Quiet vs. shared waters

Motorboaters face off against environmentalists rallying to make Weller Pond a motorless refuge

A loon hangs out around motorboat counter-protesters Saturday in Middle Saranac Lake’s Hungry Bay. The sign in the background says “Keep Weller open to motorboats, [no] restrictions.” (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

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SARANAC LAKE — One peculiarity of the Adirondack Park politics is that sometimes people bring life jackets and fishing poles to the rallies.

A protest and counter-protest passed each other peacefully Saturday in Hungry Bay, on the north side of Middle Saranac Lake, where a channel leads to Weller and Little Weller ponds.

In a flotilla of 36 canoes, guideboats and kayaks, people from all over the Adirondacks paddled and rowed to the ponds in a demonstration urging the state to ban motorboats from those bodies of water.

Counter-protesters in nine motorboats fished while they waited for the environmentalists, who arrived later than expected. The motorboaters want the ponds’ shared use to continue. On this day, though, they didn’t go into Weller itself, instead sending their message just outside the channel.

Paddlers and rowers raise their paddles and oars skyward as they approach a channel to Weller Pond Saturday in Middle Saranac Lake’s Hungry Bay. They were demonstrating to urge the state to make Weller and Little Weller ponds motorless (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

The demonstrators, as they passed, chanted, “All we want is 2 percent; you’ve got 98,” referring to the ponds’ portion of the Saranac lake chain’s acreage.

Joe and Chrissy Tremblay of Tupper Lake hollered back that paddlers already have 100 percent access to Adirondack waterways while motorboats do not. They also told the paddlers their chant was louder than the motorboats.

People on both sides agreed that this isn’t just about Weller Pond. Protect the Adirondacks, the environmental group that organized Saturday’s event, picked Weller not because they think motorboating is particularly problematic there but because they want more motorless refuges and thought Weller would make a nice one, separated as it is by the channel.

“There are very few big-lake opportunities in the Adirondacks that are motorless; that’s really the thing that we’re missing,” Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said as the flotilla navigated the channel. “Most of the really wild places in the park involve pretty rigorous portages. This would be accessible to a lot of folks.

“I don’t see how making this motorless would detract from the motorized boating experience that the Saranac lakes present already.”

Peter Bauer, executive director of the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks, leads a paddle-in protest through a channel from Middle Saranac Lake to Weller Pond Saturday. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

“I am a die-hard paddler,” said Terry Clement of Tupper Lake, in a motorboat Saturday. “But I have so many options available to me. I can go to the whole St. Regis canoe chain. Now these areas that are opening up — Essex Chain of Lakes is a good example, Boreas — and they’re all going to be motorless. So they continue to gain areas, and we don’t.

“I say leave Weller alone and leave other areas alone,” he added. “There’s not a problem.”

Both protests drew fewer people than hoped. Protect the Adirondacks had pre-registered 60-some boats, according to Bauer. The counter-protesters had predicted 10 to 20 boats, according to Keith Gorgas of Saranac Lake, who started the Friends of Weller Pond Facebook page. Both groups got state permits for the occasion.

Continuing campaign

Counter-protester Keith Gorgas of Saranac Lake shows “quiet waters” demonstrators a sign with a drawing of a crayfish and the words, “Don’t be a selfish shellfish. Be a Weller Feller,” Saturday in Middle Saranac Lake’s Hungry Bay. The paddling protesters were heading to Weller and Little Weller ponds, urging the state to make them motorless. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

For many years, environmental activists have pushed for more motorless lakes, with mixed success. After a canoe-in at Little Tupper Lake on Aug. 15, 1998, the state classified the former Whitney property as wilderness, where motors are prohibited. But then a “Quiet Waters” campaign in the early 2000s fizzled.

Protect the Adirondacks organized Saturday’s event to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Little Tupper canoe-in, and to try to repeat the feat for Weller.

Unlike Little Tupper, the land around Weller and Little Weller is a longtime state holding that’s part of the Saranac Lake Islands Campground. It’s also classified as wild forest, where some motorized use is allowed.

Lorraine Duval of Keene floats on Weller Pond in her canoe while a motorboat sends up spray in the background Saturday. Duval, who wrote a book called “In Praise of Quiet Waters,” participated in a paddle-in protest urging the state to make Weller and Little Weller ponds motorless. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

Motors established

Public motorboat use has a long history on the Saranac chain. Gorgas said his grandfather, from Philadelphia, first camped at Weller in 1931, and his grandparents went there on their honeymoon.

“My family, from my great-grandmother through my grandkids, have all availed ourselves of this nice waterway: by canoe, by rowboat and by motorboat,” he said.

Clement said he’s been camping at Weller with his family for more than 40 years, since he was 12.

“To me, nothing has really changed,” he said. “Motorboaters haven’t really affected it at all. There’s still good fishing in there. There’s still a good duck population, a good loon population.”

One loon hung around the counter-protesters’ boats as they waited in Hungry Bay.

Not in state plan

A unit management plan for the large and diverse Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, more than 15 years in the making, was rolled out last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and is now under review by the state Adirondack Park Agency. If adopted, the plan would put a 5 mph speed limit on Weller but still allow motors there. The DEC would have to revise the plan to make Weller and Little Weller motorless.

“I wouldn’t totally object to a speed limit, but I just don’t see the point in it myself,” Clement said.

Bauer said the state has “blown off” Protect’s comments about making Weller motorless.

“Because our governor loves fumes and motors and because the DEC commissioner loves fumes and motors, I don’t anticipate we’re going to see any action taken on Weller Pond in the short run,” Bauer said. “But in the long run, I think there’s a real opportunity. As motorless opportunities become less and less and more scarce and more scarce, over the next 20 years there’s going to be a premium for an opportunity like this.”

Through Middle Saranac

Getting to the ponds requires crossing Middle Saranac Lake, where motorboats are common even though the lake has no public launch for them; they have to pass through the locks from Lower Saranac Lake.

“You’re going to have to go through all the [motor]boats just to paddle around Weller for a little while, then go back all through the boats,” counter-protester Joe Tremblay said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The question was put to Bauer: Why make Weller motorless if people would have to go through a motorboat area to get there?

“To be able to paddle through a motorized experience to a quiet water, a lot of people would find that a joyful experience,” Bauer said. “And when you arrive, you’ve truly arrived.”

As he said that, the flotilla had just arrived at Weller Pond.

‘Noisy, stinking motor’

“We’re not kicking them out; we’re kicking their boats out,” Evelyn Greene of North Creek said. “With a noisy, stinking motor, it’s not wild, and I am going for wild places.”

Lorraine Duval of Keene agreed.

“I just don’t understand how people with motors don’t understand that as soon as they bring their motors on a quiet water, it changes the experience,” she said. “I would like to think they feel bad by doing that.”

Duval’s book, “In Praise of Quiet Waters,” was published in 2016. She practices silent meditation and leads quiet canoe trips where no one is allowed to talk.

“Not only the motors, but when you get a whole group of people and it’s ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, that takes away from the experience of being on the quiet water,” she said.

There was plenty of chitchat on this day’s paddle, though. Also, a motorboat cruised around the other side of Weller Pond, and two airplanes flew overhead.

“Sure, even if it was motorless, you’re still going to have airplanes,” Bauer said.


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