Monday, January 13, 2014

DEC Plans To Dismantle Marcy Dam

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Tropical Storm Irene damaged Marcy Dam, draining most of the pond behind it, hikers debated passionately whether the dam should be rebuilt to restore an iconic vista enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors over the years.

It looks like it won’t be.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently decided to dismantle the wooden dam in stages over the next five years.

DEC spokesman David Winchell said the cost of rebuilding the dam to modern standards would have been too costly and may have conflicted with the management principles for the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Those principles seek to minimize the presence of man-made structures.

Winchell said the dam’s benefits are merely aesthetic. “It provides no practical or environmental benefit,” he said in an email. “The ponded water upstream of the dam is mostly filled with sediment and does not provide habitat for fish. The dam prevents the movement of fish upstream.”

Marcy Dam is often the first rest stop for hikers and cross-country skiers heading into the High Peaks from Adirondak Loj. Visitors would gaze across the pond at views of Mount Colden, Avalanche Pass, and Wright Peak.

In August 2011, floodwaters triggered by Irene washed away the dam’s sluice gate, leaving a sluggish stream winding through a mudflat.

The flood also washed away a footbridge that spanned the dam. DEC does not plan to build a new bridge at the site. Rather, hikers and skiers will continue using a bridge built a quarter-mile downstream after Irene.

DEC opted to remove the dam rather than allow it to deteriorate. “A catastrophic failure would result in ecological damage from the release of the silt behind the dam and possibly result in injury or death of people,” Winchell said in the email.

Marcy Dam aerialDismantling the dam in stages, he added, will allow vegetation to grow in the mudflats and stabilize the sediment, reducing the amount of sediment that will be carried down Marcy Brook. Eventually, the dam will be lowered fifteen feet. Presumably, the mudflat will become a wetland with a stream running through it.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), said the club took no formal position on the dam, but he supports DEC’s decision on fiscal grounds. He said DEC budgets about $325,000 a year for the High Peaks Wilderness, and rebuilding the dam might have cost several million dollars. “The department just doesn’t have that kind of money lying around,” he remarked.

As to the loss of one of the most photographed vistas in the High Peaks? “There are people who passionately want that view to be back,” Woodworth said, “but there is a growing number of people who appreciate nature reclaiming Marcy Dam and changing it into a different but still beautiful environment.”

Irene also destroyed the dam at Duck Hole, another iconic spot in the High Peaks Wilderness. DEC earlier decided against replacing that dam.

Stephen Williams of the Daily Gazette reported on the Marcy Dam decision on Sunday. The public has until January 23 to comment on the project. Contact Erin Donhauser at DEC at

Click here to read a story published in the Adirondack Explorer in 2012 about the philosophical questions raised by dams in Wilderness Areas.

The top photo of Marcy Dam was taken by Phil Brown the day after Irene. The aerial shot was taken by Carl Heilman II about a week later. The water has since receded more.

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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.

54 Responses

  1. Pete Nelson says:

    I applaud this decision. With respect to view aesthetics, as the native biota reclaim the areas of sediment, one lovely view will be replaced by another, wilder one, with the Colden – McIntyre vista remaining largely intact. In all other respects this is a win for the natural world.

    • La Chupacabra says:

      Looks terrible. Are you looking at the pictures?

      Appreciate that you’ve got a doctrinaire viewpoint to share (Viva “natural world”! Down with human alteration…). But sometimes, just maybe, human activity could possibly be an improvement.

      My enjoyment of getting to the destinations at Duck Hole and Marcy Dam is not going to be replicated by a nondescript swamp or flood plain. But, feel free to let the dogma blind you to what the pictures show! Score a “win for the natural world”!

      • Paul says:

        Be patient. That is going to be a beautiful wetland providing an even better picture in the not-to-distant future. Rebuilding a dam that will probably be destroyed again and serves only to endanger the ecosystems, including the humans in there recreating makes absolutely no sense.

        It isn’t a tourist draw it is simply a stop along the trail. Usually one that resembles a hippy commune at times! Good decision all around. Spend the money somewhere else it can go to good use.

      • Pete Nelson says:

        I’ve been there multiple times since Irene, no need to rely upon pictures. The view is still gorgeous.

        Have you ever been to Lake Como in Italy? It is an unbeatable example that human improvements absolutely can increase the aesthetic beauty of a natural place. I’m not arguing that position. I would, however, point out that 99% of our landscape has been altered by human activity so thank you very much I’ll advocate for the fraction of a percent left that hasn’t.

        Dogma has nothing to do with it. If you’ve read my stuff over the last few years I think you’d get that dogma ain’t my thing. But slowing the parade of rampant human alteration of the environment here and there suits me just fine.

