Founded in 2012, the Lake Hopatcong Foundation (LHF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to the improvement of New Jersey’s largest lake and its surrounding communities. Local business owner Béla Szigethy conceived of the idea in the summer of 2011, after years of uncertainty regarding the state’s funding of necessary resources for Lake Hopatcong. Inspired by New York’s Central Park Conservancy, Szigethy envisioned a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing for and improving the Lake Hopatcong environment and experience. Incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in the State of New Jersey in March 2012, the LHF was established with a founding board that included Szigethy, Tom Flinn, Marty Kane, and Jessica Murphy. Jess became the organization’s first president and Lauren Rossi was named the organization’s first secretary/treasurer.
A launch event in June 2012 introduced the organization to the Lake Hopatcong community. The fledgling organization established its first office in borrowed space at Nolan’s Point. Much effort went into defining the mission and goals of the organization. The original mission statement established the organization’s purpose as “dedicated to improving Lake Hopatcong for all who use it, now and in the years to come.” From the outset, the LHF was intended to encompass more than solely environmental issues. With input from local residents, it soon became apparent that issues important to the community included water quality, better solutions for lake weeds, water level concerns, boating safety, and general quality of life.
In 2013, boating safety was addressed through the establishment of a partnership with the New Jersey State Police and the Morris County Sheriff’s Office with the LHF contributing funding for additional weekend patrols. The LHF also assumed responsibility for water quality monitoring as a near thirty-year source of continuous data was about to end due to a loss of state funding. The foundation also launched the Lake Hopatcong Guide app, took over management of the Water Scouts program to combat invasive species, and promoted local businesses with the establishment of a Shop Local month. In addition, the LHF hosted a series of restaurant nights which combined lively discussions of lake issues with an opportunity for people to get to know each other. A lake-wide cleanup organized by the LHF in November in conjunction with the five-year drawdown brought together some 400 volunteers who collected 23,000 pounds of debris from the lakebed. (A second cleanup in November 2018 attracted even more volunteers than in 2013.) Fundraisers that year included a miniature golf outing, an art auction featuring local artists (which morphed into the annual summer gala), a charity clay shoot at Hudson Farm, and an Autumn Bike Challenge, which evolved into the annual Lake Loop.
The LHF began educational programming in 2014 with the introduction of ice safety presentations in local schools. Partnerships with Seton Hall University, Drew University, and Montclair State University allowed the LHF to undertake a number of environmental and GIS mapping projects. The installation of floating wetland islands in Ashley Cove helped to reduce nutrients in the lake. In partnership with Morris County, the LHF commissioned a feasibility study for the historic pavilion at Lee’s County Park. The LHF also hosted the first Lake Hopatcong Block Party, which continues as a popular annual tradition bringing over 200 vendors and 3,500 attendees to Hopatcong State Park.
The LHF undertook its biggest project to date with the purchase of the historic Lake Hopatcong Station building in November 2014. Securing significant grants and tremendous community support, the organization worked toward its goal of procuring a home of its own which would also provide space for community programs.
In 2015, educational programming expanded with the introduction of the school field trip program, bringing hundreds of fourth-graders to Hopatcong State Park for learning activities that included a boat ride, stream water macroinvertebrate sampling, a discovery hike, an EnviroScape presentation, and a visit to the Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum. The Lake Steward program was also initiated, educating boaters at Lee’s County Park and Marina on the prevention of spreading invasive species.
A dock numbering program begun in 2016 addressed safety issues that had been identified during emergency situations. With support from local emergency responders, a plan was developed and approximately one-third of the lake’s docks were numbered within the first year. Planning for the Lake Hopatcong Trail also began in 2016, aiming to string together some 40 miles of trails that would eventually circle the lake through all four surrounding municipalities. The first 10-mile segment opened in 2017 in the Borough of Hopatcong. In 2019, Jefferson Township added an important piece of the trail linking Prospect Point to Liffy Island.
The educational program expanded greatly in 2018 with the acquisition of the floating classroom, a 40’ custom boat that immediately became an integral part of the field trip program, allowing students the opportunity for hands-on lake ecology and water quality learning. Some 800 fourth graders utilized the floating classroom during its inaugural season. The number increased to over 1,200 in 2019.
The LHF achieved a major milestone in December 2018 as its operations moved into the restored Lake Hopatcong Station, newly dubbing the Lake Hopatcong Foundation Environmental and Cultural Center. Public programming kicked off in the building in spring 2019 and the LHF hosted numerous local and state organizations in its first months. The site is now the permanent home for monthly meetings of the Lake Hopatcong Commission. During summer 2019, the LHF hosted the Smithsonian Institute’s traveling Water/Ways exhibit and during the holidays a model train display.
Advocating for Lake Hopatcong is an important part of the LHF mission. In January 2018, with the tremendous support of local legislators, the foundation played a critical role in the successful effort to obtain an annual appropriation of $500,000 for the operations of the Lake Hopatcong Commission from power vessel licensing fees.
During the summer of 2019 Lake Hopatcong was confronted by an unprecedented harmful algal bloom (HAB). Similar blooms tormented lakes throughout the region. Much effort has gone into working with the Lake Hopatcong Commission and with state and local officials to obtain resources to undertake both long-term efforts to minimize the chances for future HABs as well as short-term solutions to respond to HABs should they appear again. In February 2020, a NJDEP grant in the amount of $500,000 was announced. Combined with funding from Morris and Sussex Counties, the Lake Hopatcong Commission, and the LHF, $830,000 will be spent on demonstration projects and efforts to combat HABs at Lake Hopatcong.
The native gardens on the grounds of the Lake Hopatcong Station were begun by LHF volunteers in 2016, to showcase native plants of New Jersey which are easier to grow and generally need no fertilizer or watering. In addition to over 70 varieties of plants, the gardens feature five blight-resistant American Chestnut trees which are part of the American Chestnut Foundation’s efforts to restore the tree to its former native range. In 2020, the native garden became part of the American Public Gardens Association.
As the LHF heads toward its second decade it will continue to work towards making Lake Hopatcong the best it can be.