Thursday, November 16, 2017

Peter Bauer: Ban Motors on Weller Pond

Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond should be a quiet-waters area off limits to motorboats, accessible only by non-motorized craft. These ponds could offer a peaceful and beautiful refuge from the heavily used and extremely popular Saranac Lakes chain.

It would be easy to do. New York State owns the entire shoreline around both ponds. The state also owns the lands around the navigable channel that connects these ponds to Middle Saranac Lake. And the state has the authority to close these ponds to motorized boat traffic; it simply needs the will to do so.

The decision to make the Weller Ponds motor-free could be made in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest Area unit management plan. The state Department of Environmental Conservation released a draft UMP this summer. DEC is recommending a five-mph speed limit, but unfortunately, it wants to continue to allow powerboats on the ponds, even though many public comments were submitted urging motor-less management.

There are many reasons why the Weller Ponds should be motor-free.

Banning motorboats on the two ponds would give paddlers a place of their own on the busy Saranac Lakes. On a motor-free lake, such as Little Tupper Lake, several dozen paddlers can ply the water at the same time and yet the experience remains tranquil. Put a few motorboats on the water and the experience is dominated by the buzz of engines and surge of boat waves.

Motorboats and jet-skis now enjoy free rein on the Saranac Lakes chain. The entire chain — from Lake Flower to the Saranac River to Upper Saranac Lake — totals over nine thousand acres of open water. Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond amount to 190 acres — just 2 percent of the chain. Why can’t we set aside 2 percent of the chain as a motorless area?

There are few large lakes and ponds in the Adirondack Park where we have the opportunity to create a motor-free water. Most of the major lakes in the Park are open to all manner of motorized watercraft. A 2013 report by Protect the Adirondacks, “The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park,” looked at the region’s hundred largest lakes, from Lake Champlain to Beaver Lake (near Stillwater), and found:

■ Seventy-seven of the lakes are open to all kinds of motorboats as well as floatplanes.
■ Fourteen are privately owned, with no public access.
■ Just eight are motor-free.

Not included in those figures is Boreas Ponds, which the state purchased last year for the forever-wild Forest Preserve. At 339 acres, Boreas Ponds is ninety-fifth on the list. The state has not decided how to manage Boreas Ponds, but there’s a pretty good chance that motorboats will be banned.
Of the eight motor-free lakes among the top hundred, just five are relatively easy to access. That’s a mere 5 percent of the hundred. Of the top two hundred lakes, just seventeen are easily accessible and motor-free.

Weller Pond is 180 acres. If considered as a stand-alone water body and not part of Middle Saranac Lake, it would rank as the 155th largest lake in the Adirondacks.

Managing Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond as a motor-free area would pose few administrative problems. There is only one entrance to Weller Pond: a thousand-foot channel from Middle Saranac Lake. Likewise, Little Weller can be reached only via a side channel. DEC could put a sign at the start of the main channel warning that no motorboats are allowed beyond that point, with perhaps a second sign a little farther up the channel. The campsite-reservation system could be changed to let people know that the lean-to and three campsites on Weller Pond are available only for non-motorized watercraft. DEC could also provide information about the two ponds on its website.

We all need a break now and then from the hubbub of modern life. We need to unplug and escape the noise, speed, and smell of internal-combustion engines. We need places where we can observe wild nature and partake of solitude, whether on a day trip or an overnight camping trip. Such wild places grow fewer each year.

The Adirondack Park offers many opportunities for hiking to wild places. If you have the stamina, it’s fairly easy to reach remote backcountry. Opportunities to penetrate the wilderness by canoe or kayak are limited. The demand for such opportunities is high, but the supply is low. Making Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond motor-free would be a small step toward correcting the imbalance. The paddling public deserves this much.

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer. For more stories about the Adirondacks subscribe here.

Weller Pond, foreground, and Middle Saranac Lake, along the Saranacs. Photo by Nancie Battaglia.

Related Stories

Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.

