Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Lorraine Duvall: Weller Pond Protests and Quiet Waters

Weller Pond canoe inAs an advocate for quiet waters, on August 18, 2018, I joined with 36 canoes and guide boats on a Canoe-In to Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond to lobby for no motors on these pristine bodies of water (cul-de-sacs of the Saranac Chain of Lakes.) As we paddled toward the channel to Weller Pond nine powerboats lined the shore of nearby Hungry Bay. We chanted “All we want is 2%: You have 98,” referencing the amount of the waters open to motors on these lakes. The entire 17.5- mile route from Lower Saranac to Upper Saranac Lake allows for the unlimited use of motorboats.

The motor-boaters held signs urging that Weller be kept open to them. After hearing about the Canoe-In, they had sponsored an advertisement in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on August 11 encouraging “Motorboat owners and boat enthusiasts to come and show your support in preserving and protecting our rights on the water.”

The Canoe-In, sponsored by Protect the Adirondacks, was organized to honor the 20th anniversary of an earlier Canoe-In on Little Tupper Lake – a protest that resulted in Little Tupper Lake being managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as Wilderness, preventing the public and administrative use of motorboats. That’s what we were asking for at this protest on August 18, 2018 – no motors be allowed on Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond.

Peter Crowley, Managing Editor of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, joined us at Hungry Bay and published an article in the August 20 edition of the paper, “Quiet vs. shared waters.” This article was republished a week later in the Watertown Daily Times titled, “Peaceful confrontation underscores boating questions in Saranac Lakes chain.”

Hornbeck canoesYes, the Protesters (the paddlers) and the Counter-protesters (the motor-boaters) were civil. Some of my protesting buddies paddled over to the motor-boaters, thanking them for respecting our views on the use of the waters.

Crowley wrote about both sides of the issue. He quotes Terry Clement of Tupper Lake who was in a motor boat that day, “I am a die-hard paddler. But I have so many options available to me,” citing the near-by St. Regis Canoe Area. Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks, offered a different view, “Most of the really wild places in the park involve pretty rigorous portages. This would be accessible to a lot of folks.”

I especially like what my friend Evelyn Greene, from North Creek, said: “We’re not kicking them out; we’re kicking their boats out.” Another way to say this – we are asking that they not use their motors on Weller.

I told a friend about the Canoe-In. He’d spent one or two weeks annually for over 20 years camping on Weller and said, raising his hand in agreement, “Yes, we support no motors on Weller.”

“But you had a canoe with a motor when you went there,” I said.

He looked surprised that I remembered, and replied, somewhat defensively, “But we turned the motor off when we entered Weller. We did not want to disturb the others.”

“How considerate,” I said.

I posted Peter Crowley’s article to the Facebook page “Paddling in the Adirondacks” which prompted these comments:

“Old folks need motorboats, a small 4 stroke makes almost no noise or smell.”

“No motor boats.”

“Can’t we just get along?”

I liked the comment, “People paddle for different reasons. I just really have no interest paddling anywhere there are power boats, that’s me.” One woman said she was afraid to offend anyone, but, “It is kind of like the age old struggle between snowmobilers and x-county skiers/snowshoers. I’m someone who tries very hard to leave a zero foot print and who really values nature and wild things.”

A week after Crowley’s August 20 article, the Enterprise published an editorial:

“No burning need for motorless Weller,” even though they wrote that a great joy of the Adirondacks “is the opportunity to escape the noisy human world and bask in the natural sounds of water, wind and animals.”

The Editorial continues, “Weller is already pretty quiet ….”

I say, “‘pretty quiet’ is not ‘quiet.’” As soon as a motor enters a waterway, the experience changes – any hope of a wilderness experience is shattered. The ‘natural sounds of water, wind and animals’ are no more.

In the current DEC management plan that includes the Saranac Chain of Lakes, the DEC states that it “seeks to address the desire for ‘quiet waters’ for paddlers and continued use by boaters.” In this spirit, DEC proposes a limit on the horse power for boats on a number of the waters, including a 5 mph speed limit on Weller Pond and Little Weller Pond. No other restrictions are placed on the use of motorboats from Lower Saranac Lake to Upper Saranac Lake.

