Memorial Day could have been mistaken for a late-August day on Lake Hopatcong—the weather was warm and sunny, a fitting (if unofficial) kickoff to summer. The water is still low on Lake Hopatcong on Memorial Day 2009, but some boats still take advantage of the pleasant weather.Still, despite the sailboats racing and motorboats cruising, the scene wasn’t as active as a typical holiday weekend, when the buzz of boats and the cheers of kids trailing on watertubes blend to create a continuous soundtrack on the water. The lake’s water level—still a foot and a half below the dam’s gauge height—kept many boats off the lake, and continues to frustrate lake business owners. “I’m still down in the marina, and haven’t been able to put a single boat in yet,” said Cliff Beebe, owner of Beebe Marina in Lake Hopatcong. “I’m in deep trouble.” His deep trouble comes from not being in deep water. Beebe has 34 boat slips that are sitting empty. “I don’t collect money on those until I can deliver and get a boat in the water,” he said. His isn’t the only marina struggling—Bridge Marina, Barnes Bros., Lake’s End, and other marinas all reported some degree of business shortfall this year. The weakened economy hasn’t helped, either. But the outlook is better at the Royal Wave Marina in Great Cove. The slips are full, and general manager Tony Cappello says plenty of his clients were out cruising on the lake during the weekend. “I think the negative press kept more people away for the holiday weekend than the water level,” he said. “I had one person call who said, ‘I understand you’re not allowed to put a boat in the water.’ She was shocked when I told her we could put her boat in. There’s a lot of misinformation out there.” The Royal Wave has the advantage of being in a deeper cove than other marinas, so Cappello was able to launch boats and fill slips as he normally does during a drawdown year. “We’re still ahead of where we were in 2004, the last time the lake had a huge drawdown,” he said. Fewer people are buying boats, Cappello says, but he attributes that to the economy. “Sales are a little off, but they’ve still been steady,” he says. “Is it terrible? No.” Marinas like Beebe’s, though, are in rougher shape. The shore around his business at Brady Bridge was flushed with sand and sediment during the flood of 2000, so his slips are in shallower water than those at the Royal Wave. Beebe says he’s rarely seen things worse in his 77 years on the lake. The situation has highlighted strained relations between the Lake Hopatcong community and the state, which controls the dam and, therefore, the water level. Beebe is one of several residents who voiced grievances at the Lake Hopatcong Commission on May 18. “The big issue that has to come up is the ownership of the lake,” Beebe said this week. Though Lake Hopatcong is considered a state-owned lake, Beebe argues that it belongs to private people. “We have property rights, and the state is disregarding them.” Representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection at the commission meeting assured concerned residents that they were looking out for the welfare of the lake and the broader ecosystem. Currently, the dam is releasing 4.2 million gallons of water per day to help sustain aquatic life downstream—more than lake residents would like to see let go, but less than the recommended 5.3 mgd. [An inquiry with the DEP for an updated comment was unanswered as this story was published. This story will be updated if and when a response from Trenton is provided.] As another weekend of recreation approaches, a rainy week has slowly shifted the water level upward, but not enough for many businesses. Still, Cappello hopes business owners and residents stay positive, so visitors don’t skip the lake altogether this summer. “I’ve tried to not be in the negative mode,” he said. “Could it be busier? Yes. But it’s not dead.”

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