51 Responses

  1. Tony Goodwin says:

    Peter, I totally agree. I camped there many times when I was younger with my parents – always arriving by canoe. My mother even stated on a couple of times that there were, at times she could remember, when someone had managed to place a log across the entrance channel that could only be passed by small, non-motorized boats.

    For years, camping on Tick Island was a major tradition – first for my father’s own Wolf Jaw Camp and later for ATIS groups that he led. I then took over and was the leader of several ATIS groups that camped on Tick Island before all those campsites became part of the Saranac Islands Campground with party limit of six. ATIS groups continue to camp on one of the two group sites on Middle Saranac Lake, and they have no idea what they are missing of the serenity of camping on Weller Pond.

    The last time I remember camping on Tick Island it was a Saturday night. From Weller Pond we could hear fireworks being set off on Middle Saranac and then a motorboat came in the channel but went to Little Weller. It alternately accelerated to full speed and then stopped, with distant shouts apparently exclaiming about what they could then see. Definitely an inappropriate use of this resource.

    better than signs, I would certainly favor a permanent barrier to motorized access like my mother had said once existed informally.

  2. Ethan says:

    You’ve certainly done your research, Mr. Bauer. We need more quiet places in this world, including waterways. I hope you – and many other paddlers – get your wish.

  3. geogymn says:

    Good article, good quest. A environment devoid of man made noise is therapeutic.

  4. Tim-Brunswick says:

    For crying out loud is there anything else we can whine about on this forum. Lets just ban everything including use/enjoyment of the ADKs…..I mean really. How petty can you get or is Mr. Bauer just running out of material………..?

    • Cranberry Bill says:

      Talk about whining…..

    • Boreas says:

      Petty? The purpose of the Forest Preserve is not to promote motors, pollution, and noise. The purpose is to protect and preserve natural resources – including silence.

      • Bob Kibbey says:

        Well said, Boreas. One problem is that there are too many Tim-Brunswicks
        at the state capital.

      • Paul says:

        Boreas, the Forest Preserve allows motors it always has. It is not some “silent” zone. Some parts but not all of it. Nobody is suggesting that promotion of motors here this is about a ban.

        • Boreas says:

          Yes Paul, I can read. Sounds like Tim-Brunswick has a problem with silence – calling it petty – that is why I replied. Couldn’t you figure that out?

          • Paul says:

            Yes, and I was replying to your comment on what you say the “purpose” of the FP is. That is just part of the purpose of the FP, and Weller Pond as I am sure you know is mostly a quiet place. A Wild Forest area like this is a place where occasional noise seems appropriate. No need to go re-classifying a water body like this. We just got the Essex Chain as motor-less. We are going to get the Boreas Ponds (no matter the final classification there) as motor-less. Once the state buys Follensby Pond. Do you think they will allow motors. I doubt it. It is more likely they will add part of the Raquette as Wilderness and ban motors there. “Quiet waters” people obviously are getting almost everything that is added to the FP these days, they just can’t get enough I guess.

  5. Lorraine Duvall says:

    A bit of self promotion. I make such a case and provide my experiences paddling Adirondack waters in my book “In Praise of Quiet Waters.”

  6. Scott says:

    How about getting rid of the dams and letting the area be forever kept as wild forest lands.

  7. Susan Christy says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bauer. I wish he had included the proper person or department within the DEC to contact, so that like minded people could easily send their opinions to those making the decision.

    • Boreas says:


      Even though the comment period has expired, you can try this from a previous article:

      Public comments will be accepted until close of business on August 11, 2017. Written comments may be mailed to Forester Steve Guglielmi, NYSDEC Region 5, P.O. Box 296, Ray Brook, NY 12977 or sent by e-mail to:

    • Aaron says:

      The only way this should be approved is with COMMUNITY support, not an initiative driven by public interest groups that run directly to Albany while ignoring the input of locals.

      • Dan Ling says:

        Aaron, community support is important, but this is not just a community resource. It is owned by all the people of New York State, and maintained by State agencies that use our (and my) tax dollars. We all deserve input.

