Is Lows Lake Wilderness?

The Adirondack Park Agency voted Thursday (May 14) to hold public hearings on classifying Lows Lake and adjacent state lands as Wilderness. The APA did so in part to placate environmentalists upset by the agency’s recent decision to allow floatplanes to continue landing on Lows for the next three years.

The APA has yet to set dates for the hearings, but there will be at least one inside the Park and at least one outside it. We’ll let you know when we get the dates.

The proposal is unusual in that it seeks to classify waters as well as land. There are three private landowners on Lows Lake, and in the past the APA has shied away from classifying waterways that were not fully surrounded by state land.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said the proposal, if adopted, could set a precedent for other waterways, such as the stretch of the Raquette River that borders the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

Altogether, about 3,070 acres of water (Lows Lake, Hitchins Pond, part of the Bog River, and Bog Lake) and 9,600 acres of land would be designated as Wilderness. Most of the acreage would be added to the Five Ponds Wilderness. The rest would go into the Round Lake Wilderness. (Click on map below.)

Wilderness is the most protective of the APA’s five classifications for state land. Among other things, such a designation forbids motorized use. After 2011, floatplanes will not be allowed to land on Lows Lake. Motorboats are already prohibited on the lake, though the inholders are exempt from the ban.

The Wilderness designation is bound to run into opposition from local-government leaders. Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board, which monitors the APA, noted that the Lows Lake region contains five roads and two concrete dams–which he described as “good reasons not to classify it as Wilderness.”

The Park’s State Land Master Plan describes Lows Lake as part of a wilderness canoe route. From the western end of Lows, paddlers can portage to the Oswegatchie River and then travel down the river for about sixteen miles. Critics like to point out that the lake itself is the creation of a man-made dam.

After the meeting, Woodworth acknowledged that the canoe route would not be the same without the dams, but he said the lake nonetheless provides a wilderness experience.

Do you think Lows Lake should be designated Wilderness?


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. Nancy says

    I know i’m over simplifying this, but any area that can be designated wilderness should be. And not just in the Adirondack Park, every where. If people want to develop new land, they should find the old run down, abandoned land and rebuild. Quit planting developments on farm lands, mowing down forests and plop down camps for the rich on any open lake front property. And motorized vehicles in the Adirondacks should be highly restricted. People come there for the beauty, but the planes, boats, snow mobiles, dirt bikes rob the land of that beauty.

  2. Dale Jeffers says

    Certainly this great area needs to be classified as Wilderness but, once so classified, it needs to be managed as Wilderness. DEC does not presently deal well with oversize groups which become particularly at odds with a wilderness experience due to the way that sound travels in a paddling venue. On those relatively few occasions when DEC encounters large groups, the solution offered is to split them up so that they camp at adjacent campsites. This just results in a lot of noisy back and forth travel between the sites and, since many sites do not comply with the SLMP separation distances, little is accomplished. My own observation is that oversize groups rarely sign the trail registers making it difficult for DEC management to quantify the problem.

  3. David TT says

    I’ve paddled into Lows numerous times the past 15 years and have never seen a plane, yet I’ve heard the delivery trucks and cars plying the road to the Scout camp on the north shore. I love the quiet, yet I think this as an issue is way down the list of what we should be working together on. The Adirondack Council, I think, was sensible on this, preferring not to push the question, in favor of coalition-building and good will with local businesses and governments, as it has done in in the Common Ground Alliance.

  4. Phil Gallos says

    I understand and sympathize with the urge to protect the land; but, in the Adks., I think we have gotten into a bad habit of using the classification of “wilderness” too loosely. We’ve been tacking the wilderness label onto all sorts of terrain that are probably not and, in many instances, clearly not wilderness in a more strict sense of the term. Some of Lows Lake is certainly primitive; but, as long as there are active private properties on it and road access to it, it is not wilderness; and to call it that actually degrades the integrity of the concept. To me, wilderness is a place that is – at the very least – not accessible by a road that is still passable to motor vehicles; has no actively used private properties involved; has not been logged or farmed in at least thirty years. I can think of more criteria, but those are three that seem to have been ignored of late. So, no, Lows Lake is not wilderness, regardless of how worthy it may be of protection. Nor, for that matter, are the Cascade Lakes or Chapel Pond or Lake Lila. When you’ve got semis whizzing by at 55 mph, or even a logging truck slowly hauling a load out of the deep woods, you may have something beautiful but you don’t have wilderness.

  5. Phil the Editor says

    Phil, you raise some good points. I do think that there is a distinction to be made between classifying an area as Wilderness and managing it as Wilderness. DEC has the right to ban motors from lakes not in Wilderness areas. Unfortunately, some people have the idea that only Wilderness is motor-free and that therefore motors should be allowed in the rest of the Park (mostly lands designated as “Wild Forest”). Because of this, the concept of Wild Forest also has been degraded. The state constitution says the whole Forest Preserve is forever wild. It does not make a distinction between Wilderness and Wild Forest. I realize none of this contradicts what you say.

  6. TimothyD11 says

    Wilderness areas come in different sizes.

    Wilderness, as a New York state classification is a little different than the definition of wilderness.

    The former has to do with the level of protections and restrictions of a designated area.

    Unfortunately there are still private properties on Lows Lake.

    But when you consider the size and locations of these properties I don’t think that should be an obstacle to Lows Lake and/or it’s surrounding area being classified as wilderness.

    The state land surrounding Lows Lake DOES, after all, border the Five Ponds Wilderness – it makes perfect sense to simply add this land to the Five Ponds Wilderness and move the border. It’s really this simple AND it can be justified just like that.

    If the anti-wilderness crowd wants to get technical, the state / DEC / APA ought to just make the Bog River and Lows Lake an official canoe-only area and make the remaining land wilderness.

    The relatively small parcels of private property ought not be an obstacle to fully protecting the remaining larger area.

    Whether or not it is the dictionary definition of wilderness or not, there is NO QUESTION that it is too wild to allow motors in there.

  7. Mark says

    I think the idea of classifying Lows as a Wilderness area is absurd. It’s a man made lake. As far as limiting seaplanes or motorized boats all that has done is create 3 classes of citizens, one allowed to basically do as they please because they own shoreline property, one completely excluded and one, an elitist attorney from Albany with a couple dogs.


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