Pictured is the Duck Hole in Newcomb following the devastation after hurricane Irene. Like Marcy Dam, Duck Hole Dam was also washed out and will not be replaced by DEC.
NORTH ELBA — The State Department of Environmental Conservation has decided to dismantle Marcy Dam, which was severely damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011.
Marcy Dam, a wooden dam on the Marcy Brook located in the Adirondack High Peaks in the town of North Elba, New York, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s, impounds Marcy Dam Pond. The dam is accessible by hiking the 2.1 miles from Adirondack Loj, and serves as a favorite first spot to take a break for hikers, snowshoers and skiers alike on their way to the high peaks. With breathtaking views of Mt. Colden and Avalanche Pass, lean-to’s at the site are open to campers and trails extend to some of the most popular Adirondack High Peaks, including Mt. Marcy.
In August 2011, floodwaters from Irene washed away the dam’s gate and footbridge, draining the pond.
In June 2012, crews with the Adirondack Mountain Club (AMC) built a wooden footbridge constructed of logs 250 feet below Marcy Dam, allowing people to cross the brook to get to adjacent trails. The AMC claims this new bridge will be much more resistant to high water.
Since then, the fate of the dam has sparked controversy throughout the region.
Many desperately wanted the dam to be replaced as it was one of the most visited and photographed places in all of the Adirondacks.
Another option considered was to allow the dam to fail on its own, however, 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.
Instead, the DEC opted for a more ecological solution in dismantling the dam over the next 5 years.
DEC Spokesman David Winchell said the decision was made due to a number of factors including, cost, safety and the fact that the dam is located in a wilderness area.
The dam is currently permitted as a low hazard dam. DEC dam safety regulations require that any modifications to a permitted dam include bringing the dam into full compliance with the dam safety regulations and the cost to repair or rebuild Marcy Dam to bring it into full compliance is prohibitive, Winchell said.
“The benefits provided by the dam are almost wholly aesthetic. It provides no practical or environmental benefit. 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,” Winchell said.
The DEC asks that visitors recognize the important principles of wilderness management, including, allowing rivers and streams to flow unfettered and to minimize human made structures.
The dam will be removed by DEC staff in stages over a five year period to allow the vegetation to grow on the exposed sediment behind the dam and thereby anchor the sediment and minimize the amount of sediment carried down Marcy Brook.
When asked what affect the removal of the dam will have on wildlife in the area, AMC Executive Director Neil Woodworth said he believed there would be very little impact.
“There’s still a flow of water and a viable trout brook below the dam and that won’t change,” Woodworth said.
Irene also destroyed the Duck Hole Dam, located in the High Peaks, also an iconic spot in the Adirondacks that the DEC decided not to replace.