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The Denizen of Lake Champlain
By Craig Heinselman
When one says Lake Monster, the initial response is a connection to the most famous lake creature of them all, Nessie of Loch Ness in Scotland. However, North America has a rich history of Lake Creatures as well. Ranging from Ogopogo in Okanagan Lake of British Columbia, to Tessie of Lake Tahoe in California to perhaps the most famous lake creature Champ from Lake Champlain in Vermont, New York and Quebec (Canada).

Lake Champlain [MAP ] has been called the other great lake due to its size and depth. The lake borders Vermont and New York on the American side and Quebec on the Canadian side, and runs from Whitehall, New York to the Richelieu River in Quebec. Stretching 109 miles in length and up to 11 miles in width, the lake boasts impressive depths to 400 feet and a water area of 440 square miles. The lake itself formed around 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age, prior to that the Champlain area (named after the explorer Samuel de Champlain from his exploration in the 1600's) was made of an arm of the Atlantic Ocean called the Champlain Sea.

Early history of the area in relation to the creature now given the moniker of Champ, can be traced back to the original inhabitants, the Native Americans. At least three bands of Native Americans lived in the area, the Iroquois on the western side (New York side now) and the Abnaki and Algonquin groups on the eastern side (Vermont side now). These groups of Native Americans had stories associated with a horned serpent which may be a link to reports of the lake creature exhibiting horn like protuberances from its head, or may be but a symbolic term associated with ancestral beliefs. The other tie to the horned serpent belief may lie within the odd formations of Split Rock (near Essex, New York now) wherein natural forming rock structures resembled petrified snakes. The tribes of the area revered these snake like formations. The tribes reportedly had a name for the horned serpents of the lake, chaousarou, but this name may also be linked to one of the fish species of the lake and not the creature itself.

The current interest in the creature of Lake Champlain stretches back to July 1609 when Samuel de Champlain recorded seeing a serpentine like creature in the lake. However, this is a false statement often circulated. It is understood more so that Champlain did visit the lake and described some of the native species, including gar, but did not describe what would be called "Champ" today. His exploration though does mark the beginning of the modern "Champ" era though, and for that he is irrevocably tied to the possible creature in the lake. The history continues with sporadic reports in the 1800's. Although few to no reports from the early-1700's, with few people in the area until the mid to late eighteenth century the chronicling of events from that time frame is next to impossible. But, as the area became more populated the reports appeared more regularly, until the mid 1800's when reports were coming in every year.

In the 1970's the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation (LCPI) group was formed, headed by Joseph Zarzynski. The formation and active research of this area resurrected the legend of Lake Champlain, and once again brought it into the attention of the world. Through water surveillance and interviews, the LCPI slowly gathered reports and arbitrary clues towards the existence of Champ. During this time a photograph was taken.

Sandra Mansi, on July 5, 1977 near St. Albans, Vermont took a snapshot using a Kodak Instamatic camera. This image, revealed three years after its taking, showed what appeared to be the neck and back of a large creature in the water. Highly contested by some due to the delay of coming forward, and the loss of the original negative, this photographic image is now the most famous image of Champ.

Dr. Paul H. LeBlond, best known for his work with the unknown sea creature called Caddy or Cadborosaurus, performed an analysis of the creature in the Mansi photograph. Using wave size estimates from a mariner's standard practice of the Beaufort scale he was able to estimate the lower and upper range of size associated with the image, which tie in with Sandra Mansi's account of the size. LeBlond's estimated size was 4.8 m to 17.2 m, which ties close to Mansi's estimate of 15 to 20 feet (4.6 - 6.1 m).

Regardless of the authenticity of the Mansi photograph, studies of behavior and patterns have been done on lake Champlain to at least offer an idea of search times and behavior cycles. For example, how does the creature live during the winter seasons, wherein the waters surface at times does freeze? The reports of these creatures breaking ice are scant, with only a handful. So, the problems must be addressed: 1) Do these creatures migrate to the oceans, 2) Do these creatures make breathing holes, 3) Does a form of hibernation occur in an underwater cave, 4) Do they live in underground caves with air circulation and making occasional food jaunts during the winter months. As the lake is tied off to the ocean through a series of dams and blocked tributaries, it is unlikely that they would travel to the ocean. With only a handful of reports of ice breaking, the second scenario is also weak. The last two are the best explanations, and with the geological makeup of the area, underwater caves are a possibility.

Limnological studies and population dynamic studies based off of food availability have been done to show the feasibility of the existence or lack thereof for a large animal, breeding animals, within the lake. Other researchers have used past reports to isolate the time frame of sightings and thus possible behavior directions. The reports do occur mainly at dusk and dawn, suggestive of a nocturnal behavior (which would limit the number of sightings by people). Additionally, researcher Dennis Jay Hall, who heads Champquest (and the main researcher in the area now since Zarzynski has stepped down and the LCPI is inactive now) has studied the incidents for nearly 20 years. Reporting sightings on 20 different occasions he predicts that sightings will occur within five days before and after the new moon of each month, and at night. Hall claims a 75% success rate in 1998 in these predictions based off of eyewitness reports.

What is Champ? Does that really matter? Champ is the creature of Lake Champlain. Whether it turns out to be a primitive whale called a zeuglodon that some feel it is, or a Tatystropheus (a form of long necked reptiles similar to a plesiosaur) as Dennis Jay Hall feels they are. The fact remains that there is a mystery present within the lake, that stretches back hundred of years and through hundred if not thousands of people. The lake itself retains its mysteries, from ancient archaeological evidence of the Native peoples, to the ingenuity of the later settlers who used the resources of the area to support themselves. From military battles and tribulations, to the current vacation oasis. In the end the mystery of Lake Champlain has endured, and that in itself speaks volumes.

Written for website - in 1999
Edited/updated July 5, 2000


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