RAY BROOK - The state Adirondack Park Agency has approved a plan to redesign and reconstruct a popular boat launch on the Saranac chain of lakes, although commissioners raised concerns about whether the plan does enough to address parking and invasive species issues.
The APA board signed off Dec. 13 on the unit management plan for the Second Pond Boat Launch Intensive Use Area. It also approved a plan to reclassify part of the boat launch's parking area that overlaps into the High Peaks Wilderness, which is off limits to motorized vehicles.
Located on state Route 3 west of the village of Saranac Lake, the boat launch is used by anglers, boaters and campers. It's the main public access point into the Saranac lakes, particularly the 87 campsites that are part of the Saranac Lake Islands public campground. It's open to the public from April 1 to Dec. 15.
A steward inspects a kayak for invasive plants and animals in August at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Second Pond Boat Launch, located off of state Route 3 just west of Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise file photo — Chris Knight)
The 10.5-acre launch can accommodate about 75 cars and boat trailers, but DEC officials have said the space is not well designed and its layout is confusing to the public. On busy weekends in the summer, as many as 100 cars and trailers have used the site. If there isn't enough space, they often end up parked on both sides of Route 3.
The UMP includes a proposal to reconfigure the parking and create 100 on-site parking spaces, with specific sites designated for day and overnight use, and for individual cars and boat trailers. It also calls for putting in a new boat ramp and new floating docks, removing an old cabin near the entrance to the site, replacing the launch's booth and building a firewood storage building on the site. The boat launch's vault toilet would be reconstructed, and a new sign and information kiosk would be added.
To try to curb the spread of invasive species, the plan calls for an invasives disposal station, signage, informational handouts and staff training. Second Pond has already become home to infestations of two kinds of milfoil and other invasives.
Since a portion of the launch's parking area is the wilderness area, DEC has proposed reclassifying 5.6 acres of wilderness, roughly where the southern half of the parking area is now, to intensive use. At the same time, 6.8 acres of unused, forested wetlands in the western part of the intensive use area would be reclassified to wilderness.
During a presentation on the UMP at the agency's Regulatory Programs Committee, some commissioners raised concerns that the redesigned boat launch still won't have enough parking, and that there are no plans for a boat washing station to prevent the spread of invasives.
"What if we need more parking again someday?" asked Commissioner Arthur Lussi. "Are we going to have do this again?"
"I'm concerned about supporting this," said Commissioner Sherman Craig, "based on the fact that I'm not sure we have enough resources assigned to this project to meet the needs, in terms of parking and in terms of the invasive species issue."
APA planner Kevin Prickett said those were two issues raised during public hearings on the UMP.
"Before additional parking can be constructed beyond the existing levels, a carrying capacity assessment is needed to assist in managing the social and biological resources of the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest," Prickett said. "In addition, parking is limited by the topographic features of the area including wetlands and steep terrain."
APA Planning Director Jim Connolly reminded the board that somehow expanding the parking area at the board table would mean the UMP would have to go back out for another round of public hearings and State Environmental Quality Review.
As for the invasive species issue, Prickett said DEC would consider adding a boat washing station at the launch "should the resources become available." He noted that the site has no electricity, water or staff to operate a washing station, although there is space to put one there.
But some commissioners were still concerned.
"To me, it sounds almost imperative that there be some sort of boat washing capability as (boats and trailers) leave there going heaven knows where," said Commissioner Frank Mezzano. "If you know you have (invasives) and you know they're going to go out on a boat, not doing something about it would really bother me."
"It's not like DEC is doing nothing there," Prickett responded. "They will be training their staff on the identification and management of invasives. They'll have a receptacle for placement of invasives for boats coming out and coming in. They're working with the Paul Smith's (College) Watershed Institute. (APA and DEC) both agreed this is a serious situation. Just the boat wash station option, the factors to do that were too limited."
DEC Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann said the issue of invasive species control in the Park is being discussed "in robust form right now.
"I think it's better served by not forming policy in this one plan here as opposed to looking at the whole statewide policy on how to deal with this, because it's not just here. It's in lots of other places," Stegemann said.
The UMP and the reclassification were ultimately approved unanimously by both the committee and the full agency board.
The reclassification still requires approval by the Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If that happens, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens would approve the final UMP.