2011 Lake Champlain Flood Retrospective

Soggy boathouse
Soggy Rosslyn boathouse, 2011

We are lucky. In so many ways we are lucky. But this spring we are especially fortunate because Rosslyn boathouse is dry. Lake Champlain water levels are low. Our waterfront weathered winter — what winter there was — and spring without incurring the destructive flooding which tormented us a year ago.

The dock is in. The ski runabout is in. The Adirondack chairs are lined up along the waterfront. The beach and lawn and gardens are recovering from last spring’s endless inundation.

But all is not forgotten. Fully half of Rosslyn’s waterfront, maybe more, remains a boulder piled mess. Thousands of pounds of stone rip-rap installed last spring to stabilize NYS Rt. 22 buried two hundred year old cut stone retaining walls.

Kathryn Cramer enjoys submerged boathouse
Kathryn Cramer photographs flooded boathouse

But we are rebuilding. Slowly. Steadily recovering from the 2011 Lake Champlain floods.

In recognition of our current good fortune, and as an incense infused offering to the weather gods, I’ve compiled some snippets from blog posts past chronicling the anxious weeks-turned-months of flooding that Rosslyn boathouse endured.

I hope you’ll enjoy looking backward into the soggy past, even if for no other reason than the our boathouse is currently dry, high above Lake Champlain’s surface! For me, these words and images inspire a deep sigh of relief.

April 28: Lake Champlain Flood Defies History

According to this USGS data for Lake Champlain we’re making history. To be more precise, Lake Champlain’s water levels are making history… I can assure you that Rosslyn boathouse is now swamped… I’m worried that heavy wave action combined with a large floating log or two acting as a battering ram against the boathouse superstructure could be devastating. (Boathouse Needs a Snorkel)

April 28: Flooding Closes Essex-Charlotte Ferry

Rosslyn Boathouse under water spring/summer 2011.

Of course, if the ferry dock is under water, then Rosslyn boathouse isn’t far behind! As of mid-morning today, the water had risen about 6″ above the floor boards… So far the winds have remained low, minimizing boathouse damage from large logs and other flotsam surging against the dock, railings and walls. (Essex-Charlotte Ferry Flooded Out)

April 29: Waterfront Damaged, Boathouse Okay

Most of the drama surrounds the boathouse, especially since we’ve worked long and hard to restore it to health and happiness. But the waterfront is another big concern. Major erosion already, and that’s with relatively light wind and minimal wave action. Big wind and big waves could be catastrophic… Although we haven’t finished landscaping the entire waterfront, roughly a third (about 80′) looked great up until a few days ago. We’ve rebuilt the stone walls and planted a lawn on the terrace above the beach. The rear edge of the lawn, following the base of the next stone terrace had grown into a handsome day lily bed that stretched the full eighty feet. Spectacular in summer. Now virtually erased by drift wood grinding and churning in the waves. All hand planted. All pampered through the first season. All healthy and thriving earlier this week. All gone now. Memories. I can only hope that some of the bulbs are intact, floating around Lake Champlain, and that they will wash up on people’s beaches and surprise them this summer with heirloom blooms! (Lake Champlain vs. Rosslyn Boathouse)

May 1: Boathouse Submerged, Precautions Taken

Two sections of aluminum docking had gotten twisted and battered by waves and floating logs, and this morning the larger of the two had been knocked over the lowest stone retaining wall and lay upended on the submerged beach. Because the water’s now over my head on the beach and my waders only reach up to my chest, I had to work carefully from the terrace above the beach, slowly hauling the dock back up, waves and gravity working against me.

George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011, photo credit Kathryn Cramer
George Davis in Rosslyn boathouse on May 16, 2011, photo credit Kathryn Cramer

Before recovering the docks I waded through the boathouse. We’re no longer able to shut the main door because the water has swollen the bottom half too much to fit in the doorjamb. The water’s now thirteen inches deep inside, covering the first step and part of the second step leading up to the second floor. The two louvered doors leading out to the pier on the lake side had been battered all night by the waves, and the hinges were ripping. The temporary fastener we’d used to secure the doors was gauging the waterlogged wood. I released the doors and opened them wide, holding one side back with a rope and the other side back with a large stone. Now the water is surging through the inside of the boathouse, still tugging the doors against their restraints, but hopefully the damage will be less severe with them open. (Need a Hand?)

