The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park

June 5, 2013

The Adirondack Park is held up as the great wilderness area in the eastern United States. It’s the place where people come for a wilderness experience and to enjoy the great outdoors. One great myth about the wild Adirondack Park is that there is an abundance of motor-free lakes and ponds. In fact, the Park faces a scarcity of quiet waters where one can paddle a canoe or kayak without interruption from motorboats, jet skis, floatplanes, and other types of motorized watercraft.

Of the 200 largest lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park, from Lake Champlain, with 262,864 acres, to Round Pond in Indian Lake, covering 134.9 acres, the overwhelming majority of big lakes and ponds provide abundant opportunities for motorized watercraft—but scant opportunity for quiet, motor-free waters.

Protect the Adirondacks has just released a new report entitled The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park. This reports analyzed the public uses on the 200 largest lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park. What we found is that there are relatively few opportunities for motor-free experiences on the biggest, most accessible lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks.

Protect the Adirondacks believes that the largest lakes in the Adirondack Park provide the most accessible opportunities for public water-based recreation. But the supply of motor-free experiences on these waterbodies is low when compared to the abundance of opportunities for motorized watercraft. There needs to be greater equity for motor-free waters recreation so that the Adirondack Park can better meet the public’s demand for a wide spectrum of outdoor recreational opportunities. There is a great demand for recreational experiences on accessible, motor-free lakes and ponds. The demand is high, but the supply is low.

Two lakes in the Adirondack Park’s Top 200 are soon to be classified by the Adirondack Park Agency: Third Lake (Number 94, 340 acres) and Boreas Pond (Number 95, 338 acres). The APA’s Forest Preserve classification review, which is ultimately made official by approval of the governor, will determine the types of public uses allowable on these lakes. Protect the Adirondacks supports Wilderness classification for these two remote lakes. This would help to correct the imbalance of waters available for all types of motorized watercraft and motor-free waters.

Low Supply, High Demand

Across the Adirondack Park there are few genuine opportunities for motor-free boating on a big lake or pond. In the top 100 biggest lakes in the Adirondack Park, just five lakes stand out as lakes without motorboats, jetskis, and floatplanes; Lows Lake, Little Tupper Lake, Round Lake, Lake Lila, and St. Regis Pond. These lakes are all managed as motor-free waterbodies as parts of the Forest Preserve. Three other lakes, Cedar Lake in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area, Newcomb Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness, and Pharaoh Lake in the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness are also motor-free, but they are largely inaccessible for boating by the general public. They are great lakes to hike to, and extraordinarily beautiful places, but they are difficult to reach with a boat.

Of the 100 biggest lakes in the Adirondack Park, 77 are open for all manner of motorized boating and floatplanes. 13 lakes are privately owned and provide no public access, and just 8 are motor-free. Two lakes in the top 100 are currently in process of being purchased by the State of New York for addition to the Forest Preserve, after which the type of allowable public use will be determined through a public review process. The reality, therefore, is that more than 75% of the Park’s grandest lakes are open for motorized activity while only 8% offer the motor-free option, and just 5% are easily accessible for a motor-free experience.

For those who desire greater motor-free opportunities, the numbers improve slightly in an analysis of the 200 biggest lakes in the Adirondack Park. 115 (57%) of the Park’s 200 biggest lakes are open for motorized uses, 54 (27.5%) are privately-owned and thus closed, and 29 (14.5%) are open and motorless. However, of these 29 motor-free lakes, just 17 (9%) are easily accessible without long carries.

When one compares the acreage of waters open for motor-free and motorized opportunities, the differences are stark. Fully 96% of the total surface water area of the 100 biggest lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park is dedicated to motorized boating; just 2% is open for public motor-free recreation. If we subtract Lake Champlain, which at 262,864 acres is vast and located partly in Vermont, and look only at waterbodies completely within the Blue Line, the amount of water area dedicated to motorized water uses is 90%. Just 5% is open for public motor-free opportunities.

If we expand our data to look at the surface areas of the 200 biggest lakes in the Adirondack Park, 93% are dedicated to motorized uses. If Lake Champlain is excluded, the figure drops to 84% open for motorized uses. Only 7% of the acreage in these 200 biggest waters is devoted to motor-free use, and this figure includes the acreage for motor-free waterbodies that are difficult to reach with a boat.

The PROTECT report provides a table listing the 200 largest lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park from Lake Champlain (262,864 acres), to Round Pond (135 acres in the Town of Indian Lake). The table provides the locations of these waterbodies, waterbody acreage and allowable uses.

In addition to the fact that there is a low supply of motor-free waters for the big lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park, there are also many other reasons why it’s critical to create more motor-free opportunities for the public. The following details the importance of motor-free waters for natural resource protection and public recreational use.

