Several years ago, the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine launched a Campaign for Quiet Waters, with the goal of making a few more waterways in the Adirondack Park free of motorboats.
The response was overwhelming. To date, about 10,000 people have signed on in support. Clearly, canoeists and kayakers hunger for places to paddle without the noise, fumes and wakes of gas-powered motors.
A recent survey of paddlers in the St. Regis Canoe Area underscored the need for more quiet waters. As you might have guessed, the Canoe Area is a paddler’s paradise: an 18,400-acre tract of wilderness dotted with beautiful glacial ponds, connected by short portage trails.
Or at least it used to be a paddler’s paradise. In a 2007 survey conducted by the state College of Environmental Science and Forestry, paddlers often complained about beat-up campsites, garbage, noise, and other people.
Somewhat paradoxically, most of those surveyed also were satisfied with their “wilderness experience.” Christopher Amato, an assistant commissioner at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, suggests that people’s expectations of wilderness have become diminished as a result of the crowds in the Canoe Area. After all, a wilderness is supposed to be, in the words of the federal Wilderness Act, a place “untrammeled by man.” A place where you can find peace and solitude.
One reason paddlers flock to the St. Regis Canoe Area is that it’s the only place in the Park managed specifically for paddling. There are other opportunities for wilderness paddling, such as Lake Lila and the Oswegatchie River, but these also see a lot of use.
Spurred in part by the St. Regis survey, DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency recently announced that they intend to form a Quiet Waters Working Group to study the Park’s waterways with an eye toward making more of them motor-free.
As editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I think this is a great idea. Opponents of the initiative argue that motors are banned from hundreds of ponds in the Adirondacks. This is true, but misleading. Most of those ponds are too remote or too small to bother with. Not many people want to bushwhack for hours to paddle across a half-acre pond.
When the Explorer started its Quiet Waters Campaign, we estimated that only 5 percent of the Park’s water surface is motor-free. (This estimate does not include Lake Champlain, much of which falls within the Park boundaries.) Our proposal would put another 2 percent or so in the motorless category. Does that seem outrageous?
I should clarify that, despite the similarity in names, the Quiet Waters Working Group is not affiliated with the Quiet Waters Campaign. The state group has not begun to formulate recommendations. We have already set forth our proposals, which can be found on our Web site, www.adirondackexplorer.org. One idea is to ban motorboats from the network of small ponds just south of the St. Regis Canoe Area. This could be viewed as a second Canoe Area or as an expansion of the existing one.
In a time of rising gas prices and rising concern over global warming, we are glad to see that the state is interested in providing more opportunities for clean recreation.
There are two things you can do to help.
First, you can support the Explorer’s petition. Send an e-mail to me with your name and home address. My address is email@example.com. Second, you can e-mail Pete Grannis, the state’s environmental conservation commissioner (firstname.lastname@example.org). Tell him you support the motorless initiative. If you have specific recommendations, let him know.
Oh, there’s one other thing you can do. Go paddling.
About the author: Phil Brown is Editor of the Adirondack Explorer in Saranac Lake.
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