DAR State Park to celebrate Vermont’s mysterious lake monster
ADDISON — Imagine you’re on a boat. Fog swirls gently above the grey morning waters of Lake Champlain, and you’re drifting at ease on the glassy surface.
Then, in the distance, you see it — a dark, hulking figure undulating across the lake. Its body appears in small bumps above the surface as it travels.
Maybe it’s a sturgeon. The prehistoric species has had plenty of time to grow to a gargantuan size in the lake, which itself has been around for more than 10,000 years.
It could be a garfish, whose long, thin body could easily make those snaking undulations.
Or — it could be Champ, Lake Champlain’s beloved and legendary monster, which, according to the hundreds of people who claim to have seen it, lurks beneath boaters and swimmers.
For those who would put their money on the lake monster, DAR State Park in Addison will host a Champ-themed weekend starting this Friday. It will feature scavenger hunts, projections of various Champ-centered TV episodes, talks and more so that locals can decide for themselves — is Champ real?
The idea came to the DAR staff when local kids made a Champ poster to hang in the park’s welcome center, which is only a stone’s throw from Lake Champlain. Park attendant Melissa Partington began researching the legend, and found there was enough information to fill an entire weekend.
“I’ve grown up in this area and I didn’t know much about Champ,” she said. “There’s just so much to learn about it — it’s really fascinating.”
Partington has never seen Champ, but she’s been talking to someone who has. Rhode Island resident Katy Elizabeth leads an organization called “Champ Search,” and she is on a mission to prove the creature’s existence. Though she won’t be able to attend Champ weekend, she’s been helping the DAR crew organize the event from afar.
Elizabeth has been studying lake monsters since she was seven years old, and she first saw Champ three years ago when she camped on the shore of Button Bay, a few miles north of DAR State Park. Scouring the waters for the hidden beast, she saw a 15-foot-long creature, dark in color, moving through the water. A portion of it — what Elizabeth called a “hump” — protruded three feet out from the grey ripples.
Since then, she’s taken several video and sound recordings at the lake. The recordings (available on her website, officialchampsearch.webs.com) sound like a baritone purr, a low constant rumble that she attributes to echolocation. After listening to many of these, she’s concluded that it isn’t just one creature, but rather a population of “Champs” that roams the lake.
“They’re so loud, there’s no way a fish could create low frequency of that sound,” she said. She notes that she’s checked the sound against other species, and hasn’t found anything else like it.
The videos are mostly shot from afar and out of focus, but she’s hoping to get something up close this summer.
Elizabeth has invested thousands of dollars into night vision technology, thermal imaging cameras and underwater cameras. She plans to move to Vermont and continue her studies on the creatures, saying her main motivation is to identify them so that they can be federally protected.
“They’re just an unknown animal, we don’t know what they are,” she said. “I’ve seen (them), I’ve heard them, and I just want to keep them protected. You’re not going to protect something that isn’t proven to be an actual animal.”
Elizabeth is at odds with a large portion of the scientific community that doesn’t buy Champ’s existence — ask a biologist about Champ and you’ll likely get a sigh or a nervous laugh. Mike Winslow, the staff scientist on the Lake Champlain Committee, doesn’t think the lake could support a creature of such a large size.
“There’s a ton of things that people could be seeing — geese, cormorants or even logs,” he said. “I think it’s a neat piece of trivia for the lake, but the evidence really doesn’t support something like that.”
When Partington at DAR State Park started her research for Champ weekend, she had her mind made up: Champ wasn’t real. Now, she’s not so sure.
“I started very much thinking, ‘There is no possibility of Champ,’ but now — I believe there’s something,” she said. “There’s been enough sightings that there’s something going on.”
She admits that people could be seeing something else — possibly giant, prehistoric fish like garfish or sturgeon. She admits that even though these species are known to us, they’re no less spooky.
“I’ve gotta say — since I’ve been doing this research, I’m less likely to go swimming in this lake,” she said.
Anyone who would like to partake in Champ festivities can visit the Vermont State Park website, at fpr.vermont.gov/events for more information about the event. To report a Champ sighting, email Katy Elizabeth at [email protected].
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