Natural Resource Stewardship

Of all the reasons to expand the number of motor-free waters among the large lakes in the Adirondack Park, natural resource stewardship is vital. Here are some particulars:

• The threat of aquatic invasive species infestations is vastly less for motor-free waterbodies than waters open to motorboating. Evidence is overwhelming that motorboats are the key vectors of spreading aquatic invasive species from lake to lake. The chances of infestation are significantly less for spreading invasives with the “cartop” fleet of boats. It’s far easier to see any vegetation or debris hanging on a canoe or kayak and they are easier to clean. There are no boat trailers where water can pool or debris or plants can become suspended. It’s much more difficult to transport standing water on a canoe or kayak.

• Motor-free waters provide better habitat for nesting waterfowl and wildlife. Motorboats disturb nesting waterfowl. It’s been documented that species, like loons, will nest on a quiet lake, and travel to forage on larger lakes. Motorboats have the impact of forcing nesting birds off their nests and some nests are even swamped by waves.

• Waves and erosion have a major impact along shorelines. Impacts are far greater on waters with heavy motorboating, than on motor-free waters. Lakes and ponds that experience high levels of motor boat use also experience instances of shoreline erosion due to incessant wave action on busy days.

Quiet and Solitude

Several dozen canoes and kayaks can be in simultaneous use on a motor-free lake or pond, such as Lake Lila or Round Lake, and the experience remains one of tranquility. Put several dozen motorboats on one such lake and the experience is dominated by the buzz of engines, surge of boat waves, and smell of gasoline.

It is even more critical in our fast-paced life for us to escape the noise, speed and smell of roaring engines. It is good for all of us to have places for refuge and silence, places where we can observe native species and intact ecosystems and enjoy an overnight camping experience. Such wild places grow fewer each year.

It’s important that people have accessible wilderness areas. The Adirondack Park offers great opportunities for hiking in wild places, where the longer one hikes the more remote the country one can access, but opportunities to do this by boat are limited. For many, canoe or kayak access is how they get to wild places and enjoy Wilderness. Greater opportunities are needed for this type of experience in the Adirondack Park.

Older People and People with Limited Physical Mobility Deserve Easily Accessible Motor-free Waters

Often the criticism of a motor-free lake is that it discriminates against people with limited mobility. But there are many older people and people with limited mobility who desire to have wild experiences on a motor-free water body. They cannot hike great distance, but they can paddle or ride in a canoe. The vast majority of motor-free opportunities are on small, remote lakes and ponds, which are challenging to reach for older people or people with limited mobility. Easily accessible motor-free waters should be available for these people. Motor-free waters provide a wide range of opportunities for elderly and disabled individuals and groups.

Forever Wild and the State Constitution

In 1894, the framers of the “Forever Wild” clause in the State Constitution recognized the need for public opportunities for a close connection to nature. A big part of the leading testimony in support of the “Forever Wild” clause was to provide lands and waters where, in their language, “peace and quiet” would reign forever and the sounds, smells and life of nature would be an unbroken chain from that time onward. Nothing is more faithful for the spirit of “Forever Wild” than a motor-free lake or pond.

Opportunities for New Motor-free Waters in APA Forest Preserve Classification Review

In the spring of 2013, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) started its formal classification review for the new Forest Preserve lands around the Essex Chain Lakes. The Department of Environmental Conservation made its formal submission to the APA. The APA will conduct a formal public hearing process during the summer-fall of 2013. Part of the Essex Chain Lakes and one of the 200 largest lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park is Third Lake (Minerva, Essex County).

Public use will be determined during the APA’s classification hearings. PROTECT supports a Wilderness classification for the Essex Chain Lakes. This provides an opportunity to increase the number of motor-free lakes among the biggest 100 lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park from 8 to 9. Boreas Pond is scheduled to be purchased by the state within the next five years. This waterbody is another ideal candidate for motor-free management through a Wilderness classification. If Boreas Pond is classified as Wilderness and managed as a motor-free waterbody it would bring the number of motor-free lakes among the biggest 100 lakes in the Adirondacks to 10 lakes.

In the Adirondack Park’s Forest Preserve, lands designated Wild Forest include over 100,000 more acres than lands designated Wilderness. Wilderness lands should be equal to Wild Forest. For all the reasons detailed in this report there needs to be many more opportunities for easily accessible motor-free waters in the Adirondack Park for the public to enjoy.

Today, just five of the biggest 100 lakes in the Adirondacks are relatively easy to access and motor-free. Just 17 of the biggest 200 lakes are easily accessible and motor-free. The demand is high for motor-free experiences, but the supply is low. This needs to change.

The public deserves greater opportunities for motor-free waters across the Adirondack Park.

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