Ambitious plan for Saranac Lakes Wild Forest

15+ years in the making, DEC plan would make sweeping changes to state land around Tri-Lakes

The Ampersand Mountain trailhead between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake would be moved and expanded under a proposal in the recently released Saranac Lake Wild Forest Unit Management Plan. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — The state Department of Environmental Conservation has finally released its plan for the more than 75,000-acre Saranac Lakes Wild Forest — more than 15 years in the making.

The unit management plan was released this month and will be presented to the state Adirondack Park Agency at its monthly meeting this week. It calls for sweeping changes to many popular areas, as well as the addition of dozens of recreational opportunities.

However, one of the biggest issues facing management of the lands is that boundary lines are poorly or entirely unmarked in some areas. The DEC says in the report that it is investigating numerous cases of encroachment onto state land, including an estimated 8.5 acres at the Saranac Inn Golf Course.

The UMP notes that several mapping changes are needed, including areas around Rollins Pond campground and Little Clear Pond that add up to dozens of acres.

The Saranac Lakes Wild Forest spans the Tri-Lakes region, spreading over at least four towns in two counties, and borders or is close to six other state land units. The plan is far from simple and calls for designating a unit manager and management team to oversee the lands and implement the changes to the UMP addresses.

The South Creek boat launch on state Route 30 would be improved under a new management plan released by the DEC this week. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

Trails

The UMP calls for adding dozens of miles of hiking, snowmobile and ski trails, several of which will connect to part of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor where the state plans to replace railroad tracks with a trail for biking, snowmobiling and other recreation.

The UMP would also move the Jackrabbit Trail onto wild forest land parallel to Mountain Road, which is currently under legal scrutiny.

The DEC plans to add trails at Lake Colby and Lake Clear, as well as a trail to the summit of Seymour Mountain. Bartlett Carry would be moved off the road, and the historic Sangemo Canoe Carry between Upper St. Regis Lake and Lake Clear is slated to be reopened, pending a deal with private land owners.

The state would also reroute part of the Scarface Mountain trail and fill in some herd paths while leaving others alone.

Mountain biking trails loom large in the UMP, with plans to create trail systems around all three Tri-Lakes villages and have numerous connections to the railroad corridor that’s set to become the Adirondack Rail Trail.

New snowmobile trails would also be added under the five-year plan, which is estimated to cost more than $225,000.

In addition to the new trails, the UMP calls for rerouting existing trails as well as improving the Bloomingdale Bog Trail and parking area to accommodate accessibility for people with disabilities.

Roads and parking areas

The DEC would close numerous roads and add several parking areas. A 20-car parking area will be built on Floodwood Road at the rail trail in anticipation of increased need for parking once the trail is completed.

The Ampersand Mountain trailhead would also be expanded and likely moved across state Route 3 from its current location. That side of the road is in the High Peaks Wilderness Area, which would have to be amended to accommodate the increased parking.

Winter parking on Coreys Road would also be added, allowing better winter access to the western High Peaks.

The South Creek boat launch would see some work done, including possibly moving the gate and boulders to allow for easier launching.

The plan also would allow boats with motors at the South Creek launch, but only 15 horsepower or smaller. Stretches of the creek would be motor-free, meaning boaters would have to paddle or pole their way through those spots.

The Hoel Pond boat launch is also the subject of several management actions, including an investigation into securing a right of way to the launch, which currently runs through private land. The UMP would improve the launch and parking area, and add a slide to make launching boats easier.

The state also calls for construction of a new boathouse at the Upper Saranac Lake launch to house a DEC boat, as well as a slip for the local rescue squad.

Campsites

The Saranac Lake Islands Campground would see several sites moved to meet setback and spacing requirements, and the state also plans to add four sites to the popular boat-access-only campground. The UMP calls for the construction or upgrade of up to 20 sites for accessibility standards throughout the unit, as well as the closure and movement of numerous sites along Floodwood Road.

The plan calls for closure of 64 sites throughout the unit and construction of 68 new sites that will meet setback, spacing and waste disposal guidelines.

Miscellaneous

There are dozens upon dozens of proposed management actions in the UMP, including preservation and maintenance of the dam at Lake Clear Outlet.

The state also plans to make this area along Forest Home Road an accessible parking and fishing area.

The DEC will also either remove the dam on the West Branch of the AuSable River or allow it to deteriorate.

The plan also calls for large swaths of the forest complex to remain trail-less to allow for better hunting with fewer conflicts between hunters and hikers.

There are also plans to manage fish populations, including reclaiming West Pine Pond and Rag Pond for brook trout, which means poisoning exiting fish and restocking. The DEC also plans to introduce brook trout and round whitefish to Polliwog Pond.

To read the plan and see maps of the proposed management actions, go to the DEC’s new web page on the Saranac Lake’s Wild Forest at http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/22593.html.

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