The access road to the Bagnia River is closed

the shoreline of a swampy river
Swamp River. Photo by Phil Brown

Paddlers will have to find an alternate entrance due to work on the dam

Mike Lynch

A key access point to one of the Adirondacks’ most popular paddling routes will be closed for next season and possibly longer.

Each summer, thousands of paddlers enter the Bug River at Lower Lowes Dam behind Tupper Lake, beginning their excursions on one of the many wilderness destinations.

But next construction season, the dam is slated to undergo major repairs to bring it up to New York City levee safety standards. The $2.8 million project will require closing the access road to the public and lowering the river to about one foot below normal. The road closed Dec. 6, and the state said it will remain that way for the duration of the project, which is scheduled to be completed no earlier than next fall.

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In the meantime, rowers will have to go elsewhere, which at least one local retailer says is a “huge deal.”

“This parking lot has always been the busiest parking lot in the Adirondacks for canoeing,” said Rob Frenette, owner of Raquette River Outfitters in Tupper Lake. “In peak season, they have 40 to 70 cars there almost every day.”

In a normal year, rowers put their boats in the water just above the dam. From there, they can paddle three miles to Hitchens Pond, where there are campsites and a hike to an overlook overlooking the river.

The entrance to Lows Lower Dam was closed in early December so the dam could be repaired. The road, shown here in July 2021, is very popular with rowers. Photo by Mike Lynch

From Hitchens, paddlers can continue past Upper Lowes Dam another eight miles to Lowes Lake, where they can complete the 35-mile Oswegatchie Traverse or the 55-mile Whitney Loop to Lila Lake, considered two of the park’s premier wilderness paddles.

There are 39 first-come, first-served campsites on the God River, Hitchens Pond, and Lowes Lake upstream from the lower dam, and many more on other wilderness trails.

Frenette said the Bug River parking lot starts to fill up in June when bass anglers visit the area, and it’s consistently full in July and August when paddlers turn out in droves. Visitors are a mix of outfitter customers and people with their own crafts. Often, vehicles fill the lower section of the dam and line the access road.

Frenette expects many of those paddlers to now head to Little Tupper Lake and Lila Lake in the Whitney Desert, or perhaps head northeast to the St. Regis area.

And some will find other ways to reach the Bagna River.

The state Department of Environmental Protection offers alternative access points to the Bogue River. One is the outlet of Horseshoe Lake, which can be reached 0.4 miles past the lower dam. The outlet joins the river about halfway to Hitchens Pond. The two Horseshoe Lake campgrounds that will be used for temporary parking will have space for about 10 vehicles.

People wishing to carry or row their boats for a distance of 2.5 miles can use the Lows Upper Dam access road. There is space for about 10 cars at the gate.

Dave Seeley, who owns the St. Regis Canoe Outfitters on Saranac Lake, said day-trippers can go elsewhere, but many paddlers looking for wilderness camping will likely head to the Bogue River anyway, using an outlet or long hauls.

“The biggest problem is going to be the same problem we’ve always had: Where can people park?” – said Seeley.

Nizka Lake
Lowes Lake is a popular spot for paddlers on the Bogue River. Map by Nancy Bernstein

Frenette questioned why the DEC couldn’t create a parking lot at the upper dam, but the DEC said it couldn’t because the state’s General Land Plan mandates that parking lots in wilderness and wilderness areas must be located within 500 feet of a public highway.

There are no public roads near Upper Dam, which joins the Five Ponds Wilderness. Both roads leading to the Upper Dam are administrative roads, on which the movement of public vehicles is prohibited.

One bonus is that long-term parking will be improved as part of this dam repair project, according to the DEC. Areas associated with the work will be converted into car parks and the Lows Lower Dam site will be widened. Additionally, additional parking will be added along the driveway.

But the full parking expansion proposed in the Subdivision Management Plan will not be completed at this time. A full extension was originally included in the dam design, but eventually some parts were removed to reduce the amount of tree cutting. Only improvements necessary to complete the dam project are included, according to DEC. Improvements to the parking lot have not occurred to date due to other priorities, budget and staffing constraints, and the tree cutting that DEC has been involved in in recent years, the department said.

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