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LWA History

Joseph West photograph, courtesy of the Gunn Historical Museum
In 1916, a group of property owners around Lake Waramaug appointed a committee to provide for the formation of a Lake Waramaug Association, and in August of 1917 twenty-five members attended the first meeting of the Association at the Club House of the Lake Waramaug Country Club. They adopted bylaws, set annual dues of five dollars, and elected Nelson B. Mead as President. The first Annual Meeting was held in 1920, the Association was first incorporated in 1932, and it became a tax-exempt organization in 1995.

From the beginning, the Association has been made up of people who care deeply about Lake Waramaug, the natural environment, and the whole Lake community. And our central areas of concern and activity have remained largely the same: the ecology of the Lake and its environs; the safe use of the Lake for recreational purposes; the condition and safety of the Lake roads; and the creation and observance of appropriate land use regulations and practices in the towns bordering the Lake. The brief history of our work that follows summarizes our main achievements over the years and gives a good picture of the kinds of activities in which we are still involved.

Since its inception, the Association has worked closely with the Lake towns of Washington, Warren, and Kent to achieve our goals. And we maintain a longstanding collaboration with the Lake Waramaug Task Force (established in 1976), whose focus is water quality and the overall environmental health of the Lake, and the Lake Waramaug Authority (established in 1981), whose focus is public safety on the Lake waters.

Traffic & Safety

Road Conditions and Safety

The conditions and safety of the roads around the Lake were among the Lake Waramaug Association's first principal concerns. Beginning in 1919, the Association worked with the three Lake towns to improve and maintain their sections of the roads, which were all dirt roads until the 1930s.

Traffic on the Lake roads increased with the creation of the Lake Waramaug State Park at the Kent end of the Lake in 1922, and throughout the 1920s the Association continued to be concerned with such issues as road conditions; the installation of signage at dangerous points and corners in the roads; and the prohibition of parking in certain places.

In 1928, a new State road (Route 45) was laid out on the east shore of the Lake, and the Association made a request to the State that as many trees as possible along the new road be spared. In 1956, the State acquired the Lake roads in Warren and Washington (S.R. 478), and from that time forward the Association has dealt with the State Department of Transportation - primarily through the Selectmen of the Lake towns - on issues relating to road conditions and safety. As a case in point, in 2009 and 2010 the Association succeeded in having the DOT install warning signage on the dire curves in West Shore Road on Cheerie Point - which had been a safety concern for years - and reduce the speed limit in these very dangerous places to 15 and 20 miles per hour. Also in 2010, after a long period of letters and appeals to the DOT from the Association, a badly deteriorated section of West Shore Road at Cheerie Point was rebuilt, and a section of road along the shoreline that had been about to collapse was repaired.

Speeding on the Lake roads has been another longtime concern of the Association, which has periodically arranged for a special police patrol to enforce the speed limit and enhance public safety. The first such patrol was set up in 1923, when the Association asked the State Police to provide a patrolman for summer Sundays and holidays, to be paid for by the Association. This patrol was re-instituted at various periods throughout the years. Having not been active for some time, the patrol was started up once again in the summer of 2012, due to renewed concerns about speeding - especially since the Lake roads are now used, not only by more vehicles than ever before, but by a growing number of pedestrians and bicyclists. A private-duty police officer, whose time is paid for by the Association, patrols the Lake roads periodically on weekends throughout the high season, both to enforce the speed limit and to enhance the safety of all who use the Lake roads.

Scenic Road Designation of the Lake Roads, 1996

At the Association's Membership Meeting in June of 1996, the members present unanimously adopted a resolution that the Association apply for Scenic Road Designation of the State highways surrounding the Lake (comprising all the shoreline roads). Scenic Road Designation recognizes the importance of the area through which the road passes as a valuable public asset because of its scenic features, natural resources, and sometimes man-made historical elements as well; therefore, the road itself merits special protection. Scenic Road Designation prohibits significant changes to the road such as widening or straightening, and means to ensure that the character of the road and its scenic value are preserved.

During the summer of 1996, the Chair of the Association's Traffic & Safety Committee solicited support for the application from State political representatives, lakeside Inns, the Litchfield Hills Travel Council, local land preservation groups, and residents of the Lake and its environs; sixty-six such residents responded with written statements of support for the Scenic Road Designation. The extensive supporting materials for the application also included a description of natural features and resources of specific interest around the Lake, including numerous mature trees, farm fields, and expansive views of the lake and its surrounding forested hills; a list of lakeside properties of historical, cultural, and scenic notability, including cottages and stately homes from the late nineteenth century; and photographs - all taken from the travel portion of the Lake roads - of a number of the important scenic features mentioned in the application.

