SARANAC LAKE - State officials plan to upgrade a heavily used boat launch site on the Saranac chain of lakes.
Public hearings will be held later this month on the state Department of Environmental Conservation's management plan for the Second Pond Boat Launch Intensive Use Area, located on state Route 3 west of Saranac Lake.
DEC wants to reconstruct the boat launch and its parking area to improve public access and minimize impacts on the natural resources at the site. At the same time, the state Adirondack Park Agency has proposed reclassifying some of the land in the boat launch area because part of the site is currently in the High Peaks Wilderness.
A steward inspects a kayak for invasive plants and animals Friday at the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Second Pond Boat Launch, located off of state Route 3 just west of Saranac Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Parking congestion is a frequent problem at the Second Pond Boat Launch, as is seen Friday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The proposed management plan and the reclassification were outlined to the APA board at its meeting last month. Doug Bernhard of DEC's Division of Operations said the changes to the boat launch are long overdue.
"What we're proposing here is a series of measures to accommodate existing use," he said. "We're not looking at increasing use. We're looking at making it more safe and more usable for the public and for vehicular traffic along Route 3."
Second Pond is used by anglers, boaters and campers. It's the main public access point into the Saranac Lakes, particularly the 87 campsites that are part of the Saranac Lake Islands public campground. It's typically used by the public from April 1 to Dec. 15, Bernhard said.
The 10.5-acre launch, which was developed before the State Land Master Plan was enacted in 1972, can accommodate about 75 cars and boat trailers, but the space is not well designed and its layout is confusing to the public, Bernhard said. On busy weekends in the summer, he said as many as 100 cars and trailers have used the site. If there isn't enough space for them to park in the launch area, they often end up parked on both sides of the highway.
The site is also not in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There's a ramp at the launch that meets ADA standards, but there aren't enough designated handicapped parking spots, Bernhard said.
The other major management issue is that part of the launch's parking area is located in the adjacent High Peaks Wilderness Area.
If you go ...
What: Public hearing on the proposed reclassification and management plan for the Second Pond Boat Launch Intensive Use Area
When: 7 p.m., July 17
Where: APA headquarters on state Route 86, Ray Brook
"How this developed over time is unclear," Bernhard said. "It's one of those incremental creep things that we don't have a good handle on how it was authorized or when it was authorized."
To resolve the issue, the APA has proposed reclassifying 5.6 acres of wilderness, roughly where the southern half of the parking area is now, to intensive use while reclassifying 6.8 acres of unused, forested wetlands in the western part of the intensive use area to wilderness.
DEC is also proposing to reconfigure the parking area and include a new parking loop for vehicles with trailers, creating a total of 100 parking spaces, including handicapped-accessible spots.
APA Commissioner Sherman Craig asked if it might make sense to create more parking spaces.
"It would seem that where you're able to do pre-reserved camping in such a beautiful area, and I don't know anything about carrying capacity, I'm wondering if it's shortsighted to do only 100 (spaces)," Craig said. "Is there a backup plan where it could be expanded 30 or 40 more parking spaces if you felt the need to?"
Bernhard said surrounding wetlands limit the possibility of adding more parking.
"In terms of building it out to a maximum, we really haven't entertained that," he said. "We're really just looking at getting the existing levels of use. I don't know if the site could accommodate a larger number."
Bernhard also said DEC will work with the state Department of Transportation to put up new signage or guardrails to keep people from parking along Route 3. If the boat launch reaches its maximum capacity, additional people would have to be directed elsewhere, he said.
The management plan also includes proposals to replace the existing ramp with a more usable, safe ramp. Floating docks that adjust to the water level, improve the facility's accessibility and can be taken out during the off-season would be used instead of fixed docks. DEC also wants to remove an old building along Route 3 and revegetate the site, replace the current booth where campers register with a new 8-by-12-foot booth, build a 20-by-30 foot firewood storage building near the booth, reconstruct the vault toilet system, replace the entrance sign and put a kiosk near the launch with information on invasive species.
Agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich asked if the plan includes a boat washing station to prevent the spread of invasive plants and animals. Bernhard said Paul Smith's College will continue to have stewards staff the launch to talk with boaters and inspect their boats for invasives. A boat washing station isn't proposed, but there is room for one, he said.
Commissioner Richard Booth noted that the SLMP says, in general, an intensive use area shouldn't be expanded using a wilderness area, unless there are exceptional circumstances.
"I can well imagine a case can be made that this is exceptional circumstances; I just think that should be done explicitly in the document," he said.
Public hearings on the proposed reclassification and the management plan will be held at 7 p.m. on July 17 at the APA headquarters in Ray Brook and at 1 p.m. the following day at DEC headquarters in Albany.
Written public comments will be accepted until July 31 and can be sent to James Connolly, APA deputy director, Planning Division, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be sent to Douglas Bernhard, assistant director, Division of Operations, Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233 email@example.com.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.