Should floatplanes be allowed on Lake Lila?

The state attorney general is again asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that demands that the disabled be allowed to fly to remote lakes in regions of the Adirondack Park classified as Wilderness, where motorized use is prohibited. Among the waterways targeted in the suit is Lake Lila, long a prime destination of canoeists and kayakers. 

Assistant Attorney General Susan Taylor argues, among other things, that the five men who filed the suit, though disabled, can access Wilderness Areas and many Adirondack lakes without a floatplane.

Lake Lila in the Adirondack Park
Lake Lila

But Lake Placid attorney Matthew Norfolk says his clients (who include Maynard Baker, the former supervisor of Warrensburg) are unable to visit on foot “truly wild lakes and ponds” in the backcountry.

Norfolk says there are 860 lakes and ponds in Wilderness Areas. The plaintiffs seek permission to fly to thirty-eight of them, those considered big enough to accommodate a floatplane. One of them is Lake Lila, the largest lake in the Adirondack Park totally surrounded by publicly owned Forest Preserve. With its several islands and wild setting, Lila is a popular destination of paddlers.

The other thirty-seven lakes are:

West Canada Lake Wilderness. West Lake, South Lake, Cedar Lakes, Whitney Lake, Mud Lake, Metcalf Lake, Horn Lake, Pillsbury Lake, Spruce Lake.

Pigeon Lake Wilderness. Shallow Lake, Lower Sister Lake, Queer Lake, Constable Pond, Terror Lake, Pigeon Lake, Cascade Lake.

Five Ponds Wilderness. Cage Lake, Salmon Lake, Negro Lake, Rock Lake, Lyon Lake, Witch Hopple Pond, Big Deer Pond, Clear Pond, Crooked Lake, Sand Lake.

Pepperbox Wilderness. Sunshine Pond.

Siamese Ponds Wilderness. Upper Siamese Pond, Lower Siamese Pond, Round Pond, Puffer Pond. 31

Blue Ridge Wilderness. Cascade Pond, Stephens Pond.

Silver Lake Wilderness. Silver Lake.

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Pharaoh Lake, Crane Pond.

High Peaks Wilderness. Round Pond.

 The plaintiffs filed the suit in U.S. District Court in August 2010, claiming that Wilderness regulations violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

 Click the links below to read the latest court filings from the plaintiffs and the state.

 AG motion

Norfolk response


About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


  1. Robin Smith says

    I say no. I have seen too many people come in via float plane simply because they are too lazy to paddle to their destination.

  2. Dave says

    It is hard to tell from the response – is Norfolk asking that ONLY the disabled have float plane access?

    Or is he using the disabled as an angle to try to grant float plane access for everyone?

  3. Laurie Smith says

    I say yes, but requirements would be fill out application, and submit it to approval from some sort of board. Also, defining disabilities will be difficult..maybe set up a committee to define, first. This all would take time, at least a year..but put it out there that acceptance would be coming, but with careful consideration in all areas.

  4. Wren Hawk says

    It seems to me it should be no. It’s a wilderness – no motorized access. What if a plane that drops someone off for a day, can’t get back in to pick that person up because of bad weather? Flying in the park can be difficult because of rapidly changing conditions.

  5. NCMC says

    It is float plane owners seeking business, not the disabled, who are behind this effort. What if a disabled person sued to demand regular helicopter access to the summits of Mount Marcy and other high peaks? if I am too elderly to walk into a pond, but not disabled under law, should I also have the right to visit the pond by float plane? As we all know, only a fraction of Adirondack Waters are off-limits to motors. People with disabilities can enjoy all the waters that are open to motors. It’s not a wilderness experience if you encounter float planes, so if you need a motor to visit it, you might as well just go where motors are already permitted. Lake Lila, for example, is different from all the other lakes that allow motors only because motors are not permitted. Take motors out of Weller Pond and Follensby Clear Pond and they would be just as delightful as Lake Lila or Little Tupper.

  6. Werner says

    For a 1000 Dollar fee i say yes , why not! Will pay for Loon relocation, oil slick removal, flying out their piss and excrement etc, etc.

  7. Laurie Smith says

    I don’t like the idea either, but isn’t it the right thing to do to ensure all people, are able to enjoy what we do?

    Obviously, some disabled cannot hike in, do a carry, or whatever..there has to be a concession and change. We should not discriminate…I really get testy when people want to save for themselves and not share wilderness experiences with the not so normal woodsperson…There is a way, it just has to be within reasonable limits to preserve.

    In response to Wren, maybe one of the rules for someone who is not able to get out on their own, to have a guide attend the trip. A guide, would make sure appropriate gear would be included if an overnight would be necessary.


  8. Laurie Smith says

    Could also limit the days of the week landing and taking off……dunno..alot of work yes…but putting a thinking cap on and hashing it good…

    Maybe better to identify one particular lake with handicap accessible landing and take off…etc…Just like we do with many trails,buildings..etc.

