RAY BROOK - Anglers, boaters and environmentalists showed up here Tuesday to share their comments and concerns with the state's plan to upgrade a popular boat launch on the Saranac chain of lakes.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation's unit management plan for the Second Pond Boat Launch Intensive Use Area includes proposals to reconfigure its parking area and replace the existing boat ramp and docks.
The DEC's Nick McKay said the 10.5-acre boat launch's current parking area can accommodate 75 vehicles but was poorly designed and is inefficiently used. On busy weekends in the summer, up to 100 boats and trailers use the site, but the launch parking area becomes so congested that many people have to park along both sides of state Route 3.
"The outlay of the whole facility just doesn't allow for proper parking or management," McKay said.
The state plans to reconfigure the parking area to improve the flow of traffic at the launch and create 100 on-site parking spaces, including designated handicapped spots.
In addition to putting in a new boat ramp and new floating docks, DEC also plans to remove an old cabin near the entrance to the site, replace the launch's booth and build a firewood storage building on the site. The launch's vault toilet would be reconstructed, and a new sign and information kiosk, with signage about invasive species, would be added.
The state Adirondack Park Agency is also considering a request from DEC to reclassify part of the boat launch parking area that's currently located in the High Peaks Wilderness, where motorized use is prohibited. The APA's Kevin Prickett said 5.6 acres of wilderness would be reclassified to intensive use while 6.8 acres of intensive use would be reclassified as wilderness.
During the public comment period that followed the 50 minutes of presentations, one speaker questioned why the state is only looking to accommodate the existing use at the site.
"All you're doing is incorporating the vehicles on the road into the parking area," said Ed Dryer. "It's going to be a nice-looking area, I'll give you that, but I don't think it's going to benefit any more people. Isn't there any way at all to find an area to put in a few more parking places, 20 or 30 more? I think it would benefit everybody in the long run."
The launch is also the main access to the 87 campsites that are part of the Saranac Lake Islands public campground. Each site is allocated two parking spaces, and although not all campers park at Second Pond, Dryer said use associated with the campground has "overloaded" the parking area.
David Whitson of Vermontville said he worked as a lock tender and a park ranger for the state, so he is familiar with the problems at the launch. He said there's no room for boat trailers, so few local fishermen use the site.
"A lot of us have quit going up there because of it," he said. "The Saranac Lake campgrounds has taken over the parking lot, pushing us to park on the road. They issue two parking permits for every campsite. If there's 87 campsites, do the math. There's not enough room. That pushes the fishermen completely out of the picture up there."
Whitson said 15 to 20 parking spots should be reserved for the cars and trailers of fishermen. He also said the state shouldn't block people from parking along the road near the launch since many sportsmen park there during hunting season. Whitson also objected to the building of a woodshed on the site, saying the state shouldn't be competing with local businesses that sell firewood.
Marilyn Gillespie also spoke on behalf of the Adirondack Mountain Club. She said a boat washing station should be included in the plan to help prevent the spread of invasive species.
"A boat washing station is absolutely necessary," added Allison Buckley of the Adirondack Council, noting that spiny water flea, an aquatic invasive insect, has been found at the southern edge of the Adirondack Park. "I think keeping our waterways clean is important."
Buckley also said her group is concerned about using reclassification as a solution to addressing a non-conforming use, calling it a dangerous precedent given the number of non-conforming uses in wilderness areas. Buckley said she didn't have issues with reclassifying the land in this case but said the justification for it needs to be spelled out better.
Roger Gocking of Saranac Lake, an avid kayaker, asked for more specifics about what the new boat launch facilities would look like. Citing issues he's had with the new Crusher boat launch, on the Raquette River and state Route 3-30, Gocking said he was concerned about whether floating docks would accommodate kayaks.
APA and DEC staff didn't respond directly to any of the questions and concerns during the hearing, but afterward they spoke privately with many of those who attended.
The public can weigh in on the Second Pond UMP and the proposed reclassification until July 31. Comments can be sent to James Connolly, APA deputy director, Planning Division, Adirondack Park Agency, P.O. Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977, or email@example.com. Comments can also be sent to Douglas Bernhard, assistant director, Division of Operations, Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or email@example.com.