By LARRY ROBINSON
MORRISTOWN - Anglers and recreational boaters trying to access Black Lake via a public boat launch managed by the state Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation say poor management of the facility could hurt tourism.
The 20-mile-long lake encompasses an area of approximately 11,000 acres, making it the largest lake in St. Lawrence County. It is also considered a fishing mecca by many anglers who seek the waterway’s plentiful supply of bass, crappie, pike and other species of fish. Between fishing and other outdoor activities, tourism related to Black Lake brings an estimated $7 million to $10 million annually into the region’s economy, according to past estimates by the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.
But boating access to the lake is limited, with the largest public launch site located just off County Route 6 near Edwardsville. The access point is maintained by the Office of Parks and Recreation, but boaters accessing the lake there say fluctuating water levels make the boat launch and dock difficult, or, in some cases, impossible to use. Residents say attempts to rectify the situation through official state channels have been unsuccessful.
“Sometimes on the weekend hundreds of people use that dock. They also run five or six big bass tournaments a year on the lake when there can be as many as 100 bass boats trying to get out on the water,” said Lisbon resident Daniel J. McCarthy. “It’s been an ongoing problem for some years.”
Mr. McCarthy, who owns a 20-foot pontoon boat he uses to access a family camp on one of the lake’s islands, said two years ago residents were informed by state officials that it could cost as much as $250,000 to repair the boat launch so the length of dock over the water could be easily adjusted to accommodate rising and falling lake levels.
“That just kind of floored me. I don’t see how it could be that much to just add 20 feet to a dock,” he said.
The way the boat launch is currently configured, a set of cables are used to manually adjust the dock when water levels change. Mr. McCarthy said because the launch belongs to the state, the only people allowed to adjust the moorings are state workers.
“It’s a no-touch site,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s hands-off from the locals.”
Office of Parks and Recreation spokesman Randy J. Simons said Wednesday he was unfamiliar with the ongoing boat launch issue at Black Lake. He said initially that he was unaware that the boat launch was maintained by his agency. Later in the day Mr. Simons confirmed in an email message that he had determined the Black Lake boat launch on County Route 6 does fall under his agency’s jurisdiction, and he was looking into the matter.
State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said she has been in contact with state parks officials more than once in hopes of addressing the concerns of Black Lake residents. She sent a staff member to the lake as recently as Tuesday.
“I know how important Black Lake is to our region’s sportsmen as well as the local tourism economy. That’s why when my office was contacted regarding the boat launch and the dock, I reached out to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation to make them aware of the problem,” Sen. Ritchie said in an email. “Being that I am in Albany for the end of the legislative session, I had a member of my staff drive out to the boat launch yesterday to examine the situation. Today, my office reached out once again to Parks and Recreation, once again reminding them that this issue needs to be addressed.”
Sen. Ritchie said she remains committed to resolving the issue and ensuring that Black Lake remains an important tourist attraction and fishing resource in the region.
Dennis C. Terhune, Ogdensburg, a frequent user of the lake, said the state could easily rectify the boat launch problem by installing a simple floating dock instead of one tethered to cables.
He said he spoke to Sen. Ritchie last year about the problem, but little has changed. He said one of the lake’s busiest times, bass season, begins Saturday.
“It’s either under the water or so far out of the water that you can’t use it,” Mr. Terhune said of the dock. “Too many people use this lake, and that’s the only access” on the Edwardsville side of the lake near the hamlet.
As one of the state’s top fishing destinations, Black Lake has been lauded by Fish and Game Finder Magazine, New York Fishing and Hunting News, New York Game and Fish and Sports Afield Magazine, which rated it one of the top 20 “Best of the Best” for bass lakes in 2002, according to newspaper archives.