  8. Henrietta Jordan says:

    Excellent idea. Motors absolutely do not belong in Weller or Little Weller. Wish they could be banned from Middle Saranac entirely. A couple summers ago, I watched in horror as a jet-skier harassed a family of loons off Umbrella Point.

  9. Bill Quinlivan says:

    I agree with Bauer here. I have been back there a couple of times and it is really a beautiful, peaceful place to take a paddle and stop on the shore line for a lunch or snack.

    • Paul says:

      Fact is not too many motor boats go in there. This is a non-issue as I see it.

      • Dan Ling says:

        I have spent my life going in there, have camped there innumerable times, and I can remember not seeing motorboats on only a couple of occasions in October. They also go up into Little Weller for the bass.

        • Paul says:

          Sure some go in there. But from my experience (usually there at the peak of the summer) you see just a few.

          This is also a waterbody that is almost impossible to enforce as motor-less – given it’s water connection to MS.

          • Dan Ling says:

            “Almost impossible to enforce” … you make unsupported statements that conflict with obvious evidence. It appears you haven’t spent much time in the motor-regulated St. Regis Canoe Area. The signs have been working effectively there for what – 40 years? Any evidence to support your opinion?

            • Paul says:

              Dan, I have actually spent the last 40 or so years paddling the St. Regis canoe area. None of which has a navigable water connection suitable for motor boats like Weller pond has with Middle Saranac. Let’s see if I want to get a motor boat from Upper St. Regis Lake to the St. Regis canoe area I have to drag or carry it to bog pond. Then I have to somehow navigate across bog pond and then drag or carry it to Bear Pond. Do you need additional support?

              • Dan Ling says:

                I had expected to hear your opinion on the signs restricting motors on Fish Creek (which is why I brought it up), which were put there after over-use by motorized craft in the 70s. The situation is very similar in fact. Enforcement of non-motorized access is clearly possible – Weller Pond is an historic campground, just as Fish Creek is. The only management issue that I can foresee is access for DEC maintenance of the campsites / privies, and there are many possible solutions there as well.

                • Paul says:

                  There are regular DEC patrols in the area with all the campsite maintenance but I still think that you are going to have a few problems that you don’t have if you just classify some other waterways as motor-less that are much more difficult to access. In those 40 years I have never seen a motorboat in the St. Regis Canoe area. And, surprisingly, I have also never seen a ranger in there. They are there I have seen them signed in, I have just never ran into one!

                  For Weller I say just share it with the few motor boats that venture in there.

                  I will say I have been on Middle Saranac probably 4 or 5 times every summer for my whole life I have never taken a motor boat in there myself. I have only seen it on foot while hunting between there and Upper Saranac.

  10. Tom Philo says:

    Great column! ~ One of the very few Peter Bauer columns with which I am in full agreement!

  11. Dan Ling says:

    The Saranac Lakes are where it all started – the first hotel in the wilderness on Lower Saranac Lake and the first wilderness guides, the “leatherstockings,” who took their charges through the lakes, including “Middle Pond,” as the Middle Saranac was then called. Verplank Colvin set up a theodolite station on Halfway Island which served as a critical reference during his historic survey of the mountains, after which Colvin convinced the Legislature that they should make this region a Park, and later to prevent cutting the trees to create the world’s first forest preserve. The forest surrounding Weller and Little Weller are part of the original Forest Preserve. Weller Pond itself is where Martha Reben and Fred Rice camped for a few summers to restore Martha to health, which lead Martha to write “The Healing Woods.” Besides being a particularly historic area, there is a sizeable loon population in the area, and on many occasions I have noticed parent loons rearing chicks in the Weller Pond area, no doubt to escape the higher speed motor activity on the lake. The vegetative bog mats around Weller and Little Weller Pond are the best Loon habitat on the Middle Saranac, and this habitat would be greatly enhanced by reducing or eliminating motorized activity. Local rangers can tell you that chain saws have felled many big trees around the lake and on Tick Island. Canoeists do not carry chain saws. It is also unlikely that a kayak brought in the spray paint that recently covered the large boulder on the magnificent beach on Middle Saranac. Motorized activities do increase the use and impact to these areas, in many measureable ways, including noise and even water pollution. This year, somebody dumped septic effluent directly into the South Inlet at the “hand launch” boat launch site, fouling the entire launch area. It was nothing short of absolutely disgusting. This was not canoeists, nor kayakers, but septic holdings from a motorboat. The primary purpose of the forest preserve is to protect the resource. This is a resource worthy of greater protection than it now has.

