Last Sunday, two friends and I paddled from Second Pond on the Saranac River to Oseetah Lake and then walked to the beach at Pine Pond for a swim. Although the weather was iffy throughout the afternoon (we got rained on twice, albeit briefly), the sun came out just as we returned to our canoes on Oseetah.
Pine Pond is a beautiful body of water that lies just inside the High Peaks Wilderness, where motorized recreation is forbidden. We were somewhat surprised to find an all-terrain vehicle and a golf cart at the pond.
But only somewhat surprised. The High Peaks Wilderness boundary is an old dirt road that runs for several miles from Averyville outside Lake Placid to Oseetah Lake. The road may be impassable to the family sedan, but not to ATVs. Just before the lake, there is a short spur that leads to Pine Pond. People can reach the spur by riding from Averyville or from camps on Oseetah.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has posted signs against vehicle use on the spur to the pond. The main road, though, lies within the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, and it’s uncertain whether it’s owned by the state or local towns, according to DEC spokesman David Winchell. In winter, the road is used as a snowmobile trail.
There has been talk of closing the road to vehicles, but Winchell says DEC will not decide what to do until it writes a management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. The plan has been in the works for years, so it’s anybody’s guess when it will be completed.
Jim McCulley, who won a legal fight with DEC over the ownership of another old road, predicts a firestorm if DEC tries to ban ATVs and other vehicles from the Oseetah Lake road. “You want a fight?” he says. “Try closing that. All the local boys hunt in there.”
McCulley contends that the road is owned by the towns of North Elba and Harrietstown. In recent years, he adds, North Elba has used crushed tarmac to harden the surface. “They do some work on it nearly every year, just so there’s no question who owns it,” he said.
Winchell says DEC’s lawyers are researching the ownership issue.
Given the implications of the McCulley case, DEC lawyers may find themselves looking into the history of a lot of roads in the Adirondacks.