    Anyway you look at it, is a can-0-worms…My personality is to try to work with the situation to make everyone satisfied…

    Wow Werner..piss and excrement? Am interested how you limit those activities in the wilderness.

  9. Phil says

    @Dave … my understanding is that they are seeking floatplane access only for the disabled. Others would still need to hike or canoe to these lakes.

  10. Lu and Lo says

    Question – How do they expect to land a plane on Round Pond?! We were there this past Sunday (on our way to Dix) and it didn’t look nearly big enough for a plane to land on…..

  11. Bill Ingersoll says

    Here are the unasked questions:

    1) How the heck does a truly disabled individual get on a floatplane?

    2) How does a truly disabled individual then disembark from said floatplane at a wilderness lake without the assistance of a dock?

    3) Once on land, how does a truly disabled individual then navigate a primitive backcountry campsite?

    4) And considering that many of the 38 lakes listed above have no facilities of any kind even for able-bodied people, what is a truly disabled person supposed to do at any of these places after being dropped off by a plane?

    Let’s not get all teary-eyed at the thought of wheelchair-bound people being excluded from bucolic campgrounds, because that is clearly not what this is about.

  12. Gary Hartwick says

    My wife was disabled for seven years before she died. She thought there was more than enough places to visit without building new roads or allowing planes on wilderness lakes.

  13. Casey says

    So this disabled guy wants to climb into and out of a floatplane, paddle in a wilderness lake with no motor, presumably camp, pitch tents, sleep in bags etc but he can’t walk less then half a mile into the lake? This is clearly just an attack on wilderness land classifications NOT a real disabilities case. Shame on the plaintiffs, the case should be thrown out and they should be fined for bringing a frivolous lawsuit.

  14. Norfolk says

    The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking access to these remote lakes via floatplane for disabled people only.

    On another note, we have photographic evidence of, and people willing to testify to, how disabled people in wheelchairs are able to use floatplanes to access wilderness lakes and their shorelines. Phil, as always, good job getting the news and issues out to the people.

  15. Bill Ingersoll says


    While you’re at it, feel free to include photos and testimony of disabled people accessing wilderness areas by horse and wagon. Or did you not know that this accommodation has already been made to enhance access to the backcountry? It’s a use that’s perfectly consistent with existing wilderness guidelines.

    Also, did you not know that there is no regulation preventing the use of motorized/mechanized wheelchairs in a designated wilderness? This is another existing accommodation that could be applied to places such as Marcy Dam or any of the closed roads in the William C Whitney Wilderness.

    How about this one: There is an accessible trail to Sand Pond in the Pepperbox Wilderness. Graded and the whole shebang.

    Ooh, and this section of the ADA just gives me goosepimples:

    “§508(c)(1) In general. Congress reaffirms that nothing in the Wilderness Act is to be construed as prohibiting the use of a wheelchair in a wilderness area by an individual whose disability requires use of a wheelchair, and consistent with the Wilderness Act no agency is required to provide any form of special treatment or accommodation, or to construct any facilities or modify any conditions of lands within a wilderness area in order to facilitate such use.”

    Granted, the Wilderness Act is federal and doesn’t apply to the Adirondacks. Still, the intent of Congress seems pretty clear: “no special treatment.”

  16. smallwood says


    Can you find out how much use John Dillon Park ( is getting? (how about other places, such as 13th lake, Moose River planes, etc)

    If there is really a need for float plane access for disabled, is that because of overuse / overcrowding, lack of accessible places or what?

  17. Greg Rudd says

    As a native “adirondacker” I firmly believe that float planes should be allowed into all of those lakes for evreyone to enjoy. We all pay taxes and support N.Y.S. instead of closing off these lakes and putting more and more pressure on a dwindling number of flyable water they should open those lakes listed. Not everyone has the time or capabilty to paddle in. It’s not a matter of being “lazy”. After speaking with numerous pilots in the adirondacks they said that they fly out trash left behind by “environmentalists” so lets take an educated look at the issues here, economic as well as environmental.

  18. Beverly STellges says

    So, who is going to determine who is disabled and, therefore, allowed to fly in by plane???

    Also, look at the boat ramps that were built because of the law suit to allow pond access for the disabled. Many are ridiculous because once someone in a wheelchair gets to the shoreline, how do they get into a canoe/rowboat, especially the motorless ponds? Nothing against the disabled, but these floatplane issues to me are ways for those not really disabled, but wanting to get into the remote ponds without having to hike in!

  19. Marvelous Marv says

    Dear Mr Rudd,

    How do these pilots know they are carrying out trash left by the environmentalists? From the empty Tofu containers? I am pretty sure I carried out your trash once. It was the soiled diapers, empty SPAM can and second amendment primer guide, which coincidentally had the pages stuck together. None of which I could recycle. Well accept every other page of the primer.

  20. johnny virgil says

    No. Leave Lila alone. It’s hard enough as it is to get away from the damn motors. Have you ever been next to a float plane taking off? It sucks.

  21. Butch says


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