May 13: Flood Undermines Road and Waterfront

I’m still soggy and still anxious about the waves rolling through the interior of the boathouse and crashing against the rapidly eroding bank supporting Route 22, but I’m beginning to see that the glass is half full after all. And Lake Champlain? It’s still overfull! (Re-roofing and Flood Proofing)

June 1: Emergency Measures to Save Road

Stephen Phillips field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline/road condition
Stephen Phillips field sketch and notes of Rosslyn shoreline/road condition

The good news is that the [boathouse] structure remains sound, and damage so far has been minimal. Unfortunately we identified increasing surface mold… green, gray and black fuzzy mold!

Beneath the water level inside and outside, everything is covered in slippery, green algae… all of the surfaces that have been saturated for the better part of two months. And until the water level falls another 18″ or so, we’ll need to continue monitoring the waterfront from large debris, trees, etc. Constant vigilance and quick log wrangling has saved the structure significant damage so far…

Doorless and flooded Rosslyn boathouse, spring 2011.
Can’t fight nature! Doorless, flooded Rosslyn boathouse.

New York State DOT engineers [determined that road/waterfront] erosion was far more severe… completely eliminating most of the embankment and undermining the road. The pavement began to crack in deep fissures running parallel to the lake as the weight of the road caused it to settle and slough.

The remedy involved 250 tons — approximately ten tandem dump truck loads — of riprap dumped over the side of the road to arrest further erosion and stabilize the road… The DOT is continuing to monitor the road to determine whether or not additional stabilization will be necessary. In the event that the road continues to settle, the next step will be to install a steel sheet pile retaining wall… but we are hoping against hope that it will not be necessary to mar this historic waterfront with a steel retaining wall. (Friends, Flooding and Photos)

June 13: Architect Visits Flooded Boathouse

Edward Pais  was a classmate of mine at Deerfield Academy from 1986 to 1990, and he now practices architecture in Burlington, Vermont… he’s offered ongoing feedback about our boathouse during the Lake Champlain flooding. Recently he offered to come over and take a look… Ed’s reaction was encouraging, and despite pushing him into engineering territory a couple of times, I mostly listened and took mental notes… Ed’s recommendation to quickly and aggressively treat the mold situation was highlighted in a follow-up message after his visit. He suggested that we should remove the baseboards to inspect for mold… (Ed Pais visits Rosslyn Boathouse)

June 27: Toppling Tree Endangers Boathouse

The good news is that flooding is abating. Rapidly. In fact the water’s “fallen” to normal spring flood stage… Which means that we’re finally catching up on the damaged waterfront, repairing the boathouse, installing docks and boat hoist, etc. You may remember that large ash tree was undermined by the flood and was beginning to topple down over top of the boathouse. Not good. You may also remember that local arborist Mark Sauslgiver decided to install a tension line from high in the tree to the guardrail north of the boathouse. The idea was that in the event the trees roots gave way and the tree toppled, the line would pull the falling tree northward, sparing the boat house.

Ash tree undermined by 2011 Lake Champlain flood was removed to prevent damage to Rosslyn boathouse.
Ash tree undermined by 2011 Lake Champlain flood was removed to prevent damage to Rosslyn boathouse.

I liked the idea. Sounded good. Looked good when I drew a little diagram on paper. But, I’d be lying if I claimed that I was 100% confident it would work. That’s a big tree, and I had a difficult time imagining a static line enduring a fall much less staying taught and pulling thousands of pounds of gravity-fueled ash anywhere other than straight down. On top of the boathouse, the pier, and the railings. But, turns out Mark knew his tension lines.

Today his crew removed the tree, piece by piece, sending massive chunks of wood down a “zip line” to the curb or New York State Route 22 where they could be cut up and/or chipped. The entire affair was a success!

I’m deeply saddened to lose a mature, healthy tree that offered much appreciated shade in the heat of summer and served as a charming frame for images of the boathouse. But I am overjoyed that the tree was removed before gravity won. And I’ve been assured that sooner or later it would. (Rosslyn Boathouse Free from Toppling Ash)

With Lake Champlain retreating, Rosslyn boathouse intact and our waterfront recovering, the summer of 2011 finally began to get under way. And we’ve been making up for lost time ever sine! If you’re passing through Essex this summer, drop me a note and we’ll celebrate!

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at virtualDavis.com; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at 40x41.com; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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