    • Paul says:

      “sizeable loon population”. True – the loons don’t mind the motors.

      • Boreas says:

        “True – the loons don’t mind the motors.”


        • Paul says:

          If there is a sizable loon population as Dan says (and there is) they obviously are not impacted by the motors. Wouldn’t you agree? The Loon population on many other parts of the Saranac Chain is also doing very well, including parts with far more motors then Weller.

          • Dan Ling says:

            Read the science, then come back. Motorboats create wakes that destroy their nests, which must be perched at water’s edge pretty much right at the waterline. Anybody who has spent much quiet time (not in a motorboat) on this lake has seen and heard the every-day distress motors cause to loons. When cruising by in a motorboat, you can’t hear their distress calls. I have also heard the entire loon population of Lows Lake give distress calls when a floatplane was landing (this was just after it was opened to the public – I had the lake to myself for 5 days).

            • Paul says:

              Dan, thanks. I know the science well. And since you know it as well you know that Loons are doing just fine nesting on waterbodies that have far more extensive wake issues than Weller Pond. Just look at the veritable explosion of Loons all along the the Saranac Chain (with all it’s motorboats). I personally watch a nesting pair of Loons each summer near my camp just around the corner from Ossetah lake. They have chosen every year (for at least the last 10) to nest (and successfully raise their chicks) on a section of marsh that is right next to a water ski course. The inboard with its large wake has no negative impact on the birds. A loon making its presence on the lake known to others is not a “distress call”. I have paddled my whole life on the St. Regis chain and I only need to show up with my canoe for them to welcome me with their “distress call”.

              • Dan Ling says:

                You may, or may not, know the science well, but your observations are not scientifically collected, and unsurprisingly, your conclusions are inconsistent with long-established science. What research can you cite that loons are “doing just fine” in the presence of high motorboat activity?

                • Paul says:

                  Look at the loon census statistics compiled by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Loons are thriving on many lakes with large numbers of motorboats. Numbers are listed specifically by lake if you want to look at the detail.


                  Unfortunately they don’t go back too far but it seems pretty clear that DDT is what killed Loons not waves.

                  • Dan Ling says:

                    You are cherry-picking data – the census does not address motorized disturbance. You need to cite research directly related to the issue. According to the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation,, “Loon nests and young chicks are easily swamped by the wake of a jet ski or a motorboat, resulting in chilling of the eggs or chicks, and possible abandonment by the parents.” Restricting motorized access could do nothing but benefit the loons.

                    • Paul says:

                      Cherry pick? I sent a link to the whole thing, all the data is there. The fact is Loons are thriving on waterways with far more motor boats than Weller Pond. Would it benefit the loons – sure but they are doing well despite the disturbance.

  12. Paul says:

    “just 2 percent of the chain. Why can’t we set aside 2 percent of the chain as a motorless area?”

    Most of the 9000 acres outside the navigable channel and the lakes is basically motor-less. I find lots of great places to paddle w/o motor boats even close on the Saranac Chain – areas that technically allows motors. That’s why it is so popular with paddlers.

  13. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: ” Loons are doing just fine nesting on waterbodies that have far more extensive wake issues than Weller Pond. Just look at the veritable explosion of Loons all along the the Saranac Chain (with all it’s motorboats).”

