In 1612, two Dutch explorers traveled from the junction of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers westward up the Mohawk, crossed overland to Otsego Lake and then south down the Susquehanna (Cooper, 1920). This link that the lake provides in joining the Mohawk and Susquehanna watersheds has had important effects on Otsego and its utilization throughout recorded history. Cadwallader Colden, the New York State surveyor-general, reported 125 years later (1737), "At 50 miles from Albany, the land carriage from the Mohawk River to a lake (Otsego), from whence the northern branch of the Susquehanna takes its rise, does not exceed 14 miles. G oods may be carried from this lake in battoes, or flat-bottomed vessels, through Pennsylvania to Maryland and Virginia, the current running everywhere easy." (Shaw, 1886).
The first settlement in the area was constructed by the Rev. J. C. Hartwick in 1761. It was abandoned soon thereafter when he discovered that his patent was located somewhat farther south along the river. A few years later (1770) George Croghan built a home and lived along the lake with his family until the Revolutionary Wa r. During that time Indian activity precluded habitation by settlers and the area was abandoned. Soon after, Generals Sullivan and Clinton were sent into central New York to bring a stop to the activities of the Indians. In 1779, Clinton moved south from Canajoharie overland to Otsego Lake with 200 boats and 1,500 troops. His mission was to travel down the Susquehanna and join forces with Sullivan at Tioga. When he found the river waters too low for navigation, he dammed up the flow from the lake, rel eased it, and floated downstream on the crest of the flood (Cooper, 1920).
In 1785, William Cooper arrived at the south end of Otsego Lake and founded the settlement that was to become Cooperstown. The aquatic resources of the region soon became recognized. A few years after settlement a late spring saw 200 families in the village bordering on starvation. In the words of Cooper:
"A singular event deemed sent by a good Providence to our relief; it was reported to me that unusual shoals of fish were seen moving in the clear waters of the Susquehanna. l went, and was surprised to find that they were herrings (probably American shad, Alosa sapidissima). We made something like a small net, by the interweaving of twigs, and by this rude and simple contrivance we were able to take them in thousands. In less than two days each family had an ample supply (Lynch, 1965).
Commercial fishing for cold-water fish species soon became an enterprise (Shaw, 1886) that was active on t he lake until the introduction of alewives (Alosa pseudoharengus) in 1988. Seining for Otsego Bass was first recorded in 1789 and continued until 1915 when it was permanently banned. In 1896, the holders of 42 seine licenses recorded catches of 1,100 kg of these fish. Gill netting was introduced in the 1850's. Between 1855 and 1867, single hauls containing in excess of 5,000 Otsego Bass were recorded. Seining also caused a drastic reduction of lake trout and was banned in 1915 (Birdsall, 1917) .
In 1870, Elihu Phinney built a hatchery on Three Mile Point, and over the next few years many thousands of fish were stocked. It was at this time that commercial transportation on the lake was developed to facilitate access between rail traffic in the Catskill area and that from Albany to Buffalo via rail and the Erie Canal. Recreational possibilities were also recognized (Bacon, 1902).
The first steamboat on Otsego Lake was launched in 1858. The last commercial steam vessel plied the lake in 1933. During the height of these activities, in 1894, ten steam-powered boats were active on the lake. At least two, the "Natty Bumppo" and the "Cyclone," could hold more than 300 passengers each (Ketchel, 1963).
In 1935, the New York State Conservation Department funded the first biological survey of the Delaware and Susquehanna watersheds. Otsego Lake was included in those studies (NYS Conservation Department, 1936). Data were collected concerning water chemistry, physical limn ology, plankton, seston (all particulate matter suspended in the free water), benthos, nekton (fish), and aquatic vegetation.
In 1968, access to the lake and lands for a field station were acquired by the SUNY College at Oneonta to initiate the development of a biological research facility. Concurrently, the Otsego County Conservation Association (OCCA) was formed by an influential group of local landowners and sportsmen concerned about environmental quality as it related to natural resource maintenance and utilization. Their first focus was on forest productivity and marketing. However their attention was soon drawn to land management/water quality relationships, eutrophication and concerns about fluctuating water levels in Otsego Lake. They developed a policy of supporting the Biological Field Station (BFS) in order to acquire information to develop their water quality agendas. Two early outcomes were: New York State recognition of the surface elevation of Otsego Lake to clarify agency responsibilities, and the replacement of a wastewater system in Glimmerglass State Park which polluted the lake.
In 1980, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) published a series of volumes on "The Lakes of New York State" edited by J. A. Bloomfield. Volume 3, "The Lakes of East-Central New York" included a chapter on Otsego Lake (Harman, et al., 1980). That work summarized all the information on Otsego Lake water quality available at the time. This repor t is an update of that work with the earlier material serving as a base upon which present lake characteristics can be compared.
Public Health Law 1100 was implemented in 1985 by the Village of Cooperstown for the protection of their water supply.
In 1992-4, a spate of citizen groups became active, and local government initiatives flourished, as concerns relative to recreational use of the lake focused around phosphorus loading, the future of the cold-water fishery, introductio ns of exotic organisms, and lake access.