Monday September 10, 2012

STOCKBRIDGE -- The latest effort to keep Stockbridge Bowl free of zebra mussels could be put to the test when hundreds of boaters take to the lake for the upcoming Josh Billings RunAground.

Canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders competing in the second leg of the annual triathlon can avail themselves of a newly installed boat wash facility at the bowl's boat ramp, prior to Sunday's race.

The Josh, as it's locally known, consists of a 27-mile bicycle race from Great Barrington to Stockbridge Bowl, followed by a five-mile loop around bowl and a six-mile foot race from the lake to Tanglewood in Lenox.

Normally open from 2 to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the boat wash will have extended hours on Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. and additional hours Sunday, 6 to 8 a.m., to accommodate the competitors, according to town officials.

"This is a high-pressure wash that heats up to 160 degrees, killing whatever may be attached to the boat," said George Shippey, chairman of the Stock bridge Zebra Mussel Committee.

Shippey noted the town-funded facility that opened a month ago has cleaned about a dozen water craft that had been in zebra mussel-infested waters. The thumbnail-sized mollusks, which can travel from lake to lake on the hulls of boats and in bilge water, push out native species and encrust drains, docks and dams, potentially choking water supplies.

While organizers of the Josh expect more than 400 canoes, kayaks and paddleboards will be launched into Stockbridge Bowl for the race, they expect many of them already will be decontaminated.


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"Very few will probably need washing as we have a high rate of returning [boaters] familiar with the drill," said race director Patty Spector.

Nevertheless, Spector says race participants will appreciate the convenience of the boat wash, as some are last minute entries.

In addition, Josh organizers work closely with the committee and Stockbridge Bowl Association, a homeowner's group, to ensure competitors arrive with water craft devoid of zebra mussels.

"Every participant has to fill out a form and [their boat] checked to make sure it hasn't been in infected waters," Spector said.

Since zebra mussels were first detected in the Berkshires three years ago, Stockbridge has been successfully aggressive in keeping zebra mussels from invading the bowl. Town meeting voters in May approved a community preservation grant to cover the $61,000 cost of the boat wash. The Stockbridge Bowl Association, Kripalu Center and the state have also contributed funds to pay for boat ramp monitors. The monitors check boats before they enter the bowl and educate their owners about the importance of preventing the spread of zebra mussels.

A recent state inspection of key points along the bowl by two scuba divers found no evidence of juvenile or adult mussels, according to Shippey.

"It's a compliment to the boating public and boat monitors who are doing a terrific job," he said.

In July 2009, Laurel Lake in Lee became the first -- and so far the only -- Berkshire County lake or pond to be infested with the invasive species. Zebra mussels did eventually spread from the lake downstream to Laurel Brook and the Housatonic River as far south as the Connecticut line.

Stockbridge Bowl is one of several other Berkshire lakes considered at high risk of being infected with zebra mussels.

Lakes are vulnerable to the mollusks if the water has high levels of acidity and calcium and a hard bottom, Shippey said. Stockbridge Bowl has two out of three factors, but has a soft bottom. Combined with the monitoring program, that reduces the risk.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.