As a contact for watershed users, the Upper Saranac Foundation (USF) has fielded numerous inquiries this summer regarding user etiquette, boater safety, shoreline erosion, and property damage stemming from motorboat use. This isn’t a new issue to Upper Saranac Lake: a New York Times article dating back to 1911 indicated similar conflicts among user groups:
UPPER SARANAC, NY, Aug. 5. 1911 — Upper Saranac Lake is suffering from a severe attack of speed fever. So many boats have been launched with more or less disregard of navigation rules that an association has been formed and has issued a circular of rules that are necessarily stringent because of the large number of boats operated here between sunset and sunrise, and the danger thereby to rowboats and canoes. John G. Agar of New York is Secretary of the association and the Launch Committee is composed of Thomas Blagdon and Francis Bangs…
If lake users thought that the number of boats and their speed were issues in the early 1900s — before the existence of Fish Creek Campground and predating most shoreline dwellings — what do you think they would think of the lake’s use today?
Comments and interactions made during the public comment period for the USF’s 2022 Watershed Management Plan indicated an increase in tensions and conflicts among various user groups. In response, a goal of the plan is to develop a better understanding of how the public uses and recreates in the watershed, create a balance between use and protection, and promote wise stewardship and responsible use of our recreational resources.
One way of analyzing changes over time and impacts on recreational users, water quality, and wildlife from increased motorboat traffic is through a carrying capacity study. Carrying capacity analysis determines the amount of visitor use a waterbody can withstand without detrimental impacts to its users and the natural resources. Knowing the answers to “how many people is too many?” or “how much is acceptable?” are important questions that the USF has been advocating state agencies to assess.
As a requirement in the Adirondack State Land Master Plan, regardless of the type of shoreline ownership, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) are charged with examining carrying capacity and are to develop limits or regulations to prevent exceeding capacities. The Master Plan requires that each Unit Management Plan “contain … an assessment of the physical, biological and social carrying capacity of the area with particular attention to portions of the area threatened by overuse.” Furthermore, the UMP must include “the regulation or limitation of public use such that the carrying capacity of the area is not exceeded.” The DEC and APA have acknowledged up to this point that attempts to measure carrying capacity have fallen short.
In a recent joint letter, the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Protect the Adirondacks!, Sierra Club – Atlantic Chapter, and the Upper Saranac Foundation urged the APA to hold the DEC accountable and direct they conduct a carrying capacity analysis for the interconnected waterbodies of the Saranac Chain of Lakes. A copy of that letter can be found here.