        • La Chupacabra says:

          Yes, I have been, and I agree with you about Lake Como.

          The idea that the Adirondacks are pristine and immutable is a dream. People want to believe that, but it is false. The MacIntyre Furnace and the like are so much more interesting than another mudflat. The whole thing was denuded in the early 19th century and 1885 was, rather than turning against a tide of development, going with the flow for an area that had already been abandoned as unsuitable for development.

          The dear protected baby here is not a pristine Arden, it is a park near to the perhaps the densest populated area in the most developed country. The absolutist dramatics may feel good, but it’s false.

          Two other things:

          1. “99% has been altered by human activity.” If that refers to minor effects aggrandized by the narcissism that human behavior has any real lasting effect, perhaps true (in a trivial way). Yes, there is horrible C02 all over the earth’s surface, so what. See the world. The things people who live in crowded cities hyperventilate about, with their romantic dire notions, many have trivial effects. Despite the dire hysteria of confused “scientific doctrines” that these edumacated elites think they “know.” Everything has effects. Very few effects matters in large, complex systems, breathless speculation notwithstanding. “Fraction of a percent”… um, you have a lot of world to see.

          2. Marcy Dam was pretty ugly. But like Lake Como, or Mount Fuji, artful improvement (yes, by the tainted hand of man) is often doable in an enhancing way. One that is not necessary evident as a clear contrast between nature and artifice. There are many opportunities to make beautiful things that the simplistic bumpersticker doctrine of dogmatic antidevelopment misses. Whether in the Adirondacks or wherever. Usually the crap washes away (no, nature is not “destroyed” forever, what self-centered-ness, look at Tahawus), and the art is built on and improved. But American Lake Comos can’t happen thanks to this dogma about “protecting nature.”

          I haven’t read your stuff until now. “Rampant human alteration” … dogma ain’t your thing?

          • Pete Nelson says:

            Okay, I’ll play, just this once.

            Your sort-of sneering attitude is charming, but it’s blunted by confusing rhetorical flourishes and a dearth of correct facts, a bad combination that betrays your political dispositions.

            Then there’s a tone that I honestly can’t follow. On the one hand you want to sound like a knowing, superior, deep thinker (I think). On the other hand you dismiss science, knowledge and learning with statements like “Yes, there is horrible C02 all over the earth’s surface, so what” and “…despite the dire hysteria of confused ’scientific doctrines’ that these edumacated elites think they ‘know’…” Confused indeed.

            Your first paragraph is a mess. First, no one said the Adirondacks were pristine and immutable. Of all people environmentalists, ecologists, biologists and climate scientists know that the natural world is mutable. That’s the point, isn’t it?

            “MacIntyre” was an old and alternate spelling, abandoned during the life of the enterprise. “McIntyre” is accepted.

            The McIntyre furnace has no “and the like.” It has no analogue in the region or, for that matter, the nation. It is unique and of great value.

            When you say “The whole thing was denuded in the early 19th century” I don’t know if you are referring to the area of the mine or to some definition of the region (there was no park yet so you can’t mean that). Either way your statement is completely wrong. In the early 19th century the mine did not even exist. In the early 19th century the vast majority of the Adirondack region was untouched.

            1885 is late in the 19th century. Anyhow I presume you mean to refer to the initial legislation that presented sale or lease of state-owned land. If that’s what you mean, the region had not “already been abandoned as unsuitable for development” in 1885. In fact the heaviest industrial development and logging was still ahead. If you are instead referring to the mine (honestly I can’t tell), the mine was not abandoned as unsuitable for development either. The actual story is much more complicated. In any case the 1885 legislation had nothing to do with the mine.

            Moving on, Norway is the most developed country, not the United States.

            Human behavior has obviously and unmistakably had permanent effects on the globe. I know no one, scientist or otherwise, who disagrees. Well now I know one person: you disagree. Later in the paragraph, in order to defend this indefensible position, you seem to attempt to adopt the trappings of a large-systems theorist or operations researcher. But your ridiculous CO2 reference submarines that possibility.

            You suggest I have a lot of the world to see; true, but you sneer it out like someone who has seen more. That’s very unlikely, so hold the empty sneering.

            As dams go Marcy Dam was not ugly. It was a reasonably handsome wooden structure, in keeping with its surroundings.

            Finally, the percent of land mass altered by human beings as well as the statistical curve of the pace of that development fits the adjective “rampant” pretty well. So not dogma.

            • Pete, Thanks for making those historical corrections.There are vast differences between the McIntyre mine site and Marcy Dam. Also, why do critics refuse to use their actual name?

