By: Marty Kane
Balancing the varying interests and concerns of lakefront homeowners, fishermen, swimmers, paddlers, boaters, and other users of New Jersey’s largest public lake can be a difficult task. Historically a summer resort, the lake communities long dealt with influxes of people in the summer, the sound of orchestras and bands, the hum of amusement parks, and the craziness of summer at the lake. As early as 1922 there were speed restrictions imposed in River Styx because of complaints resulting from the “heavy weekend traffic.” The summer season’s “big issue” in 1953 was the incredible overcrowding at Hopatcong State Park. And in 2017, as a result of the ongoing boating concerns in Byram Cove, we worked with groups around the lake to create and distribute a voluntary set of rules entitled “Lake Hopatcong for All” in an effort to inspire collaboration and consideration among lake users. How to best share the wonderful body of water we know as Lake Hopatcong has not been easy and will likely always have its challenges.
To try to ensure a quality experience for all on Lake Hopatcong, a close relationship has developed among the NJ State Police Marine Bureau, Morris County Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol, the police departments from the four municipalities surrounding the lake, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.
These groups gathered last month at the Lake Hopatcong Foundation’s offices for our end-of-season meeting to discuss the successes and challenges from the past summer and to establish priorities and opportunities to collaborate on initiatives for the good of the lake, the surrounding communities, and lake users.
The 2022 season saw the New Jersey State Police, once again, assume the main responsibility for patrols on the lake seven days a week. A Memorandum of Agreement between the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office allowed Morris County to patrol in all areas of the lake, expanding their presence. The increased presence of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and their close coordination with the State Police was the most significant change this past summer and noticeable to most lake residents and users.
Pleased to report no major safety incidents on the lake, the State Police and Sheriff’s Office made nearly one thousand stops of boats throughout the season. While approximately one hundred summonses were issued, most of these stops resulted in teaching moments, particularly for the many new and inexperienced boaters on the lake.
Looking forward to next season, the State Police are working on an improved boat rental process, an area of recent concern for many lake stakeholders. Videos are being developed in an effort to ensure boat renters receive more uniform and thorough instruction before going out on the lake. Other discussion points included the identification of dilapidated structures on the lake before they create safety and navigational problems, ice-safety education for area youth, and the creation of uniform noise ordinances over all four municipalities to make enforcement more efficient and effective.
We are grateful to our state, county, and municipal law enforcement agencies for their dedication to a safe experience on Lake Hopatcong. We look forward to 2023 and a safe lake that can be enjoyed by all.