In the cover letter to the Commissioner of the State Department of Transportation accompanying the application, the Chair of the Traffic & Safety Committee stated that "Lake Waramaug is truly a gem among the natural resources of the State," and that the roads for which the Association was seeking Scenic Road Designation passed through an area with "significant and distinctive natural and man-made features": an area "truly unrivaled in the State." The Scenic Road Advisory Committee of the DOT agreed with the Association's assessment, and on December 26, 1996, the Lake roads (Route 45 and S.R. 478 in the towns of Washington and Warren) were formally designated as Scenic Roads. The Chairman of the DOT Committee noted that "the excellent presentation of the application, the positive response from the Connecticut Historical Commission and the impressive vistas and views provided along this rural roadway" were instrumental in achieving the Scenic Road Designation.

Lake Use

Boating Regulations and Water Safety

The Lake Waramaug Association has been concerned with boating regulations and safe boating practices since its inception. In 1957, new motor boat regulations were established by the order of the Selectmen of Washington, Warren, and Kent at the instigation of the Association; in 1962, the Association asked the Selectmen of the three Lake towns to take concerted action to submit identical ordinances regulating the use of motor boats to the newly organized State Boating Safety Commission; and in 1973, boating regulations were printed and distributed at Association expense to home and business owners around the Lake. In 1967, the Association donated the first motor boat for the Lake patrol, and contributed the funds to purchase a new patrol boat in 1975. Since the establishment of the three-town Lake Waramaug Authority in 1981, the Lake towns jointly purchase new patrol boats as needed. The Association did, however, contribute to the purchase of a Search & Rescue Airboat in 2006. While the Lake Waramaug Authority now has principal responsibility for monitoring and improving water safety, the Association continues to collaborate closely with this organization to support its work.

The Lake Waramaug Agreement, 1995 - 2004

In 1995, the State of Connecticut proposed constructing a major boat launch at the Lake Waramaug State Park that would include a parking area for 40 cars with boat trailers and 45 moorings for boats along the shoreline of the State Park. This proposal met with fierce opposition from the citizens and public officials in Washington, Warren, and Kent, who were concerned that this high number of motor boats was too much for Waramaug considering its size and shape and that the winding, narrow Lake roads to the State Park could not safely accommodate this volume of cars trailing large motor boats. Of additional concern was that the State plan had no provision for inspection of boats entering the Lake and that this unsupervised access would allow invasive plants into the Lake on in-coming motor boats.

Due to the level of opposition to its proposal, the DEP agreed to put construction of a State boat ramp on hold. In 1997, the Association was instrumental in helping to create the Lake Waramaug Coalition, composed of representatives of the three Lake towns and various local organizations concerned about the Lake, including the Lake Waramaug Task Force. The purpose of the Coalition was to come up with a better plan: one that would allow increased public access to the Lake for motor boats, while at the same time ensuring that the number of these boats was not so great that it would damage the ecology or disturb the balanced recreational use of the Lake, and requiring that all motor boats entering the Lake be inspected for invasive species. The Coalition also wanted to come up with a site for the launch other than the State Park - one that would allow for better supervision and for Town rather than State administration - and after lengthy discussion and exploration of possibilities, it was decided that an enlarged and improved launch at the existing Washington Town Ramp was the best location.

By 2003, the Coalition had drafted a proposed "Lake Waramaug Agreement" between the Connecticut DEP and the towns of Washington, Warren, and Kent. Its key provisions were as follows:

In January of 2003, formal discussion began between the DEP and the Lake towns, with support and assistance from Connecticut Senator Andrew Roraback. The terms of the agreement were finalized the following year, and it then had to be approved by the residents of the Lake towns of Washington, Warren, and Kent. At Town Meetings in the late summer of 2004, residents of all three towns voted to authorize their First Selectmen to sign the Lake Waramaug Agreement, and it was executed in September.

The Washington Boat Launch and Invasive Species Inspection Program

Once the Lake Waramaug Agreement was executed, the Town of Washington began the lengthy process of enlarging and improving its boat launch, and the Lake Waramaug Association continued to be closely involved in the project in various ways, including a significant contribution of funds.