              • La Chupacabra says:

                Yes, thanks for the corrections. As confirmed by NPR, the NYT, bureaucrats, and other chorus participants.

                Some people post a lot here. It is idle, and is of equal effect to what the supposed lasting consequence of whether Marcy Dam is abandoned or expanded. You could send someone to find forensic proof that humans were and are here, but it all has no meaningful lasting effect. Much less some polluting, cataclysmic effect.

                That is right, human effects like CO2 pollution, Marcy Dam, “rampant” whatever, are ephemeral, and pretending it is so important is a form of narcissism.

                Like someone writing tomes on here and thinking it is learned insight. Who cares…

                I hope they rebuild Marcy Dam nicer and better. I bet most of the posters on here have absurd bumperstickers and drive Volvos and Subaraus.

                • TrollSpotter says:

                  This ^^^. Random word generator.

                • Paul says:

                  I know the place where everyone drives a Volvo or a Subaru and has too many bumper stickers. It is the town in NYS that went (along with Bolder CO) for Ralph Nader when he last ran for president!

                  Can anyone name the town?

            • Gavin says:

              Did you say that Marcy Dam was not Ugly? The structure was surely less eye pleasing than other dams at sites such as Colden or the former dam at Duck Hole. The Marcy Dam structure has those steel railings which beside looking bad, invite campers to hang their bear bags over. Yes, the pond was pretty, but the dam is not. Furthermore, it is my opinion from the article that if the dam was shallower, like Colden, and / /or could be repaired at a lower cost, it would have- the determining factor here being cost.

            • Phil Brown says:

              Pete, a reader takes issue with your claim that the McIntyre blast furnace is unique. He says there is a similar furnace in the Blue Line–at Camp Little Notch in Fort Ann. And others around the country and the world. He sent the following links.






              The reader points out that both the McIntyre and Fort Ann furnaces are currently owned by the Open Space Institute.

              • Pete Nelson says:

                Thanks Phil.

                The reader is correct that there are other blast furnaces still standing. But they are all very different from each other. The era and technology represented by the McIntyre furnace was state-of-the-art at the time and is unique in preservation to day.

                I invite the reader to visit the McIntyre site. It has been interpreted recently and the information in the displays is very well done, with wonderful drawings. It tells the story of the uniqueness of the McIntyre furnace very well.


                • Gavin says:

                  The history of logging in the ADKs is a very interesting story and had a great deal of impact on the topography and settlement of the region. As did the Interstate Hwy System. Their modern equivalent may only be prospect of invasive nonnative species, I would guess.

                  That said- what are the opinions concerning the Scenic Railway issue as it pertains to cost benefit analysis on either side? Are their significant ecological concerns (saving the obvious) vs. economic ones? Sorry to take this discussion out of the HPW, but I have been on the fence about this for a while.

            • Jeff says:

              McIntyre or MacIntyre, who cares, but I know the Elites are on this kick to re-pronounce (& re-spell) words of the English language! mmm
              And remember, Capt Kirk is NOT going to tell Scotty to beam Planet Earth back to the Stone Age! Is that simple enough for you!

          • bob says:

            Did you just learn the word dogma or something? How many more times are you going to use it and variations of? Jeez.

  2. TiSentinel65 says:

    This is a case of not enough money for the nuts and bolts that a tourism economy needs. We now have all this land, however the dollars are going to be spread thinner. Speaking of dams. What is DEC’s plan for the dam on Cedar Lakes? Would eventually Cedar Lakes be allowed to suffer the same fate. I am not sure if it would drain off completely. The dam is a dam in name only. The water run’s right under it. Does anyone have a reference for the history of the dam on Cedar Lakes? I assume it was built to help float logs down the Cedar River. If you look closely out in the middle of the Cedar River Floe you can see what is left of what appears to be an anchor point sticking out of a rock formation in the middle of the floe. I think it was for tying down booms of logs.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Click the link at the end of the post. It will take you to a story in the Adirondack Explorer that discusses all the dams in Wilderness Areas, including at Cedar Lakes.

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    As I have noted before on similar comment sections and in an “It’s Debatable” column in the “Adirondack Explorer” there is no justification for rebuilding Marcy Dam because it wouldn’t be long before it became a mudflat anyway. What started out as a 15-foot deep pond had become a 2-3 foot deep pond even before the dam broke. Natural forces would have continued that progression no matter how the dam was rebuilt. So don’t blame the DEC or anyone else that Marcy Dam pond is history. Only a major dredging operation in conjunction with rebuilding the dam would restore the original, admittedly scenic, pond for more than a few years.
    Now, as for the Duck Hole, let’s see if we can get every nuisance beaver live-trapped and flown to the Duck Hole. There’s a mission for them there.

