WARRENSBURG - Adirondack residents expressed dismay this week that the days of float planes landing on a popular canoeing and fishing destination - Lows Lake in Hamilton County- may be numbered.
The opinions were aired Feb. 18 as the state Dept. of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency held a public hearing reviewing a pending compromise between these two agencies that would cease all float plane access to the lake on Dec. 31, 2012.
Last fall, the APA rejected a DEC plan that would have extended float plane access to Lows Lake until 2018, citing the their regional land use plan for Lows Lake and the surrounding public lands which has a stated goal of creating a wilderness area void of motorized vehicles - a pristine, tranquil location for canoeing and fishing.
The pending prohibition is another milestone in the ongoing struggle between those who prefer or need motorized access to remote Adirondack regions, and those who enjoy backwoods areas quiet, rustic and primitive. If adopted, the pending compromise would change the land use designation of Lows Lake from primitive to wilderness. The latter category has significantly more restrictions than the former.
A number of residents at the hearing objected to the proposed land use amendment.
"Float planes have been used as a means of accessing remote locations like Lows Lake since the 1920s," said Payne's Seaplane and Air Service Co-Owner and Operator Tom Payne. "Flying into lakes is a wilderness experience, too."
Payne is a fourth-generation bush pilot whose family has been transporting outdoor enthusiasts to Lows Lake for nearly a century. According to Payne, prohibiting access to the lake would be a drastic hit for not only his business, but for the economic viability of communities like Inlet and Long Lake, where float plane businesses have thrived for decades.
"Why doesn't the agency try to keep some of the natives around, who are attempting to make a living in the Adirondacks," Payne said passionately. "I just can't see many generations remaining here much longer - we are part of the local heritage, too."
In the proposed land-use amendments, float planes will be severely limited as to when and where they can operate on the lake, with greater restrictions being levied during peak canoeing season, which the amendment classifies as June 1 through Sept. 30.
The Adirondack Local Government Review Board has repeatedly argued that designating Lows Lake as Wilderness Area would be inconsistent with the classification process because its existence hinges on two man-made damns.
Lows Lake is just a single example in a long-line of bodies of water in the Adirondacks which over the last three decades have been designated off-limits to float planes.
However, some parties view this move as a necessary step for assuring not only the ecological future of the lake, but also increasing eco-tourism in the area.
"We do not believe the serenity of the lake should be compromised because the state and the float plane operators can't agree," said Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks Chairman Bob Harrison. "Continued operation of float planes is a direct violation of the edicts of the state land master plan-we would like to see the lake designated as wilderness as soon as possible."
Harrison argued that the move will only work to increase tourist traffic, drawing people looking for nature in its purest form.
But Review Board Chairman Fred Monroe and Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages Chairman Bill Farber both argued that the proposed amendment, although better than an immediate ban, totally disregards the economic viability of Adirondack communities which are already struggling to survive.
"These two communities have a desire to control their own destinies and their wishes need to be considered as well - they have a desire to maintain their heritage," Farber said. "We believe the Adirondack Park is big enough to serve everyone in New York State."
APA officials said that they will take the public comments into consideration before making a final decision. The agency will vote on the issue during the March 12-13 meetings in Ray Brook.
For Payne, it seems the decision may have already been made.
"Finding an alternative destination will be really tough-many places just aren't big enough to safely land on," Payne said. "I guess we had better start looking."
Decades ago, there were seven float plane businesses in the Adirondack Park. At present only two exist, Helms Aero Service in Long Lake and Payne Seaplanes and Air Service in Inlet.
Environmental organizations, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, forced the float plane issue last year via lawsuit, claiming that continued float plane access to Lows Lake is inconsistent with the state land Master Plan.
However, business owners and local government leaders said they see the action as an attack on the economic viability of otherwise-isolated Adirondack communities, as well as an erosion of local citizens' rights.