Nearly 200 people packed the Jefferson House on Friday night as the Lake Hopatcong Alliance held its first fundraiser, and it wasn’t just the raffle winners who received some very good news.
State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco announced to those in attendance that the alliance would receive its full request for grant money from the I Boat NJ program, meaning the group would receive state funds (directed toward marine activity and paid for by boat registration fees) to support its efforts to study the types of weeds on the lake, test different weed-control methods, perform a fiscal impact study of the lake economy, hold a Lake Hopatcong festival, and launch a Lake Hopatcong awareness campaign.
Bucco worked alongside fellow state Sen. Steven V. Oroho and assemblymen Anthony M. Bucco, Michael Patrick Carroll, Gary R. Chiusano, and Alison Littell McHose to unfreeze the grant money in Trenton, where fiscal crisis has tightened up most forms of public funding. “The six of us were working on it and we were able to secure the funding for the alliance,” Bucco said.
But that announcement was just one facet of the Lake Hopatcong Alliance’s first major public event, a sold-out affair that served as an unofficial coming out party for the nascent organization, which launched last May amid the lake’s water-level crisis.
“I’m quite impressed,” said Mark Franek of Hopatcong, who has lived on the lake for about 20 years and is a member of the alliance. “It’s an important thing they’ve got going here; we’re losing our [state] funding and we want the lake to be clean and protected.”
Ray Fernandez, president of the alliance and Lake Hopatcong resident, said it was a great start to get the organization’s efforts rolling. “We’re all here for the same thing,” he said. “We care about the lake.”
Alliance vice president Ron Sorensen said he was impressed by the crowd and how word-of-mouth efforts had drawn people from all parts of the lake community. “This is a real diverse group of people, and it’s great to see so many people here who really care about this place, even if it’s for a variety of different reasons,” he said.
The specific component of the group’s mission that received a boost from the evening’s fundraising was the Lake Hopatcong Awareness Program. The aim of the program is to empower boaters and other lake users to better understand the importance of the lake environment and community, to better grasp their impact on the lake, and to be aware of opportunities to protect it. “We really want to encourage people to be stewards of the lake,” said Yanique Thorman, the alliance’s treasurer and point person for the awareness campaign.
Funds directed at the awareness effort will support two major goals: to distribute booklets at launches and marinas and to post informative display signs at those lake access points. The booklets will feature a map of the lake, rules and regulations, and information about the lake’s history, recreational opportunities, community groups, and parks and public access, as well as invasive species warnings and methods to ensure bilges, outdrives, trailers, and vehicles are clean of oils, pollutants, and invasive species when entering the lake. The display signs will educate boaters about keeping the waters clean and about invasive species (in particular, water chestnuts and hydrillia) and their disposal.
“I moved to a lakefront home five years ago and bought a boat, and I knew nothing about the rules on the lake or where the no-wake zones were or anything like that,” Thorman said. “If this program existed when I first arrived, I really would have benefited from it.”
Friday’s event—which featured live music from the local band Nite Shift, a historical presentation by Marty Kane, and an expansive tricky tray and raffle—was an early step toward sustaining the Lake Hopatcong Alliance’s coffers and, therefore, moving the awareness program forward. The news from Sen. Bucco cemented the idea that the group’s mission will be backed with funding from the state.
“This group is about getting something done,” Sorensen said. “We really feel like we’re accomplishing some things on behalf of the lake, which we all deeply care about.”