This WMA encompasses 8,781 acres of open water surrounded by marsh, shrub, swamp, and upland forest.
Starting on Saturday, Aug. 14 through Sunday, Aug. 29 (2010) restricted wetland areas will be open to visitors. Generally these wetlands are off limits to the public in order to provide feeding and resting areas for migratory waterfowl. The DEC opens the area to the public for a brief period at this time of year because the nesting and brooding season is mainly over and the fall migration period has not yet begun.
Special areas included in the Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area include:
Bird Conservation Area
BCAs are New York State owned lands and waters designated to safeguard and enhance bird populations and protect their habitat.
Indian Creek Nature Center
Open year round there are a number of trails available for hiking and X-country skiing on this 300-acre tract of upland and marsh. There is a pavilion and picnic area and a 900-foot boardwalk provides wheelchair access to a observation deck. Another trail leads to a raised observation tower overlooking Lower Lake.
Boat Launch on the Grasse River
Suitable for small boats on trailers. From the launch site downstream 2 miles the water depths are 3 to 6 feet deep and a good spot to fish for Small Mouth Bass, Walleye, Northern Pike, Brown Bullhead and panfish. Muskies also lurk in this section of the river. After the flat-water stretch the river flows is a series of shallow riffles over bedrock and boulders. A canoe will have no problem finishing the remainder of the trip to Morley but it’s unwise for any motorized craft to attempt to make it. This 2 mile stretch, especially at Morley is a great place to wade and fish on a hot summer day.
Car Top Boat Launches
There are a number of canoe launches in the WMA (see map) but don’t go looking for a great canoeing adventure. What you see (on a map) isn’t exactly what you’ll find.
Let me explain.
Back in the days when commerce was centered on the rivers there used to be a natural ‘canal’ used to connect the Oswegatchie River by Rensselaer Falls to the Grasse River near the present day boat launch on Rt 68 about 3 miles downstream of Canton. I believe there isn’t much more than a foot of difference in the lay of the land. Today the water levels are managed to preserve stable habitat for water-fowl. While there may very well be water for the entire length of the area it proved impossible to find out by canoe. Dense vegetation blocks any attempt to pass from one lake to the next. While Lower Lake has easy access the other two lakes are nearly impossible to get to. Yep, no one mentions it but Middle Lake exists, at least on a map. I can’t confirm it though since I didn’t feel like hiking through the muck and water of emergent marsh to get there.
|I figured to start at the canoe launch on the north side of the refuge. On the map it looked like a good access point at the lower tip of Upper Lake. I was hoping to find passage to the mysterious Middle Lake but all I found was a barricade of emergent plants.
The boardwalk was actually a floating dock and it didn’t get any better at the end. There was water alright, but a sea of green vegetation was just waiting to engulf anyone who dared enter.
All was not lost though. The dock offered a great platform to take a couple photos of Arrowhead flowers. I can now replace the old photos in my collection with something better.
It was a bit disturbing to see how much Frog-bit was growing in the marsh. Any open water besides the dock was overcrowded with this alien invader. The ‘pads’ look like a water lily’s but are tiny compared to the Fragrant Water Lily that also grows here. The leaves of the frog-bit are about the size of a nickel while the real lily pads I saw were over a foot across.
Frog-bit – Limnobium spongia
Anyhooo, this launch was a washout so I drove to the one at the upper end of the lake behind the ‘Headquarters’ building on RT 68.
|It looked a lot more promising, I could actually see open water.
BUT, the lake took a hard left that you can’t see in the photo and went a couple hundred feet before turning into another dead end. In the end I spent more time getting the canoe unloaded and back loaded than I did in it.
I didn’t go away sad. At least I captured a bee inside a Turtlehead flower.
|I saved the sure thing for last. I knew there was plenty of open water on Lower Lake and it was easily accessible. Heading south (towards RT 11) on Front Street in Rensselaer Falls you can see the culverts that drain the wetlands to the Oswegatchie River. Right after that you’ll see the entrance to a parking area with an observation tower. I stopped there to get a photo of the map (best version available) then went to the next parking area down the road where putting in a canoe is easier.|
Notice the Purple Loosestrife to the left. Scattered colonies of this invasive alien can be found throughout the area. The DEC has a control program in the WMA but when you consider that the seeds of this plant can stay viable longer than a human’s lifespan and they’ll germinate as soon as you disturb the soil, it’s going to be a never ending battle.
|Enter a Fragrant Water Lily paradise. The shoreline of Lower Lake is ringed with this native water lily.
The flowers are fragrant but don’t pick any here, it’s illegal.
There are plenty of other places you can can pick these flowers. Placed in a bowl of water they make an unusual floral table setting.
The waterfowl seemed to take exception to my presence. At no time did any let me get anywhere near them. I wasn’t planning on disturbing them but even the wide berth I attempted to put between us was too much for them.
Only the Seagulls tolerated me as I passed by.