within five to 10 feet of the shore.
Because the large harvester is owned by the planning board and the smaller one is on loan to the board, volunteers can operate it. The Lake Hopatcong Commission, because of the way it is constituted by the state, cannot use volunteers to operate its harvesters.
Riley runs the large harvester most of the time. “We are scheduled nearly every day,” he said. Harvesting will continue until mid-Sept. The harvester occasionally picks up fish, snakes or turtles which the operator throws back. Unless it’s a snapping turtle. “Then we stop the conveyor and reverse it to send the snapper back into the lake,” Riley explained. “We stop the boat so the turtle can swim away without our wake.”
“We have little floating islands of water lilies,” he said.
Another thing Lake Musconetcong has is a lot of swans.
“They chase the geese,” Riley said.
The reason Lake Musconetcong exists is the same reason Lake Hopatcong exists as one single lake, the Morris Canal.
When the Morris Canal and Banking Corp. was chartered in the 1820s, the dam at what is now Hopatcong State Park was constructed to provide water for the canal that stretched from Phillipsburg to Jersey City. The dam caused two smaller lakes to form Lake Hopatcong. A second dam downstream on the Musconetcong River created Lake Musconetcong and more water for the canal.
A portion of the canal is still visible downstream from the Lake Musconetcong dam and the towpath and its environs make up a small park.