BURLINGTON, Vt. – There are more than 300 shipwrecks in Lake Champlain, and one vessel appears set to join their ranks after over 100 years of operation.
The Adirondack Ferry was built in 1913, and it’s cruised reliably across Lake Champlain from Burlington to Port Kent, New York since 1954. A dwindling daily passenger load for the Lake Champlain Transportation Company means the Adirondack’s days are numbered. But it appears that it could have a new life as a scuba diving destination.
“It’s kind of a museum piece, and I’d hate to just cut it up into scrap,” said John Paul, the company’s port engineer.
For the past three years, Paul has been a driving force in the Lake Champlain Transportation Company’s plans to eventually submerge the Adirondack, hoping its storied history will draw divers from across the region and provide a modest boost to the local economy.
“We’re optimistic, we think it’s a great project,” Paul said. “It has benefits we can’t even foresee at this point… I’ve seen so many vessels made into museums or restaurants, and very often things go awry. They aren’t maintained the way they should be.”
Paul and his colleagues finally secured a permit to sink the ship last month from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, a big step in a lengthy approval process he referred to as “a labor of love.”
Not everyone has such a keen outlook on the ship’s final resting place, however. In the Vermont Legislature, Senator Brian Campion (D-Bennington) has made it clear he isn’t on board.
“It could have serious environmental impacts on the lake, it’s a stressed body of water as we know already from a number of different pollutants,” Sen. Campion said. “In my opinion, sinking this doesn’t seem to pass the straight-face test in any way.”
Sen. Campion said there isn’t much the Legislature can do this late in the process, but some lawmakers are hoping to change the approval process to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
“In a way, it’s up to the public,” Sen. Campion said. “If the public continues to express concern, it’s possible people could pull back those plans, but there isn’t a legislative way to stop this from moving forward at this point.”
Paul said pending approval from the City of Burlington and several other checkpoints, the Adirondack is scheduled to sink in June 2022, marking a new chapter in what’s been a lengthy history for the oldest continuously operating double-ended ferry in the U.S.
“She sailed in Jacksonville, New York City, Philadelphia and Chesapeake Bay,” Paul said. “She was 41 years old when she came here in 1954, that was before I was born, and I’m pretty old.”