Monday, June 7, 2010

Commentary: On Roads and DEC Conspiracies

I guess the conspiracy theorists were wrong.

When the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced it would not open the dirt roads in the Moose River Plains Recreation Area, some in the blogosphere suggested that DEC was using the state’s fiscal crisis as an excuse to cut off motorized access to the Plains. Supposedly, DEC was in cahoots with environmental groups.

Of course, DEC has since announced that it will open most of the roads after all. It agreed to do so after local communities offered to share in the expense of maintaining the roads.

I do find it curious, though, that the DEC will keep closed the Indian Lake Road, which forms the border between the Moose River Plains Wild Forest and the West Canada Lake Wilderness.

Several years ago, I attended a meeting at which DEC discussed a proposal to close this five-mile road permanently to motor vehicles. The rationale for the closure was that it would safeguard the West Canada Lake Wilderness against motorized incursions and the negative impacts of overuse along the border.

Interestingly, DEC argued that the closure would be a boon for floatplane operators as it would make Indian Lake, which is located at the end of the road, an attractive destination for their customers. As long as people can drive to the lake, it makes no sense to fly there.

I need to clarify that we’re not referring to the big Indian Lake associated with the hamlet of the same name. The Indian Lake in the Moose River Plains is an eighty-two-acre water body on the edge of the West Canada Lake Wilderness Area. It once held brook trout, but acid rain killed most of the fish. DEC’s intention is to restock it with trout once the lake’s pH improves.

I don’t know what became of DEC’s proposal, but it seems like a good idea. A few years ago, I visited Indian Lake during a four-day backpacking trip from Forestport to Lewey Lake. Indian is a beautiful, wild lake, but its shoreline has been damaged by overuse. By closing the road, DEC would be limiting use and keeping out most of the litterbugs. In time, Indian Lake would recover its pristine appearance.

Incidentally, the purpose of my backpacking trip was to trace part of the proposed route of the North Country National Scenic Trail. When finished, this trail will stretch 4,600 miles from North Dakota to Crown Point. The trudge along Indian Lake Road was the most boring part of my trek. This section of the Scenic Trail would be more appealing if it were allowed to revert to a motorless pathway.

No doubt some people would oppose closing Indian Lake Road. If you’re one of them, let us know your thoughts.

Whatever you think of the proposal, it shows that DEC recognizes that environmental groups are not its only constituency. In this instance, the department was looking out for the interests of floatplane operators—just as it did during the controversy over Lows Lake.

Yes, DEC listens to environmentalists, but it also listens to pilots, hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, business owners, and the list goes on. The department can’t please everyone all the time, least of all conspiracy theorists.

Photo of Indian Lake Road by Phil Brown.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




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