    You may not know it Paul but subconsciously you try to justify a negative thing by throwing a positive light upon it. I have noticed this in you and generally everyone I know whose slant leans on a right angle is the same way….almost as if a part of their anatomies were thrown out of gear. Don’t take this personally Paul I am just raising an awareness as I cannot help but see this in you.

    And when you say, “The inboard with its large wake has no negative impact on the birds.” I cannot help but think that you are off-center, unbalanced… if you will!

    • Paul says:

      More insults from Charlie. No surprise.

      Unbalanced. That’s a good one! For you it seems to be about “left” and “right” and “conservative” and “liberal”. It seems like too many people see the world this way now.

      As far as what I have seen with my eyes in the example I gave – those birds are doing better now than they did when the water ski course was not there. Is it because of the boats – of course not. But there isn’t the negative impact that you might expect. I have lots of beautiful photos I have taken there on the lake of baby loons riding along on their parents back. 30 years ago there was no water ski course and no loons. Charlie, those are just the facts. Nothing too do with my balance!

  14. Charlie S says:

    “For you it seems to be about “left” and “right” and “conservative” and “liberal”. It seems like too many people see the world this way now.”

    It is the way it is Paul and I cannot help but notice or be aware and to distinguish. I told you not to take it personally and then I said why but what do you go and do…take it personally. Society is not only at odds with each other but at odds with nature too Paul which is no coincidence. The native Americans had something to say about this way back when but did we listen? Of course not we never do we’re deaf. And blind too…..or so it seems. Or maybe it’s just outright apathy our disregard! The problem is that too many people don’t see Paul, there is an obliviousness about society at large, a lightheadedness!

    • Paul says:

      You can’t just insult people and tell them not to take it a certain way. How ridiculous!

      Is that how it works? You are “off center and imbalanced” but don’t take that personally. Charlie don’t worry I you mean by taking it personally I care what you think of me – I don’t.

      • Dan Ling says:

        Paul, when you say loons are doing “just fine,” based merely on your own observations, and discounting the opinions of expert scientists, who say that loons still have serious survival issues, habitat destruction, breeding problems, and human harassment is mentioned in virtually every research paper as a major threat to their breeding…well, you sound like a person who rationalizes their own pre-existing views – classic “confirmation bias.” We can’t rely on your anecdotal comments, but choose to rely on science instead. Just read the science in its entirety, instead of cherry-picking the positive population data we’ve been seeing (which is good). The research says over and over that human harassment is a serious and on-going threat to loons. We have all observed paddlers approaching and harassing loons. It is a policy of every National Park to discourage people approaching wildlife, because it is a known and well-established stress factor. In my lifetime of paddling the Middle Saranac, Weller, and Little Weller, I too have made observations. I can’t remember ever causing a distress call – I never approach wildlife in my canoe. Conversely, I see the calls almost invariably as powerboats pass. Now my observations are anecdotal, but I recognize them as such. I have also seen the birds nesting in the Weller and Little Weller areas, but never on the main lake. Again, anecdotal. I don’t deny it causes me to think and to derive my own conclusions, but my thoughts are not out of line with known facts – the science. My thoughts – that the ponds are important breeding habitat, are in line with the science, not against it, as your comments are. For the record, I am myself a geologist with training and experience in science.

        • Paul says:

          Dan, Again this is not based simply on my own observations. The science shows that we have a stable if not increasing loon population in the Adirondacks, that isn’t cherry picking.

          A quote from another scientist studying Adirondack loons (from NCPR):

          “Nina Schoch is a wildlife veterinarian who coordinates the Biodiversity Research Institute’s Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation. She says generally, the Adirondack loon population is doing pretty well. “Not only are the numbers increasing but they’re also expanding their range across New York State, where we have more loons showing up on more lakes and more breeding loons showing up.”

          For the record I too am a scientist – a molecular biologist in my case (too many years in college!). I am in no way qualified as a wildlife biologists when it comes to a matter like this. I can only listen to what these folks are telling us.

          They haver treats too, I understand that. But it looks pretty good overall.

