As part of our new summer feature rotation, we’re profiling local people—such as business owners, organization leaders, or lake advocates—every other Monday in our “Freshwater Faces” series. For the first one, we’ve got a guy who fits all of those descriptors.
Ray Fernandez—owner of Bridge Marina, president of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, and a local representative on the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s water-level management committee—has lived at the lake most of his life, except for a few years while he was a student at the University of Delaware. The water has always been a part of his life, though, even while he was away studying. “My family lived and worked in a marina so we were always in, under, and around boats and the water,” he says. “As I grew up, I was always involved with the lake and the marina to some extent or another; my college studies were largely involved with the environment and water, and I held a career before the marina that focused on ‘water’ too, so it may be that the water, the lake, and the marina are sort of natural to me.”
His career history isn’t without a layer of coincidence; prior to owning Bridge Marina, one of Fernendez’s colleagues was instrumental in the original engineering and construction of the pump station in Great Cove that was designed to divert water from the lake, and at his previous career, he reviewed budgets to reinstate that pump station. “Ironic, huh?”
Now 36, Fernandez is proud of how his business has grown and developed; Bridge Marina even earned a green seal from the New Jersey Clean Marina program last year, reflecting a series of changes Fernandez and his staff made to the way the marina operates. (To read the story from last summer, click here.)
But his latest effort is focused on the Lake Hopatcong Alliance, a grassroots group that came together last year in the midst of the low-water crisis that business owners and residents faced early in the season. It was the impetus to move forward on something that many in the group had felt was needed. “The need for the organization had been planted long ago as many people felt there was a void of care and concern to safeguard and support our lake in the recent past,” Fernandez says. “So last year a group assembled with a common purpose: To safeguard Lake Hopatcong by tapping into the ‘power of our community.’” That small collection of people became a board of directors, and as they started meeting regularly, the Lake Hopatcong Alliance was born.
Fernandez can’t say enough about his pride in the organization. “Our LHA board members and volunteers are an amazing group of people who have dedicated countless hours to organize the alliance, coordinate our members, and spearhead projects for the lake,” he says. “I am quite pleased with what our group has accomplished in just a year—it truly has been a collective effort through our Board of Directors and our members.”
In addition to pursuing grants, the alliance is holding its first fund raiser this week to support the group as it coordinates efforts to study, promote, and support the lake and community. More information about the event—to be held at the Jefferson House on Friday (May 14) at 7 p.m.—can be found at the Lake Hopatcong Alliance’s website.
You can usually find Fernandez running around Bridge Marina, on the east side of Brady Bridge in Lake Hopatcong. Or spearheading the latest Lake Hopatcong Alliance effort. Or speaking at the monthly Lake Hopatcong Commission meeting. Or meeting with state leaders and local stakeholders to craft the water-level management plan for the lake. Or hanging out with his wife and daughter in his Jefferson Township home. The guy is busy, to say the least.
The Usual Questions:
What are your favorite lake destinations? "The coves south and north of Liffy Island, Byram Cove near Sister Islands, our marina at night."
What is your earliest memory of Lake Hopatcong? "Laying flat on my stomach on the dock peeking between boards trying to catch fish, and then trying to extract them up through the boards. I also remember a lot of splinters, lost hooks, and sunburn."
Describe the perfect summer day on the lake. "The perfect day is 85 degrees, low humidity, blue sky, and calm breezes; however, I work on beautiful days, albeit in a great atmosphere. But when the marina closes, my wife, daughter and I take an evening cruise while eating dinner and listening to our little girl tell us all the things she sees on the lake while she eagerly sits on my lap and wants to drive the boat."