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Lake Ontario marine sanctuary designation could boost Oswego tourism, research

Jill Heinerth
Oswego County
A diver inspects the bow of Queen of the Lakes, a Canadian schooner which sank with a cargo of coal off Sodus Bay in 1906.

The process of making the southeast region of Lake Ontario a national marine sanctuary, is in its next step. There are about 70 shipwrecks, some dating back to 1780 and aircraft from World War II, submerged in the area.

One of his favorite parts about diving into Lake Ontario to observe some of these shipwrecks, Oswego County Administrator Philip Church said, is descending the line.

“These beautiful ships sort of materialize out of the gloom below you, as you descend and drop down to their deck," Church said. "It’s an extraordinary experience. And then you’re suddenly standing on something that was sailing in the 1850s or earlier. Many of them are very well intact.”

Church said the nomination of Lake Ontario as a maritime heritage sanctuary, opens up the possibility for new opportunities in tourism, economic development and education for schools and universities.

"We have a unique collection here," Church said. "There's shipwrecks throughout the Great Lakes, but we have some of the oldest and they're well preserved because many of them are deep. We have others that are within the diving limit. It's a good combination of two different types of wrecks. Recreational and research type wrecks."  

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) said the designation is another thing that puts Oswego on the map.

“I think tourism is the missing piece to really revitalizing upstate New York,” Katko said.

The process could still take another 2-3 years before the designation is officially made. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will hold public meetings around the area to gather public input in June. Below is a list of the meetings:

Monday, June 10, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Fair Haven Fire Hall, 14447 Fair Haven Road, Sterling.

Tuesday, June 11, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Emergency Operations Center, 7376 Route 31, Lyons.

Wednesday, June 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Lake Ontario Conference Center, 26 E. First St., Oswego.

Thursday, June 13, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Jefferson Community College, 1220 Coffeen St., Jules Center, Room 6-002, Watertown.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.