Lake Champlain had become a tourist attraction even after the Revolutionary War, but the primary use of the lake did not become recreational until after World War II (1941-1945). At that time the only commercial vessels that remained on the lake were car ferries and a small number of steel barges and diesel tugs. The solid economic footing of many Champlain Valley residents allowed them to purchase small pleasure boats following World War II. The development of reliable outboard motors for these small craft allowed almost anyone to purchase a small runabout for recreational use on Lake Champlain. The number of public beaches also increased, as well as the number of beachgoers.
FPO 1952 postcard showing the car ferry Roosevelt (LCMM Collection).
As more lakeshore property was purchased and developed for recreational use, concern for Lake Champlain’s water quality and health increased. A number of federal, state, and local ecological organizations were created to monitor and study the lake’s environment. Towns and cities conducted studies on how they should develop their waterfronts in an effort to revitalize local economies. Many of these projects never progressed beyond the drawing board, but others have succeeded in recent years.
Appreciation for Lake Champlain’s environmental and historical value has dramatically increased over the past two decades. Public school programs are beginning to emphasize the Champlain Valley’s historic role in regional, national, and international affairs. Citizens are more concerned about the health and preservation of the lake’s natural and cultural resources. A number of museums and historic sites dedicated to interpreting Lake Champlain’s natural and cultural history have opened in recent years to fulfill the public’s desire to learn more about the area’s past. Dozens of studies concerning the lake’s resources have been undertaken with public support to preserve Lake Champlain.