  4. Scouthiker says:

    A beautiful vista is lost but a natural wetland will be gained. The lake would have been filled in eventually by silt. Irene just hastened the process. As to tourism did anyone really come only to see the lake or to take in the entire expanse and majesty of the High Peaks region?

  5. David says:

    I’m happy to see it go. I love lakes but something about the dam itself just killed my wilderness experience. I can’t wait to view the former duck hole dam as a relic in the woods.

    • John Lesher says:

      ‘something about the dam itself just killed my wilderness experience’. Come on Dave. If that beautiful view does that to you, maybe you’re in the wrong place altogether. Maybe Alaska?

  6. Randy says:

    Let ’em all go! I have great memories of MD and Duck Hole from earlier days but the fact that these structures are there in the first place was because of decisions made by man, not nature. If the underlying premise of the wilderness areas of the park is just that, wilderness, then these dams serve no NATURAL purpose and should not be allowed once nature takes them away. Much as I’d hate to see it happen, if Camp Santanoni burned to the ground we would have to accept its loss as one more example of nature reclaiming what was there in the first place. Same thing applies, in my humble opinion.

  7. I’m sad to see it go and would rather that they repair it. Repair would cost less. The dam is part of the history of the area and as for Pete’s comment about stopping the alteration of nature, it’s already there and has been for decades if not a century or more. Another of my favorite places in the High Peaks, Trickle Falls in Avalanche Pass, was destroyed in the aftermath of Floyd. It’s a shame to see Marcy Dam goo too.

  8. zyxw says:

    I’ll be sad to see the dam go, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

  9. Jim Racquet says:

    wilderness classification in the adirondacks = no management,no money, do nothing. forever wild!

  10. Little Buckaroo says:

    The removal of the dam will be the End of an Error (as well as an Era) Good riddance!

  11. Little Buckaroo says:

    Now if only we could get rid of the three-ring circus known as the Adirondack Loj, which ADK was willing to do back in the 1970s but DEC didn’t have the $$, wouldn’t that be a great step towards a true High Peaks Wilderness? Are ADK members still as selfless now as they were then? Are they even willing to have that internal debate again?

    • Scouthiker says:

      LB- By keeping the Loj in place you minimize impact across the park as a whole. The Loj is a very small footprint that is highly utilized which allows other areas to be less travelled. Would you rather have one centralized Loj type facility or 10-15 smaller campgrounds throughout the park?

  12. Little Buckaroo says:

    That might also slow the traffic down on Mt. Marcy, before it gets worn down to monadnock size by the end of this century.

  13. Joe Bode says:

    How amazing that the ADK Club did not take any position on this . They are the first ones to point fingers if someone steps on a dead twig on the ground and breaks it in half. You would think they would see this as a good idea ( which it is ) being another manmade object taken out of the wilderness area. It was a nice view with the pond but taking the dam down and bring all back to its natural stae is the correct thing to do . Now lets work on the DEC lean -tos and fire towers. How about the the bridges ,steps and ladders that the ADK Club trail crew errects oh and the water bars also. Are any of these natural to the enviroment and are they not moving rocks from thier natural setting to build these ? This is what they preach is it not ? Im not agaist the ADK and they do good but sometimes they take it too far to where they think they own the park. DEC is doing the right thing now if only the ADK Club can admit it .

    • Steely Jones says:

      Most of the projects completed by the ADK trail crew are actually funded by the DEC. The DEC contracts the ADK crew to work for them.

      It’s important to remember that trails are not natural either, and can cause a lot of harm if they aren’t maintained properly. Though trail crew projects often entail cutting down a few trees or moving a few rocks, their intention is always one of two things: to prevent water erosion or to keep hikers on the trail. Without these structures trails would widen from hikers trampling vegetation to avoid mud, gully from water flow, or wash away, doing a lot of damage to the surrounding natural environment as a result. Though moving 4 rocks to build a water bar is not “natural,” it’s a very important step in protecting the rest of the park from the trail.

  14. Paul says:

    Looks like Mother Nature is taking out other bridges as we speak. The Adirondacks is an expensive place to live and play:

  15. Mike P. says:

    I am sad to see it go but you would not want a big flood control type structure there, to bring it up to “modern standards”. Eventually the view will disappear. I doubt it will take many years before you get 10-12 foot brush in there. As they lower/remove the dam 15 feet, the structures we stand on for the view will go too. Mud will dry as you get an established brook bed and the wide open area will fill in with brush first and then small trees. If camping decreases, the open areas where people waded into the old pond will fill in too.

