Upper Locks between Lower and Middle Saranac Lake to close for repairs

Department of Environmental Conservation caretaker Margaret Hawthorn uses a wooden arm and muscle power to operate the Upper Locks between Middle and Lower Saranac Lakes in 2016. Explorer file photo by Mike Lynch

DEC announces start of $1.6 million in repairs, foundation finds suspected HAB

By Gwendolyn Craig

The Upper Locks providing boat access between Lower and Middle Saranac Lake will close on Sept. 18 for $1.6 million in repairs, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced on Tuesday. 

The repairs are expected to be finished sometime in 2024. Kingsbury Companies of Middlesex, Vt. will complete the work under DEC supervision. It is funded by NY Works.

“The Saranac Lakes Locks are a unique and essential structure for recreating on more than 5,000 acres of water, including several large lakes,” said DEC Region 5 Director Joe Zalewski. “Rehabilitation of these structures is crucial to safe recreational access between Lower and Middle Saranac Lake.”

The work begins as residents along Upper Saranac Lake fear that a harmful algal bloom has developed. The blue-green algae was spotted Sept. 5 in Back Bay in the northern most section of Upper Saranac Lake, the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation reported, adding that state agents and water researchers are monitoring the situation.

The Upper Locks at Saranac Lake. Courtesy of state Department of Environmental Conservation

Mike Damp, owner of Saranac Lake Marina, provides boat rentals for Lower and Middle Saranac Lakes. He said the lock restoration work is needed, but the timing of shutting the locks down is “never easy.” After an influx of rain in the Adirondacks this summer, Damp said this past weekend’s sunny skies made for busy days on the lakes. 

Boaters on Lower Saranac Lake. Photo by Mike Lynch

“As long as everything goes as planned and gets done, I think it’s great, but that’s many months of shutting down,” Damp said. 

There are several private camp owners who will have no motorized boat access during that time, Damp added. The DEC said canoes and kayaks may still be carried around the locks to access either lake. Damp said there is a canoe cartop launch at South Creek, too.

For lock use by motorboats, an average busy weekend totals about 70 entrances or exits, with about 30 on most weekdays or slow weekends, DEC said. In addition, several paddlers often use the locks.

Repairs, according to the DEC, include: 

  • Refurbishing the upstream and downstream miter gate lock doors and wicket (filling/emptying) gates, including replacing all seals and bearings;
  • Replacing deck boards on the push decks and lever arms;
  • Replacing downstream boat dock and shelter; and
  • Replacing concrete deck slabs and fixing concrete lock chamber walls and floor.

This story was updated to include DEC lock usage data and to note the suspected HAB discovery.

About Gwendolyn Craig

Gwen is an award-winning journalist covering environmental policy for the Explorer since January 2020. She also takes photos and videos for the Explorer's magazine and website. She is a current member of the Legislative Correspondents Association of New York. Gwen has worked at various news outlets since 2015. Prior to moving to upstate New York, she worked for a D.C. Metro-area public relations firm, producing digital content for clients including the World Health Organization, the Low Income Investment Fund and Rights and Resources Initiative. She has a master's degree in journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She has bachelor's degrees in English and journalism, with a concentration in ecology and evolutionary biology, from the University of Connecticut. Gwen is also a part-time figure skating coach. Contact her at (518) 524-2902 or gwen@adirondackexplorer.org. Sign up for Gwen’s newsletter here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Paul says

    One tender told me he did 125 boats one day this summer..

    I hope they just replace the down-stream dock and “shelter” with like a modern “doc doctors” kind of dock. They don’t need a “shelter”. It’s not going to hurt a boat to get wet. They are just there daily, no longer anyone needing longer term boat storage.

    There are local firms that do this type of work and sell these type of docks, I hope the state is not farming this out to some far off thing..

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