BURLINGTON, Vt. — A ferry company that transports passengers and vehicles across Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York wants to see a century-old vessel turned into an underwater scuba diving destination just off the Burlington waterfront.
The Lake Champlain Transportation Company is hoping to donate the now-retired ferry “Adirondack," constructed in 1913, to the state of Vermont so it could become the latest addition to an underwater historic preserve.
Ferry company Operations Manager Heather Stewart called sinking the vessel that has carried passengers across Lake Champlain since 1954 “bittersweet," but it's better than the most practical alternative, selling it for scrap.
“We are saying goodbye. All of us here, the thought of her getting scrapped is an unpleasant thought," she said. “But to preserve her and for her to be part of the marine preserve would be great.”
To keep operating, the vessel would need significant and expensive renovations at a time when the number of people taking the hour-long ferry ride across the broad lake between Burlington and Port Kent, New York is down. The bulk of the company's ferries now carry passengers on shorter routes that are the quickest way to cross between Vermont and New York, rather than the scenic, leisurely ride.
The summertime route between Burlington and Port Kent will still run, but it will be done with two ferries rather than the three that included the Adirondack.
The vessel now named the Adirondack spent decades operating in other parts of the country before it arrived in Lake Champlain in 1954. For people along the lake, the Adirondack became easily identifiable by its distinctive profile.
Practical considerations made selling the Adirondack an unlikely proposition, and there is no room to store the vessel long-term on the waterfront.
So the ferry company is seeking permission to sink the ferry, after it is thoroughly cleaned of all oil, grease and other potential pollutants. All the doors and windows will be removed, and holes will be cut to aid in its sinking.
Laura Trieschmann, Vermont’s historic preservation officer who would issue the permit, said her first reaction upon hearing about the proposal was to try to understand the concept.
“There is such great love for this ferry. And the thought of sinking it didn’t register at first, like how are you saving it if you are sinking it?” she said. “But actually, that is the best way to preserve a historic resource so people can explore it in a different way.”
Trieschmann said public comments have been overwhelmingly favorable.
“I am anticipating that we shall move forward with the permits,” which will allow a full review of the project by state and federal environmental officials, she said.
It's hoped the ferry can be sunk, or reefed, this season.
The plan calls for sinking the Adirondack in about 70 feet of water, about a half-mile south of Lone Rock Point and about 1.2 miles west of the Burlington waterfront.
Once on the bottom, the highest point of the ferry would sit under about 25 feet of water.
The Adirondack would be easily accessible to qualified scuba divers.
There are currently 10 vessels sunk in Lake Champlain that are part of the underwater historic preserve. The preserve was created in 1985. Nine of the 10 vessels in the preserve are on the Vermont side of the lake.
Jonathan Eddy, co-owner of the Waterfront Diving Center on the Burlington waterfront, said there are hundreds of examples of vessels deliberately sunk off the coasts of the United States. But he said only a handful are in fresh water, including two in Lake Michigan off Chicago that have proven to be popular dive sites.
The Adirondack would provide opportunities for all levels of divers, from basic diving at the shallower depths to specially trained divers who could go inside the sunken ferry,
“This is going to be a big tourist draw, I am sure of it,” Eddy said.