When Dick Beamish was publisher of the Adirondack Explorer at the turn of the century, he sponsored a ‘Quiet Waters Campaign,’ focused on the elimination of motor use on the smaller ponds in the Fish Creek Area and portions of the Osgood, Marion, and Raquette Rivers. Also included were Weller and Little Weller Ponds. Motors are still allowed on all of these waters.

Recent purchases by the state have made available two opportunities for wilderness paddling in the Adirondacks – The Essex Chain Lakes and The Boreas Ponds. Both are gems. Both are near Newcomb and require long drives from population centers. The Essex Chain involves a carry – more than I can do without help, even with a light Hornbeck. Accessibility is still a question for the Boreas Ponds.

Photos of Weller Pond Canoe-In participants, and Hornbeck canoes.

Related Stories

Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She writes of her paddling adventures in the book "In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks." Some experiences from her memoir, "And I Know Too Much to Pretend," led her to research a woman's commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, "Finding A Woman's Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks." Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.

16 Responses

  1. Karen Smith says:

    Any hopes of my wilderness experience were shattered when C-10 flew over my campsite in Fish Pond.

    Shattered is a hugely dramatic word. Try altered, or something simple.

  2. Keith Gorgas says:

    There is something fundamentally askew in the morals of people who don’t like to share. I was one of the people in the motorboats. We were all quietly hanging out with the loons swimming and diving around our boats when the wild gang of 30 some canoes came screaming across the quiet tranquil lake, yelling in unison “All we want is 2%, you have 98! ” It really seemed like a skit out of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. What we all would have like to have said over the screaming was “We all have 100%, you want 2% all to yourselves.”

    This happened on a summer Saturday, late morning. There were very few motor boats on either Lower or Middle Saranac Lake. Loads of water to escape motor boat traffic. Why be so selfish that you think you deserve exclusive use of an asset?

    • John Warren says:

      ^^^^ complains about people who don’t share, while protesting having to share.

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        Maybe I am misunderstanding you, John, or maybe you misunderstood the counter protest. Nobody has suggested banning canoes from any part of the Saranac Chain of Waterways. Canoes, by nature, have far more access to parts of the lakes and rivers than motor boats do. Our whole point was and is, that shared waterways has been a tradition on the Saranacs and should continue to be. That there is a need for better courtesy and safety education for both motorboat operators and canoeists is certain.

    • Boreas says:


      This was a protest to bring the issue to the state for review. NYS reserving this or any other small water body for motorless craft is no different than keeping motors out of the HPW, or motorcraft off of Boreas Ponds. It is simply resource management. Resource management should ALWAYS be open to change. If resource management reviews the issue and decides this small pond is inappropriate for motorcraft, then so be it. I see nothing that indicates selfishness – at least on the part of the group asking for a change. Selfishness isn’t asking for something you don’t have, it is refusing to give up anything you do have.

  3. My wife and I and two friends kayaked and swam in Weller Pond on July 29 this year. As we were enjoying watching two loons and their 2-3 week-old chick swim across the lake, a noisy motor boat, apparently oblivious to the conspicuous loons, proceeded without slowing down right to and over where the loons were swimming. (The boat could have easily given the loons wide berth.) Thankfully the loons and their chick were unharmed.
    For many years I owned a motor boat, which we kept it on one lake (so as no to risk moving invasives around) where there were hundreds of other motor boats. Now in my 70’s I much prefer kayaking on quiet waters where motorized craft are prohibited and where one can respectfully enjoy the wildlife whose environs we are privileged to share.

    • Kt says:

      I believe this to be a rather selfish argument. I observed on this day, the paddling side to be far more disturbing to tranquility and wildlife than the motorboat group. The loons were among us for quite a while until the ranting from the opposing side. The loons actually left the area entirely when this ocurred. Dec’s compromise to have limited MPH on these waters is not only fair it’s reasonable. It continues to allow everyone to share in the experience of being there. Which is something I feel fortunate to have grown up doing.
      For what it’s worth the loons have a presence on the entire Saranac chain. I have taken beautiful photos of loons with their chicks, bald eagles snatching their catch, blue herons, deer, and so on. These were taken from a boat with a motor on it!
      Let’s not ban an entire type of vessel just because of a few irresponsible people. Let’s not judge that if one has a motorboat they are anti environmental conservation. Almost any person going to Weller Ponds is going there for the tranquility of this beautiful setting. How they get there is entirely within their right.
      We live in a beautiful place. Saranac chain of lakes is unique in that it has been shared by all for generations it should continue to be that way. The DEC’s MPH restriction is a fair and reasonable compromise.

