Lake Memphremagog Cruises are back!
by Scott Wheeler or Vermont’s Northland Journal
The captain and the first mate for the Northern Star have arrived in Newport, and they are ready to bring tour boat service back to the U.S. end of Lake Memphremagog.
Rick Desrochers: Working to Bring Boat Tours and Life Back to Newport
Rick Desrochers, the man behind bringing new life to the boat, invited me down to the boat yesterday to give Captain Cannon and first mate, Lucy, a briefing on the history of Newport and the greater Lake Mempremagog basin. They are very enthusiastic to begin this new chapter of their lives.
Tours will begin with a Friday night dinner dinner cruise on May 28, featuring food by Hoagies. Then Saturday night will be a pirate themed dinner cruise, with the T-Bar offering up food from their menu.
In earlier chapters of its history, Lake Memphremagog has been home to several tour boats, among them the Mountain Maid, Lady of the Lake, and the Anthemis. People flocked to the region by horse and buggy, train, and later by automobile, to enjoy the beauty of the lake.
Today Rick Desrochers is leading the charge to bring tour boat service back to the Newport end of the lake. In 2020 Desrochers accepted a job as the executive director of Memphremagog Community Maritime (MCM), a 501c3 organization, which includes ownership of the Northern Star, a 49-passenger, three-level cruise boat.
“I believe that the Northern Star will be a destination, not only for Newport but for the entire Northeast Kingdom, from scenic cruises to serving as a floating classroom. It’ll serve as a springboard into the wonders this area has to offer.”
A Newport Center farm boy by birth, the son of Richard “Joe” Desrochers and Jan Degre, his work ethic and his love of nature and photography were developed on the farm. As much as he loved his Kingdom, after graduating from North Country Union High School in 1988, he decided to spread his wings, living and working in the South and Midwest.
After experiencing the world, and with a deep yearning for the land of his birth, Desrochers didn’t just move home in 2013, he brought with him new, innovative ideas to improve life in Newport and the greater Kingdom. Since his return, he has worked to transform many of his ideas, through a collaborative community effort, into action, change, and progress. He is also the owner of Northern Dreams Photography. Using his camera, he captures the beauty of the region and its changing landscape.
Although he lives in Derby Line with his partner, Tricia, and her son, Jacob, a piece of Desrocher’s heart resides in Newport. He is not blind to the fact that the last few years have not been good to Newport, but having lived, worked, and experienced other parts of the country, he sees so much promise in the lakeside community and the Kingdom as a whole. He views the Northern Star as an integral part of bringing life back to the region, particularly downtown Newport. “We have endless possibilities here.”
The Northern Star arrived in Lake Memphremagog with great fanfare in 2012. However, the EB5 debacle and poor weather contributed to financial shortfalls, putting the future of the boat on the lake in jeopardy. Cruises came to an end in 2017, and for the next three years, it remained tethered to the city dock. Although, as of the fall of 2020, cruises had yet to restart, a group of area business people has purchased the Northern Star through the generosity of North Country Federal Credit Union Foundation and local donors who transformed it into a creative nonprofit business.
When Desrochers was hired as executive director of MCM in 2020, he and the rest of the members of MCM had big plans for the boat, including for the summer of 2020. They envisioned providing tours of the lake, including scenic, history, and dinner tours. And they planned to use the boat as a floating classroom and research facility for area students. Many of the group’s plans were scuttled for the summer when COVID-19 brought with it a worldwide pandemic, at least temporarily changing the group’s plans and how we live our lives.
Unable to set sail in 2020, Desrochers didn’t let the pandemic discourage him. He will use the extra year to create community partnerships with area businesses and organizations—valuable players in the future of passenger boat service and progress in the region.
Because he understands the history of Newport, he knows the economic downturn of recent years is simply an evolutionary bump in the road of progress, like those experienced in past generations. For that matter, he said in the year or two before COVID-19, he was already seeing positive change coming to the city. Much of that change was coming as the result of area residents, business owners, and civic organizations. He said he is particularly heartened by the interest a growing number of young people are bringing to the table. They bring with them new ideas and youthful energy and enthusiasm.
“New groups are forming and activities involving music and art are happening,” Desrochers said. “New restaurants are opening. We have a beautiful lake, we have a beautiful area, and people with this new way of thinking will make this area that much more special. Let’s show the people of the world what the Northeast Kingdom is all about.”
Desrochers’ belief in Newport, and the rest of the Northeast Kingdom, is truly contagious. May more people catch his enthusiasm.
Throughout the history of Newport, several tour boats have provided tours on the lake. The last big one was the Anthemis. This steamer, designed to carry upwards of 300 people, was built in 1909. World War II changed and reshaped the world, including Newport. The Anthemis disappeared from the lake within a few years after the end of the war in 1945.
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