Should the Duck Hole dam be rebuilt?

Duck Hole a few days after Irene breached the dam. Photo by Phil Brown.
Duck Hole a few days after Irene breached the dam. Photo by Phil Brown.

By coincidence, the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer contains a debate on whether the Duck Hole dam should be repaired. Some might argue that since the dam has been breached by the floods of Hurricane Irene, the question has been settled, but that’s not the case.

Tom Wemett, who wrote in favor of fixing the dam, is now mounting a campaign to have it rebuilt. “Pretty much anybody who paddles or hikes to Duck Hole experiences the same thing: it’s just a magical place,” Wemett told me after Irene.

Bill Ingersoll, the author of the Discover the Adirondacks guidebooks, opposed Wemett in the Explorer debate and hasn’t changed his mind.

You can read both sides by clicking the link below.

Incidentally, Adirondack guide Joe Hackett reports that Duck Hole still has enough water to paddle. Click here to read my Adirondack Almanack post based on my interview with Joe.

Duck Hole debate PDF 

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. Bill Ingersoll says

    I plan to revisit Duck Hole in the near future, to see what the storm has revealed and to personally assess what remains of the dam.

    However, based on the photos I’ve seen of the site, it appears that the dam was damaged beyond repair. Therefore, the only way to restore the former pond is to construct a new dam… an action that is expressly forbidden under the State Land Master Plan.

    If so, and with all due to respect to those who supported dam restoration, it would seem that this debate has been settled definitively.

  2. Phil says

    Bill, that’s an interesting argument. I’d like to hear what the other side has to say about that. Is there no grandfather clause that allows DEC to rebuild pre-existing structures?

  3. Bill Ingersoll says

    Not to stymie others from commenting, but this is the SLMP provision on dams in Wilderness:

    “– existing dams on established

    impoundments, except that, in the

    reconstruction or rehabilitation of such

    dams, natural materials will be used

    wherever possible and no new dams will be


    Like I said, I plan to visit Duck Hole soon to see the site with my own eyes and make my own assessment. However, based on the photos I’ve seen, it appears that the old structure was shattered beyond repair. The SLMP provides only for the “reconstruction or rehabilitation” of the dam, not its replacement. If the existing logs could be reassembled in some way, that would be an allowable “reconstruction” I suppose.

    But I suspect the only way to restore the pond to pre-Irene levels is to build a replacement dam, and I can see no way except through a play in semantics that such an effort could be permitted under the SLMP… regardless of my own personal opinion.

  4. Mike Sands says

    I would love to hear the debate about the difference between “replacement” and “reconstruction.” Are these terms clearly defined in the SLMP?

  5. Bill Ingersoll says

    Basically, what I’m really getting at is not the distinction between “replace” and “reconstruct,” but rather the distinction between an “existing dam” versus a “new dam.”

    Based on the photos, the logs and rocks from the old dam that are currently sitting in the Cold River seem to have no impact on the level of the new pond whatsoever. In fact, it looks like the outlet of the new Duck Hole pond flows *down* over some small rapids before passing the ruins, which means that if there is still some navigable water there, it’s not because they are being impounded by a man-made structure.

    If there is zero water impoundment, then we can safely conclude that the old dam was effectively destroyed by Irene. It no longer exists or functions as a dam. By my understanding of state land policy, its validity as a conforming structure under the SLMP has come to an end.

  6. Paul says

    Bill, does this mean that we cannot re-construct any of the other structures that were destroyed on Wilderness land? The hiking bridges across the brooks in and around the John’s Brook valley for example?

  7. Paul says

    Bill, After I looked back at the comments I see that perhaps the ASLMP has references specifically to dams. I think (at the very least in spirit) the document probably considers a “new” dam to be one where there has never been such an impoundment. Not this particular case. With that said I see no practical reason to replace the dam.

  8. Jeff says

    Duck hole was one of those special places in the Adirondacks that drew people back time after time. That will no longer be the case now that the dam is gone. What people fail to see with the strict regulations pertaining to the wilderness areas is that you are discouraging much needed tourism in the area. That pertains to lack of trail maintenance and removal of lean-to’s also.

  9. George says

    My take is a little different – seems like the original dam(and the resultant Duck Hole)had become an integral part of what we, as humans, might define as ‘wilderness.’ Of course, ‘wilderness,’ itself, has no concept of what we may or may not define and proclaim(we are a little arrogant, aren’t we?).

    As such, being a formerly inseparable part of the ‘wilderness,’ it seems the hand and actions of man has fully allowed – and as a consequence, in fact, aided and abetted – his own difinition to be corrupted by allowing the dam to fall into dierepair and to ultimately be destroyed. If ‘wilderness,’ by our own definition, excludes the hand of man and his constructions, then Duck Hole, as it was, was part of the ‘wilderness’ that existed long before our definitions and regulations.

    This seems duplicitous and, at the very least, inconsistent with our own definitons and conventions having to do with ‘wilderness.’ If ‘wilderness’ was the goal, by a strict interpretation of our own definition(doesn’t wilderness tend to define itself, to a great degree, in spite of us?), then why wasn’t the dam removed years ago, utilizing our current definition? Beats me…

    But to rebuild/repair/reconstruct the dam, even if it is by the hand of man, seems consistent with our own definition – it was ‘wilderness’ before the dam gave way(in its former state) – replacing it maintains the former ‘wilderness,’ and the creatures and ecosystems that evolved at Duck Hole and grew to depend upon its existence. To allow the dam to deteriorate and be destroyed? It couldn’t have been done any better if we had taken a bulldozer to it. How is that consistent? The dam was lost because of the hand(or lack thereof)of man. It was deliberate, human directed and extremely effective.

    Thanks for the opportunity.

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