Lake advocates want better protections against invasive species
By Mike Lynch
The state is updating its management plan for the popular Fish Creek Pond Campground and Day Use Area, and at least one organization has concerns about the plan’s ability to address key issues related to water quality and aquatic invasive species.
“The management actions of the plan are inadequate in addressing (aquatic invasive species),” states Upper Saranac Foundation President Tom Swayne in a letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “The plan fails to elaborate on preventative strategies to thwart the spread of (aquatic invasive species), and it also does not mention management proposals for current infestations.”
Upper Saranac Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting recreational opportunities and natural resources on Upper Saranac Lake, which is connected to Fish Creek ponds by a channel that is popular with boaters. The foundation has been battling Eurasian watermilfoil for years, spending millions of dollars in that effort. In the last few years, it has worked to not only remove the invasive from its lake but from within the campgrounds waters.
Fish Creek Pond Campground is located in the town of Santa Clara, about a 15-minute drive northeast from downtown Tupper Lake. The campground consists of 355 sites that line the shorelines of Square and Fish Creek ponds. The grounds are also popular with day users. The facilities are managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The plan, which is intended to guide management of the facility for the next five years, calls for numerous infrastructure upgrades. The DEC is proposing to build six new comfort stations with restrooms and showers that would be accessible for people with disabilities. It also proposes building a new boat launch, a road reconstruction project to accommodate two-way traffic, and a new parking lot for the Floodwood Mountain trailhead.
The campground, which is open from spring to fall, bustles with activity in summer months. During the camping 2019 season, the campground reported an attendance figure of 88,028 people while the day use area attracted 4,511 people. The camping attendance is calculated by taking the number of campers and multiplying it by the number of days they stayed at the facility. Between 2015 and 2019, the campground attracted an average of 91,301 campers per year and 4,850 day users. Campers stayed an average of 4.5 nights.
The DEC says the camping attendance at Fish Creek is down by nearly one-third compared to 20 years ago.
According to the Fish Creek management plan, 80% of its campers come from New York State, 9% from Canada and 11% from other states and countries. Those states include Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, among other places.
Upper Saranac Foundation Lake Manager Guy Middleton said because these campers come from all over North America, they have the potential to introduce new invasive species to the Upper Saranac Lake watershed.
One of the infrastructure changes proposed by the Fish Creek plan is to move its boat launch closer to the entrance. Middleton said the new launch should include a decontamination station for cleaning boats and preventing the spread of invasive species, in addition to the Adirondack Watershed Institute steward that has already been present at the old launch.
Swayne’s letter also says the plan should mandate that all watercraft be inspected when they enter Fish Creek and Rollins Pond campgrounds. Rollins Pond is connected to the Fish Creek Campground and accessed through the Fish Creek entrance.
The Upper Saranac Foundation letter also asks that the management plan better address the carrying capacity of users on not only the Fish Creek Campground, but the adjoining waters including its lake and Follensby Clear Pond.
“There are many in the watershed who would suggest the carrying capacity of the watershed has already been exceeded,” Swayne says.
The plan states that many of its facilities are aging, and Debbie Roberts, of Schenectady, agrees. She said the current showers are not even close to being accessible for people with disabilities.
“There is no room to turn a wheelchair in the shower, no room for an aide to help you, no bench or hand holds in the dressing area,” she wrote to the Explorer.
The plan states that the multimillion-dollar planned upgrades will be done when funding is available.