Burlington Community Sailing Center back from lake flood

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Here’s what the Community Sailing Center in Burlington was dealing with a year ago this week: a foot and a half of Lake Champlain flood water in their offices. Docks battered and ruined by waves. Uncertainty over how or whether the center could continue.

Here’s what the center is dealing with this week: a dry, busy office. A boatload of community support. Financial stability. People signing up for the center’s summer programs at a rate far ahead of projections.

The Community Sailing Center was among the hundreds of businesses and homes devastated by an epic Lake Champlain flood that reached record heights during the first week of May 2011.

Lake water surged into the Sailing Center’s office, near the old Moran plant on Burlington’s waterfront. Sure, the boats are meant to get wet, but the center suffered about $75,000 in losses from damage to its facility and the loss of 10 weeks of programs from the calendar until the water receded, said Kate Neubauer, executive director of the sailing center.

The facility opened around the Fourth of July weekend. There was enough pent-up demand that about 18,000 people participated in the Sailing Center’s programs during the short season. That was roughly the same as the center’s entire 2010 season, Neubauer said.

The Community Sailing Center has been around since 1994, attracting people and families to drag sailboats, kayaks and paddleboards into the lake for lessons or just a day on the water.

The flood of 2011 threatened all that. Neubauer said the sailing center received no aid from FEMA or other disaster-relief sources but did receive an outpouring of volunteer help from the community, which ensured the center’s continuing run. She said people flocked to the center once the water receded to clear debris and clean up. People signed up and paid for lessons and other programs during the flood without knowing whether the lessons would take place. Other people called, if only to offer encouragement, Neubauer said.

“The community showed so much support for this organization,” she said.

To recover, the sailing center refocused on its core mission, which is safety on the water and access to the lake, Neubauer said. Center personnel have a new appreciation for the lake’s health, and that appreciation will be at the core of the center’s programs, she said.

She said the Community Sailing Center is back to financial stability and will run a full slate of programs this summer.

Friday, the level of Lake Champlain stood at 96.60 feet above sea level, more than three feet below flood stage and about five feet below the sailing center’s offices, where Neubauer and others were signing up people for summer programs.

The center will open May 26. The first youth and multi-activity camps start June 18.

“Registration is through the roof,” she said.

The Community Sailing Center also beefed up its disaster plans. The flood came as a surprise, as the offices sat above the supposed flood plain, Neubauer said. The center has crafted better plans to deal with any future calamity.

Contact Matt Sutkoski at 660-1846 or msutkoski@burlingtonfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/vermontweather.

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