RAY BROOK - In the fourth and most likely final public hearing Monday on a wilderness classification proposal for the Lows Lake area, only nine speakers showed up at the state Adirondack Park Agency headquarters and about half of those had already spoken at previous meetings on the subject.
"I'm disappointed in the numbers," Long Lake Supervisor Greg Wallace said. "I was hoping we'd have a little bit better turnout from the North Country in either direction, whether you are for it or against it."
Wallace, who was representing the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors and his town, said he opposed 90 percent of the proposal.
Above, paddlers make their way up the Bog River toward Hitchins Pond.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
The meeting was the fourth one hosted by the APA on a classification proposal that would create 12,545 acres of wilderness in Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties, including the bed and waters of Lows Lake, Hitchins Pond and the Bog River. Much of the land would be added to the currently existing Five Ponds Wilderness and is either classified primitive, which is managed as wilderness, or unclassified.
About a half dozen roads running through the property and two dams on the Bog River will be made into the Eastern Five Ponds Access Primitive Area.
There have been three public meetings in Wanakena, Long Lake and Albany. This meeting was added after a request from the Harrietstown Town Board. The board had been asked by local residents and organizations to see if the APA would hold a hearing locally, claiming other meetings were held too far from Tri-Lakes.
For more than a year, Lows Lake has been at the center of a controversy regarding whether floatplanes should have access to the lake. This spring, the APA banned floatplanes on the lake after 2011, because the lake is part of the Bog River-Lows Lake-Oswegatchie Traverse. The State Land Master Plan states that the canoe route is the primary management goal for this area.
Public floatplanes have used the lake since 1986, when it became public, according to the APA.
Since the spring, the focus of the Lows Lake debate has shifted toward the wilderness proposal, particularly the fact that the bed and waters of the lake would be classified.
The majority of lands around Lows Lake and the water bodies in this proposal is state owned but there are a few private inholdings, including a five-acre parcel on Parker Island on Lows Lake and a larger parcel owned by the Sabattis Boy Scouts on the northern shore of Lows Lake. Those private landowners have deeded motorized rights to roads into their property and the water.
"I think it sets a dangerous precedent, especially on this canoe route, where we have mixed use," Inlet Supervisor John Frey said. "You are going to have canoe and kayak groups that are going through the area. And if you are selling this as a wilderness experience, and they still see a party barge accessing other areas of the lake from the Boy Scout camp, it's going to confuse some users. It could anger some of them."
Other critics of the proposal have stated they are concerned that the wilderness designation will be applied to other bodies of water around the Adirondack Park that have a combination of state and private land surrounding them, such as Lake Placid and Cranberry Lake.
But Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth, an adamant defendant of the proposal, said a precedent has already been set with regard to banning motorized traffic on lakes that have shorelines consisting of public and private lands.
He noted the Whitney family has a private in-holding on Little Tupper Lake in the William C. Whitney Wilderness and has deeded motorized access to that lake, while the public is banned from using motors on it.
"There is a legal precedent," Woodworth said. "There is no new legal ground."
Woodworth said it is also clear in the deeds that the Lows Lake purchase in the 1980s included its bottom and water. That would mean it is forest preserve, requiring the state to classify the land.
"There is an obligation to classify the bed and waters of this lake," Woodworth said.
Peter O'Shea, a naturalist and writer from Star Lake, spoke in favor of making the area wilderness. He recalled attending a Adirondack Park Centennial Project celebration at Horseshoe Lake after Lows Lake was purchased. The area was hailed at that celebration, hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, as a future wilderness canoe route.
"I remember clearly and distinctly and conclusively, at that time, that the intent was ultimately to make this a wilderness waterway," he said. "There was no doubt about it. Everyone said it. There were about 100 people there and that's something that's not going to go away, that memory."
Saranac Lake resident Dave Staszac suggested allowing elderly and disabled people access to the water using small electric motors.
"Put some regulations on it, say you have to be ... 65, put a handicap sticker on your canoe, but allow people to have access in a quiet unobtrusive (way)," he said.
In the presentation prior to the hearing, APA staffer Rick Weber showed a map of the Adirondack Park that showed only about a dozen canoe routes more than three miles from the road, including the Jordan River and St. Regis Canoe Area. None of them where close to the size of the Oswegatchie Traverse, which is an estimated 35 to 40 miles in length, though some of those miles are near roads.
"This is one of those rare opportunities for a wild canoe route," he said.
The final decision regarding the classification of these lands ultimately will be made by Governor David Paterson. His decision will be based on a recommendation from the APA, which could visit the subject as early as September.
Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or firstname.lastname@example.org.