Paddlers will have to find alternative entry due to dam work
By Mike Lynch
A key access point to one of the Adirondacks’ most popular paddling routes will be closed for next season and perhaps longer.
Every summer thousands of paddlers enter the Bog River at Lows Lower Dam outside of Tupper Lake, starting their excursions for one of the many nearby wilderness destinations.
But next construction season, the dam is slated to undergo extensive repairs to bring it into compliance with New York dam safety regulations. The $2.8 million project will require closing the access road to the public and lowering the river water about one foot below normal levels. The road closed on Dec. 6 and the state said it will remain that way for the duration of the project, which is scheduled to end next fall at the earliest.
In the meantime, paddlers will have to go elsewhere, which is a “huge deal” according to at least one local outfitter.
“That parking lot has continually been the busiest parking lot in the Adirondacks for canoeing,” said Rob Frenette, owner of Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake. “They have 40 to 70 cars there in the peak season just about every day.”
In a normal year, paddlers put their boats in the water just above the dam. From there, they can paddle three miles to Hitchens Pond, where there are campsites and a hike to a vista overlooking the river.
From Hitchens, paddlers can continue past Upper Lows Dam for another eight miles to Lows Lake, from which they can complete the 35-mile Oswegatchie Traverse or 55-mile Whitney Loop to Lake Lila, considered two of the premier wilderness paddles in the park.
There are 39 first-come, first-served campsites on the Bog River, Hitchens Pond and Lows Lake upstream from the lower dam, and many more on the other wilderness routes.
Frenette said the Bog River parking lot starts filling up in June, when bass anglers visit the area, and is continuously packed in July and August when the paddlers show up in droves. The visitors are a combination of clients of outfitters and people with their own crafts. Often the vehicles fill the lower dam lot and line the access road.
Frenette anticipates that many of these paddlers will now head to Little Tupper Lake and Lake Lila in the Whitney Wilderness or perhaps head northeast to the St. Regis Canoe Area.
And some will find other ways to access the Bog River.
More to Explore
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is offering alternative access points to the Bog River. One is the Horseshoe Lake outlet, which is accessible .4 miles past the lower dam road. The outlet connects to the river about halfway to Hitchens Pond. There will be room for about 10 vehicles at two Horseshoe Lake campsites that will be used for temporary parking.
People willing to carry or wheel their boats 2.5 miles can use the access road to Lows Upper Dam. There is room for about 10 vehicles at the gate.
Dave Cilley, who owns St. Regis Canoe Outfitters in Saranac Lake, said day trippers may wind up going elsewhere but many paddlers seeking the wilderness camping trips will likely still head to the Bog River, using the outlet or by long portages.
“The biggest problem is going to be the same problem we’ve always had: where can people park?” Cilley said.
Frenette questioned why the DEC couldn’t create a parking lot at the upper dam, but DEC said that wasn’t possible because the State Land Master Plan dictates that parking areas within wilderness and primitive areas must be located within 500 feet of public highway.
There are no public highways close to the Upper Dam, which abuts the Five Ponds Wilderness. Both roads leading to the Upper Dam are administrative roads, which do not allow public motor vehicle use.
One bonus is that long-term parking will be improved as part of this dam repair project, according to the DEC. Staging areas associated with the work will be turned into parking areas, and the Lows Lower Dam lot will be expanded. Plus, additional parking will be added along the access road.
But the full parking expansion proposed in the Unit Management Plan will not be completed at this time. The full expansion was originally included with the dam project, but portions were ultimately removed to reduce the amount of tree cutting. Only improvements that were needed to complete the dam project are included, according to the DEC. The parking area improvements have not occurred to date because of other priorities, budget and staffing constraints, and more recently the tree cutting litigation the DEC has been involved in during recent years, the department said.