Not a fan of whitewater park plan

Four hundred thousand dollars for a “whitewater kayak feature” in the village! Rebuild a river so people can play in their kayaks? First of all, rebuilding a river so it suits the needs of a single recreational group is a pretty disgusting and arrogant idea. We long ago learned what damming, channelizing and diverting rivers costs the ecosystem around them. Obviously, the Saranac below the dam has already been altered from efforts years back to reduce flooding and flow rates, generate electricity and reduce repairs after floods. Thankfully, the many decades since have allowed nature to compensate and form a whole new ecosystem there. It may not be as beautiful as where it wanders through the forest, but it has a peace and beauty of its own, and it affords recreation for countless resident and visiting fisherman and their children. It’s also generated the intelligent idea of a River Walk, so folks can wander along it and enjoy the calming effect water tends to have.

That stretch of river is also one of only two segments worth fishing in the village, because they’re the only places with any appreciable structure. It’s the only place with easy access and where many village kids land their first fish, but they evidently don’t spend enough money in the process to be considered. You can spout as much bull as you’d like about multiple use, but who gets the right of way? If I’m casting and you come with your kayak to spend half an hour in the “artificial whitewater,” do you get to barge in and run over my line because it’s a designated kayak play spot? Do I get to cast half an ounce of metal with treble hooks attached past your ears while you paddle? How long after the kayaks have finished playing is it worth fishing anyway? That portion of the river has been a source of recreation for local folks, particularly the kids, since the dam was constructed on Lake Flower. It’s accessible even to those who have limited endurance and mobility, and limited means to get out to more scenic and distant fishing spots.

Is the River Walk designed so visitors can wander along the river and watch brightly colored plastic boats playing in the current? Or is it to give both the fit and less athletic a chance to move through the village while enjoying both the view and the little diversions that stroll brings? Isn’t the village discussing an extension of the walk for precisely those purposes? But, you say, kayakers might stop and buy a sandwich or a slice of pizza! Don’t visitors and residents walking the area and fishing that stretch provide enough business to get them some consideration? If you want to paddle through, have a ball and enjoy the paddle. If you think you need to rebuild the river bed so you can create an exclusive tub just for your toys, think again. If you “corrected” the river from the dam to the bridge, would you even have 200 feet of useful kayaking water?

That river flows a long, long way with plenty of easy paddling and challenging runs, courtesy of Mother Nature without any need to rebuild it. There’s an estimated 30,000 miles of navigable water in the Adirondacks. If mile upon mile of woods-lined stretches and natural rapids and falls on multiple rivers aren’t challenging enough for kayakers, perhaps they’re just in the wrong area. Should we be tearing into the river bottom, cementing boulders and re-rod in place, and creating a single-use play area for kayakers in hopes of milking them out of a few bucks? Why damage what the village already capitalizes on and invested in? Multiple use is an unfortunate necessity because we’ve got too many people jamming into too little recreational space and for too short a season, but it only works where the terrain supports it.

So the village board supports the idea? I’m not surprised. They keep mistaking themselves for the chamber of commerce. “But it will help with the ‘branding’ effort.” Sorry, mayor and village board, but I’m not a box of cereal that needs a “brand,” and neither are my neighbors. I don’t want to attract ever more crowds to the area: not on foot, not in cars, not in boats. This government seems hell-bent on clogging every road, boat launch, hiking path, parking lot and now the river as their solution to everything, and we already can’t handle what we’ve got. Try turning left out of Edward or Duprey or Merrill streets, or crossing traffic at Coakley’s or McDonald’s if you think I exaggerate. Tourists! Or more accurately, tourist DOLLARS! If we’re going to be a tourist trap, let’s look the part and get a Ferris wheel and neon lights downtown. When do the parking meters go up? It’s just that wicked case of Lake George envy rearing its ugly head again. How about focusing on the 5,000 or so residents who don’t own businesses but pay the high taxes and water bills for infrastructure that make the village and a business district possible? How about their use and enjoyment of the nearby resources for the limited summers here? How about “branding” us as the quiet, clean village in easy reach of good fishing, hunting, paddling, power boating, picnics, hiking and scenic drives without the stench of a tourist trap?

Dave Campbell lives in Saranac Lake.

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