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In The Adirondacks

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Notes from the North Country

Judge classifies Lows Lake as Wilderness

A state court judge has ruled that the bed and waters of Lows Lake in the northwestern Adirondacks should be classified as Wilderness, the Adirondack Park's most restrictive land use category.

State Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch of Albany issued the ruling in a lawsuit brought by two environmental organizations, the Adirondack Mountain Club and Protect the Adirondacks!

Lynch ruled in a decision dated Monday that the Adirondack Park Agency erred in November 2009 when it left the lake, on a popular canoe route southwest of Tupper Lake, unclassified.

The decision means motorized boats will be prohibited from the lake.

Lynch ruled that the lake itself should be in the same land use classification as the state-owned Five Ponds Wilderness Area lands around it. That Wilderness was established in 1987.

"He upheld the principle that the APA has a legal obligation to classify water bodies that are part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. That part of the decision has important implications for the future management of the waters of the Forest Preserve," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

In the past, the park agency has left some water bodies unclassified.

"This decision underscores the fact that the lakes and water bodies of the Adirondacks need protection as much as the land and forests do," said Dale Jeffers, a director of Protect the Adirondacks!

In September 2009, the APA voted 6-4 to classify a portion of Lows Lake as Wilderness and a portion as Primitive.

But then-Gov. David Paterson's representatives on the APA board changed their position, and that November the board passed a new resolution that left the lake unclassified, the environmental groups said in their lawsuit.

Opponents argued that the APA did not have the authority to classify the lake as Wilderness because the state does not own the entire shoreline of Lows Lake. A Boy Scout camp occupies one section of the shore.

Lynch, however, concluded that Adirondack Park land management laws "require the APA to classify state-owned bodies of water even if the water is contiguous to a private land holding."

At the time of the APA decision, Lows Lake had been the subject of another land use controversy, over whether float planes would continue to be allowed to bring fishermen and others to the remote spot.

The APA earlier in 2009 had banned float planes from Lows Lake, a ban that takes effect at the end of this year.

Lows Lake, located on the boundary between Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties, is at the center of a larger area advocates would like to establish as the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

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