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Creative Writing: Watercraft Stewards during the Holidays: July Fourth & Father’s Day and Beyond By Nick Aiezza

The following writing by watercraft steward Nick Aiezza on his experiences as a watercraft steward. You can find his first writing on his experiences working this summer here: https://fingerlakesinvasives.org/there-is-no-perfect-place-watercraft-stewardship-and-outreach-in-the-finger-lakes/. Nick Aiezza has been a watercraft steward in the Finger Lakes going on four years. He also works at the Writing Center at Finger Lakes Community College.

Watercraft Stewards during the Holidays: July Fourth & Father’s Day and Beyond By Nick Aiezza

A sugarfree Gatorade goes a long way when you are on your feet for six straight hours. When the boat launch is quite likely unshaded and paved, the heat radiates into what feels like your marrow: every steward movement is tracked by the sun and every sunbeam is absorbed in blacktop and pulsed into every steward step. Every steward shift is ten hours, and during holiday weekends like Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, ten hours stacks on the side of steward exhaustion. This is a test of our mettle, yes. Like meditation facing the frozen wall of an uninsulated abbey into February’s worst winter plans, watercraft stewards blaze stalwart into ghastly volumes of watercraft inspections and public interactions with the intent of a monk, the conviction a trapeze artist, and the solace of grace itself. We are carried by whatever breeze we are able to capture between boat inspections and data entry and the Watercraft Steward Program (WSP) coordinator’s expert visit, dropping off water and Gatorade and gorp and chips. Thank Gaia. Carpe diem.



The Finger Lakes are becoming a tourist destination. Scratch that. Our region has become a tourist destination. Full blown, present perfect tense on that one. The Finger Lakes hosts millions of visitors every year; in fact, according to a thorough study produced for the Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance, in 2018 the Finger Lakes region saw 5.56 million visitors. Currently, we don’t have reliable data on Finger Lakes tourism for 2020, the year of Covid-19; however, in 2020 Watercraft Stewards saw an increase in boaters across the region, from motorists to paddlers, and many of which were first time boat owners. Compared to 2019, some launches in the Finger Lakes region experienced up to a 200% increase in boater traffic in 2020. Most launches experienced between 15% and 50% increases in traffic in 2020.


As more and more people are making their way to the region, there is a greater opportunity for stewards to make a greater impact. Current Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) data on the 2020 season reveals over 48,000 boats were seen by stewards as they were launched into or retrieved from a regional waterway. All of these boats were inspected between the end of May and the end of October, roughly five months. All during a pandemic. This is a seriously high volume of watercraft users – the average number of inspections for this program in 2016-2019 was about 32,000 watercraft.


All of the boaters that watercraft stewards interact with are not tourists, to be sure. A solid base of our inspections and conversations at the boat launch are with people who live locally, who haul their boats between the lakes, recreating and fishing, and experiencing in their daily lives what millions of people travel hundreds of miles to catch: a closeness to environment and the gifts of this place.


Furthermore, summer holidays—Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, in particular—are some of the busiest weekends in the Finger Lakes, especially for watercraft stewards. According to FLI Watercraft Steward surveys in 2020, Father’s Day saw 948 inspections and July 4th saw 1215 inspections across the region. This is significant for any number of observations, but I would like to emphasize the following: watercraft stewards must be vigilant in order to meet the increased volume of traffic at the launch; we have an opportunity to build meaningful connections with more people, as we flex the educational outreach aspect of the job description; and we meet this amplification of inspections and interactions safely, as summer heat swells, and gracefully, as watercraft users flood the launch relentlessly.


Continuing the trend of increased recreational use of Finger Lakes regional waterways, preliminary FLI data for this current season recorded 1440 boats on this past Father’s Day (20 June 2021). Fourth of July this year saw another 1375 inspections by FLI watercraft stewards across the region, from Hemlock Lake to the Port of Rochester to Otisco Lake. As the first and last set of eyes on the boat and trailer as they are launched and retrieved from the waterbody, watercraft stewards must shoulder an important responsibility in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS), especially as more people are using Finger Lakes waters. Prevention is the first goal of invasive species management; it is the most economical, in terms of financial cost and cost to ecosystem health. Watercraft stewards perform an important role in early defense and rapid response at this stage in AIS management.


Interacting with more people at the launch allows for increased opportunities to converse with the community and to educate watercraft users and other members of the public about AIS and prevention strategies for boaters. Tourists in the Finger Lakes make their way to the parks where many of our launch sites are occupied by watercraft stewards. For every single boat inspection that stewards execute, there are handfuls of people prepared to ride in the watercraft, as well. Sometimes these people include those who have never before been in a boat, and they are accompanying the boat owner as a guest for holiday debauchery. These are fun and principal connections for watercraft stewards, and as we hand them a koozie or towel with the FLI insignia, we may raise awareness about AIS prevention and management at the same time.


And watercraft stewards do this work with safety and poise. Father’s Day and Fourth of July are some of the biggest weekends for us, but the Finger Lakes region as a whole is fully awake and raging on a daily basis, right on through the end of August and into September. Our mettle and diligence carries through to every other day of the season, with increased responsibility and teamwork, as the number of boats on the water continues to climb. We get through together: watercraft stewards with lead watercraft stewards and watercraft stewards with the public and you, too. Our WSP coordinator, with the delivery of water and gatorade and gorp and chips on the Fourth of July—in a way, allows for my own holiday barbeque in the cottonmouth heat of a swollen blast of humidity and a sea of smiling, celebratory faces. In aqua sanitas.



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