The complex design phase of the project - which entailed ongoing discussions between the Town of Washington and the Connecticut Departments of Environmental Protection and Transportation, whose requirements had to be met - took about two years to complete, and after several revisions, a final design was approved late in 2006. Work at the site began in the following spring of 2007 with the demolition of the existing boat-storage building, and the Town then proceeded to reconstruct the boat ramp and parking area, and to erect a new facilities building with a residential apartment and storage space for equipment and the Search & Rescue Airboat. The new launch was substantially complete by June of 2008 and opened for its first season of operation.

An integral aspect of the Washington Boat Ramp, as stipulated in the Lake Waramaug Agreement, is the program to inspect all motor boats coming through the launch for invasive plants. The program was up and running for the first season of the launch in 2008, and has been continually monitored and improved since then. The Board of Selectmen of Washington, the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission (which operates the program), and the Lake Waramaug Task Force - with the support and collaboration of the Association - have all been working together to create a program that is maximally effective in protecting the Lake, as well as educational for the boaters involved.

In the summer of 2010, an improved sticker system to verify that boats have been inspected was introduced, with three types of color-coded stickers: the seasonal stickers for residents and non-residents, and those for day boaters. In 2011, after repeated requests by the Lake organizations, the State put up a sign at the State Park notifying motor boaters of the need to get their boats inspected before launching - including car-top boats with motors under 12 hp - and directing them to either the Washington launch or to trained personnel at Dowler's Garage in New Preston should the launch be closed.

Under the terms of the Washington boat inspection ordinance of 2002, any boat entering the Lake at the Washington launch is subject to a fine if the boat does not have an inspection sticker; the ordinance does not cover boats launched elsewhere on the Lake. In 2011, this gap in the enforcement system was closed when the State - due to the efforts of the Lake Waramaug Task Force and the Lake Waramaug Authority - authorized the police to issue a ticket with a $90 fine to any motor boat found on the Lake, regardless of where it was launched, that does not have a valid inspection sticker.

Land Use

Land Use Regulations

A principal early concern of the Lake Waramaug Association was health and sanitation around the Lake, and in 1917, the Association arranged for the local Health Officer to inspect the septic systems of all the Lake properties. Ten years later, in 1927, the Association asked the State Health Inspector to investigate the septic tank of the popular Loomarwick Hotel on West Shore Road, as well as the toilet in a houseboat moored off Cheerie Point. The Inspector was also asked to put an end to the common practice of washing cars and trucks in the shallow cove of the Lake near Ash Swamp. And in 1947, the Association began testing the Lake water for bacteria and other harmful impurities (this testing is now regularly carried out by the State).

The first zoning regulations specifically aimed at the properties around the Lake were adopted in Washington and Warren in 1933, and from that time forward the Association has monitored land use regulations and enforcement around the Lake, and encouraged the Lake towns to adopt better regulations as needed and to see that they are enforced. In 1948, a special Association committee was formed to make recommendations for improvement of zoning regulations in the town of Warren, and in 1951, the Association urged Warren to adopt a building permit procedure similar to the one in the town of Washington. And in 1952, the Association was alerted to a special meeting to be held in Washington to act upon a petition filed by a group of residents asking for the abolition of all zoning regulations in the entire town. Nearly 1000 residents filled the Washington Town Hall for the meeting and, fortunately, the appeal was defeated by a vote of 530 to 300.

A case in point that demonstrates Association concern with land use over the years is the property at 47 West Shore Road. Beginning in the 1930s, this was the site of the Casino restaurant and nightclub, which closed in 1981. The Association closely monitored the property throughout the 1980s, during which time there were constant issues relating to proper land use there that the Association had to address. In 1981, the Association opposed a plan to build four condominium units on the property in violation of Washington zoning regulations, and in 1982 opposed a plan to reopen the building as a roadhouse (a non-conforming use). The following year, the Association again went on record opposing any violation of the Washington zoning regulations on the Casino property. During the next few years, both the Association and the Lake Waramaug Task Force worked to stop the illegal use of the site as a marina. Finally, in 1988, the Casino owners were anxious to sell, and a group of Lake residents purchased the property in order to put an end to the zoning violations there. They resold the property in 1999 with a deed of conservation restriction (the same as a conservation easement) dedicated to the Association that prohibits any future non-conforming use as a roadhouse, and allows the Task Force to create and maintain a model buffer planting along the shoreline. The Association supported the design and installation of this buffer (planted in 2003), which consists of native trees, shrubs, and other plants designed to protect the water of the Lake by catching and absorbing storm-water runoff and inhibiting soil erosion. An information card is available at the site, which continues to be maintained by the Task Force and to serve as a model for other properties around the Lake.

— by Heather Allen

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