The Adirondack Park Agency voted 6-4 Friday to classify most of Lows Lake and adjacent lands as Wilderness, despite objections from local politicians.
Under the proposal, which requires approval from the governor, Lows Lake west of Frying Pan Island will be designated Wilderness. The rest of the lake, which is much narrower, will be designated Primitive.
The two classifications do not differ much in their management guidelines. Both classifications forbid motorized use by the general public. In this case, the Primitive classification reflects a recognition that the eastern part of Lows Lake abuts private lands, access roads, and a large concrete dam, making it less wild.
The Boy Scouts, the major landowner on the eastern part of the lake, will continue to be allowed to to use motorboats. They can take their boats on any part of the lake, but they usually stick to the eastern part, shuttling Scouts to and from islands.
Although the full APA board voted Friday, it debated the proposal on Thursday afternoon. One of the biggest objections was that the APA would set a precedent by giving a state-land classification to a lake. In the past, it has classified only land.
APA Chairman Curt Stiles argued that the novelty of the proposal was no reason to vote against it. “If government never sets a precedent, it never moves forward,” he said.
But Fred Monroe of the Local Government Review Board, which has a non-voting seat on the APA, fears that it could lead to motorized-use restrictions on other lakes that are partially bordered by private land.”It’s not just that it establishes a precedent; it’s that it establishes a bad precedent,” he said.
Environmental activists also differed on the matter.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, favored the classification of the lake. Since the lakebed is owned by the state, he said, it is part of the Forest Preserve and should be treated as such. Dan Plumley of Protect the Adirondacks took a similar position.
But Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council, argued that it was premature to classify the lake as Wilderness (even in part), given the adjoining private lands. He also noted that Lows Lake is created by a large dam.
“This is what upsets local governments,” Houseal said. “They see an artificial lake classified as Wilderness.”
Woodworth said he doubted the precedent would affect many other lakes. In many cases, if not most, the state is not the sole owner of the lakebed. He suspects the main reason local governments strenuously opposed the lake’s classification is that it will make it harder for the APA to reconsider its decision to ban floatplanes from landing.
Earlier this year, the agency voted to ban floatplanes from Lows Lake after 2011. The Wilderness and Primitive classifications reinforce this decision.
The proposal approved Friday was a revision of an earlier proposal to designate 12,700 acres, including the bed of Lows Lake, as Wilderness. The revised proposal, besides splitting the lake between Wilderness and Primitive, creates an Eastern Five Ponds Access Primitive Area that encompasses the region around the Lows Lake dam, including Hitchins Pond and the access roads. As its name indicates, this area will be classified as Primitive. The remaining land will be classified as Wilderness.
Woodworth said the vote will protect two wilderness canoe routes that include Lows Lake. One starts on the Bog River and ends on the Oswegatchie River. The other is a multiday loop that includes Little Tupper Lake, Lake Lila, Lows Lake, the Bog River, and Round Lake.
The proposal is expected to be approved by Gov. David Paterson. All three state officials on the APA voted for it. Joining them were Curt Stiles, Dick Booth, and James Townsend. Dissenting were Frank Mezzano, Leilani Ulrich, Arthur Lussi, and William Thomas–all residents of the Park. Stiles is the only other full-time Park resident on the board.