          You have never seen adult loons trying to protect their young when you are in a canoe? That’s funny I have seen it a number of times. In some cases all you have to do is launch a canoe on a pond with a pair with chicks and you may see this behavior. They will start to call, then if you get anywhere near them (in my case just trying to cross the pond) they have a behavior where they act as if they have a broken wing and cannot fly and flap around in the water to distract you from the chicks. This is early in the spring when the chicks are very young. And the trout fishing is good!

          • Paul says:

            Have threats

          • Boreas says:

            Conflating data, observation, and statistics here. Wakes and disturbance from motorized vehicles on waterfowl nesting is well established fact. That fact does not necessarily mean loon populations are in immediate danger. But by the same token, do we actually know what is a healthy loon population? Do we know what the population should be to fend off new diseases, storms, invasive species, and climate change? Passenger pigeon numbers looked “good overall” – until they were inexplicably extinct. Hibernating bats were of no concern until white-nose syndrome. Because an animal population “seems” to have a healthy population, doesn’t mean it is – it is at best a guess. If we know human-generated stress has an effect on animals, why encourage it?

            Motorless canoes and kayaks also stress waterfowl – not from wakes, but by causing birds to exert energy to flee, display, or protect their young. This can move them from their feeding spot – activity they shouldn’t need to deal with. Loons especially have different reactions to intrusion because flying is so difficult for them. Many assume that when they approach loons with their craft that when the “friendly” loon(s) “escort” them or come close to the craft that they are simply curious. Others feel this is a display that tries to steer an unwanted intruder away from their nesting area, which entails unnecessary energy expenditure and stress. Just because they aren’t growling, showing their teeth, or attacking, we assume they are simply curious?

            Humans always feel they know what is best for animals. We have a terrible track record. The stuff we KNOW about animals is but a fraction of what we don’t know.

  15. Charlie S says:

    Dan Ling says: “The research says over and over that human harassment is a serious and on-going threat to loons.”

    Human harrassment is a threat to every living thing on earth Dan.

  16. Charlie S says:

    Paul says: ” The science shows that we have a stable if not increasing loon population in the Adirondacks,”

    How long do you think the stability will last the way we go about our business Paul? And if they are increasing that just means more of them are threatened.

    • JohnL says:

      Wow. The more loons there are, the more we should worry about them being threatened?? So, are you saying we should be concerned that there are getting to be too many of them. Maybe we should start thinning them out then. All in all, kind of a bizarre statement even for you pal.

  17. Charlie S says:

    Wherever man goes destruction follows. Or as the Native Americans once said so many blue moons ago… “Wherever the white man goes destruction follows.” So it follows that the more wild things there are the more of them are threatened. Logic!

    “So, are you saying we should be concerned that there are getting to be too many of them.”
    Too many invasive humans yes!

  18. David Whitson says:

    really? how much of your canoe/kayak registration goes to maintaining our lakes? Oh thats right canoers dont pay to use our water ways. What happens to the entrance to Weller when motorized boats stop using it? it turns to marsh, good luck paddling through that. Then when it does grow to the point that it is unuseable the state can cut you a carry across a qurter mile of the forest. About as many of you will use that as use the carry around the upper and lower locks which were designed for motor boats and use all sorts of mechanized equiptment to operate and have cost millions of dollars over the years to maintain and operate at no cost to canoers or kayakers. what makes the arrogant,better than everyone else conoe/kayak owners (not all,but most) entitled to more of our waterways than motorized boaters? What makes you so much better ? How much money has been spent rescueing motor boaters from the cold waters of the Saranac Lake chain compared to how much has been spent on canoe/kayak rescue? Many of us power boaters also own canoes and kayaks but we dont tell you to stay off any section of the lakes just because we dont like the way you use it. I also think I would like motorized access to the StRegis canoe area.

    Please stop the nonsense New York has already taken enough from us.

Wait! Before you go:

Catch up on all your Adirondack
news, delivered weekly to your inbox