    Yes, people did just go to Marcy Dam. Parents with young kids, Old hikers who no longer could get up Marcy. My son’s first High Peak area hikes included Marcy Dam & Mt. Jo. Took several Cub Scouts there just this November. The view with Wright’s Peak did grace a holiday card this year for one of the Scout’s family. The High Peaks is different things to differnt people and all should be welcome. It’s not just for the peakbaggers or the backpackers or people who want to escape all man-made things. (or are we leaving GPS, SPOT, and smartphones back in the cars too? If you have phones, you need towers somewhere.)

    What will it do for camping in that area? Being kind, Marcy Dam is a populated backpacking destination frequently often by novice backpackers as it is easy to get too. It was ideal for that, no one’s first backpacking trip should be Panther Gorge. Being novice friendly and being crowded were reasons you had a DEC Interior Outpost there.

    In time you’ll have more land available for people to camp on as some of the area of the old Pond will dry. It will not be a wetland in exactly the same footprint of the pond. On the other hand, with it soon losing the scenic beauty that drew so many people there, will it lose it destination qualities?

    • David says:

      Hopefully this will encourage people to go to under used areas of the park. There are places way nicer than Marcy dam that don’t get the credit they deserve.

  16. DEC plans to dismantle Marcy Dam » Upper Saranac Lake Association says:

    […] Read Article […]

  17. Trail Geek says:

    I presume that all bridges, firetowers and even the cable on the west face of Gothics, being man-made improvements after all, are next to go!?? And blow up that damn dam on Lower Ausable lake and let the Ausable river flow free!!

    Let’s get down to nature, 100%!!

    • Mike P. says:

      As the Lower Ausable Lake is privately held, I believe it’s not technically within the wilderness. I’d be surprised if the two lakes are as full of silt as Marcy was.

      • Paul says:

        Correct. That land is private land. NYS has an easement that allows the public to cross that land but the club holds title. Been lucky enough to row a guide boat around on that lake. I hope they don’t get rid of their dam.

    • Steely Jones says:

      Marcy Dam wasn’t built for aesthetics or hiker convenience, it was built for logging. Since there’s no longer a logging in the Adirondacks, spending millions of dollars to rebuild the dam would be a huge waste of funds. There are countless other projects to invest in that would be a lot more beneficial to both hikers and the park.

      Marcy Dam is still a very beautiful place, and there’s a lovely new bridge downstream for hikers who wish to cross at the dam area.

  18. Lea Cullen Boyer says:

    Love it~ I first hiked Marcy in 1982 and loved the view from the dam. Having said this the most important objective here is conservation. If it’s better for fish than I’m all for not rebuilding!

    • For a ‘down-stater’, is the Marcy Dam the same one that created Henderson Lake and where the spill off is the beginning of the Hudson River’s 350 mile plunge? Are there descriptions of the terrain before the dam was built? Or better, photographs?

      • John Warren says:

        Hi Ray,

        No, Henderson Lake is a different place in Newcomb. Marcy Dam was built on Marcy Brook which flows into the West Branch of the Ausable near Adirondac Loj. Marcy Dam was about 2 miles from Adirondack Loj. It was a stream / wetland before the dam was built to impound the waters to float logs in the late 19th century. The current dam is a modern replacement.

        I’m not aware of older photographs available online, but a search for Marcy Dam in Google images shows thousands of photos – it’s a popular spot to snap a pic.

  19. Wally says:

    The email given for commenting is invalid. Surprised no one mentioned that. Or do we just talk to each other rather than decision-makers?

  20. […] Marcy Dam view will never be the same. Hurricane Irene did a number on it and DEC will be dismantling it over the next five years. With views of Mt. Colden, Avalanche MT and Wright Peak (though I couldn’t see much above the […]

  21. BabsyB says:

    Had the dam never been built nature would have taken it’s natural course and vista’s and environments would have changed naturally. The dam however was built-it made for a great view-now nature, in the form of Irene, has changed that! The thought of man and machinery coming in to fix something that actually has no ecological value for the sake of a view seems illogical. It’s the Adirondacks…there are breath-taking views everywhere. And to reiterate…without the dam nature would have most likely changed the view. In the end the appreciation of nature must be in the fact that it is ever changing and creating new views and new wonders to marvel at.

  22. JB House says:

    I was lucky and was able to capture this image from the Dam less then two weeks before the Hurricane did it’s damage. Marcy Dam was always a special place to me, and will be missed.

  23. Anwar says:

    The best thing to do will be to remove the dam and resotree it to its natural condition!!

  24. Letta Ann says:

    How old is Marcy Dam? They start removing this weekend?