  4. Rich says:

    How about a compromise – electric motors only? I’ve fished Weller many times on my 16 footer with a 60HP, and I can absolutely cover Weller entirely (in no time) with my electric trolling motor (which is what I do typically as I don’t like to disturb the quiet there). I’m quite happy to pull up the 60 and just troll around silently when fishing.

  5. Randy says:

    I’ve been camping and paddling on Weller over the past few decades. First time with a group of rambunctious Boy Scouts, last time with a small group of ADK Paddle Outing members. Many times Middle Saranac presented a challenge to paddling due to pretty bad chop. I can see the need for motors on the bigger lakes in the chain, but the need for motors into Weller and Little Weller could and should be eliminated once the channel is reached. Both paddlers and motorboaters present an invasive species threat when they launch into Middle Saranac from the Route 30 site without proper hull washing, so that’s a whole nother kettle of fish.

  6. Robert DiMarco says:

    Again all about us humans, when are we going to take second place to other beings,i.e. Close areas to all human intrusions!

  7. Tyler Socash says:

    The author, and the sponsor of this protest, were among a very small percentage (less than 1%) of the 11,288 public comments that asked for Alternative 2 for the Boreas Ponds Tract. Alternative 2 allowed public motorized-access to one of the last remaining motor-free areas of the Adirondack Park. Confusing “motor-free Waters” with “convenient for me, motor-free waters” defeats the point of their advocacy.

    The Saranac Lake Wild Forest is currently open to motorized use of the Forest Preserve, and the only places that ensure motor-free recreation is a Wilderness Area. When people asked to bring motors up to the very shoreline of Boreas Ponds, they immediately defeated the sense of remoteness at the Ponds, which should supersede any selfish desires to make a trip easy. Large, wild, and motor-free ponds in the backcountry are rare in the Adirondacks. By asking for Boreas Ponds to be made convenient, the argument to make Weller Pond inconvenient falls flat on its face.

    A better solution is to fight for Wilderness without compromise, because non-wilderness areas where motors currently run free total 97.3% of the Lower 48’s landscape. The remaining 2.7% of America’s wild spaces (Total landscape of Lower 48’s Federal + State + Tribal Wilderness Areas) are all that’s let to be kept as motor-free. We need to take a bigger view. It’s not about making it easy for you, or fun for you, or pleasant for you. It should be about preserving the spirit of wildness, especially when so little remains.

    The upshot is that 84% of the APA’s Boreas Ponds public comment asked for stronger Wilderness Protections than Alternative 2B (yes, we got something more wild than what these quiet waters protesters wanted), and nearly 95% of the UMP public comment for the High Peaks Wilderness Area asked for a wilder management of our rare, motor-free resource. With so little wilderness left, we must not forget to fight for wildness whenever and wherever it is warranted.

    • Peter Bauer says:


      You’re missing some basic information in your rush to troll.

      The Saranac Lake Wild Forest UMP includes a 7,400-acre trailless, motorless core, in essence, Wilderness. I, and others, have been advocating for trailless/Wilderness cores in Wild Forest areas for years. Some Wild Forest areas, such as the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest area, among others, could have a trailless/motorless/Wilderness core that is bigger than some existing designated Wilderness areas. A motorless Weller Pond area is consistent with planning that designates trailless/motorless areas within a Wild Forest area. The goal at all times is to advance environmental protections for the Adirondack Park to protect the Park’s great forests, open space landscape, wildlife, and waters. Advocacy for motorless Weller Pond does that as did the Wilderness classification for Boreas Ponds.


      • Boreas says:


        I think you are misreading Tyler’s post and its intent. I don’t see it as the rant of a troll at all. It seems to me he is on your side – at least the way I read it.