APA approves updates despite invasive species concerns
By Gwendolyn Craig
In a split vote, the Adirondack Park Agency approved upgrades to Fish Creek Pond Campground and Day Use Area.
Dissenter Andrea Hogan doubted the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s plans for the campground’s management program went far enough to combat invasive species.
This bothered Hogan enough to vote against the plan during the board’s Thursday meeting. Hogan also voted no, she said, because the DEC has yet to formally study the carrying capacity of the pond and adjoining water bodies. Carrying capacity is the maximum number of something that a region can withstand without negative environmental impacts. In this case, it is the maximum number of boats.
The measure passed over Hogan’s negative vote and the absence of APA members Ken Lynch and Joe Zalewski, who represents the DEC.
The proposals the rest of the APA board approved on Thursday include replacing six restroom stations and a bath house, reconstructing roads, expanding parking, improving the area’s bike path and amphitheater, and building a new caretaker cabin and boat launch. Hogan liked those portions of the plan.
The DEC is may also temporarily close nine campsites per year for maintenance.
The campground is the DEC’s largest campground and one of the most popular. DEC staff said the campground is still open for the season so it is not yet sharing visitor numbers. The 2020 season’s numbers were skewed because of the coronavirus pandemic and a late opening, said Josh Houghton, natural resource planner for the DEC. Nonetheless, campground visitation for all the DEC-managed facilities has continued to rise over the last three summers. Between 2015 and 2019, the DEC reported that the campground sees an average of 91,000 campers per year.
The APA has to sign off on amendments to the campground’s planning documents. The board has to make sure the changes follow the APA’s rules and regulations.
What gave a few board members pause was the specific plans for a new boat launch, but fewer specifics on a station to wash boats of aquatic invasive species. The planning document did suggest designing space “for a boat steward area and/or infrastructure to support a boat washing station.”
Kevin Prickett, a planner with the APA, said boats in need of invasive species removal are currently directed to a washing station on Upper Saranac Lake.
Hogan said she disliked that the plan did not have a stronger commitment to installing a boat washing station at Fish Creek Pond. Board members John Ernst and Mark Hall echoed Hogan’s sentiments.
Hogan also asked Prickett why staff’s memo stated that the water bodies’ carrying capacity concerns have been addressed. The DEC has not completed those carrying capacity studies.
Chris Cooper, counsel for the APA, said carrying capacity wasn’t part of the campground’s management plan. Carrying capacity is part of the Saranac Lake Wild Forest plan, Cooper said. The campground is within the Saranac Lake Wild Forest. Cooper said the issue would be addressed when looking at the forest management plan, not at the campground’s plan.
Hogan said she understood carrying capacity fell under a different plan, “but it’s an integrative system.”
Former DEC Commissioner Tom Jorling has also challenged APA and DEC for not studying the carrying capacity of water bodies. Jorling, who has a home on Lower Saranac Lake, lost a lawsuit against the department and agency in August over a marina expansion on that lake. He is appealing.
Though Hall voted for the campground amendments, he said during member comments that the DEC and APA “are missing the boat” by not requiring boat inspections as part of these plans.
“The money it costs up front is much less than trying to eradicate these invasives once they get into a waterbody,” Hall said.
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