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Adirondack North Country
Rules and Regulations

Wilderness Area

ACCESS The Adirondack North Country is crisscrossed with paddling routes, but the region is a patchwork of public and private land. So when planning a trip, it's important to check that all portions of your route are open to the public. A current edition of a good guidebook will help you plan, but if you're still not sure about access, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is your best source of information. (See links at end of page.)

In recent years, many private landowners have granted recreational easements, opening long-closed routes to paddlers. Restrictions often apply, howwever. Permission to portage or fish doesn't necessarily mean that camping is allowed, for instance. Find out what what's permitted before you go. Don't trespass! The future of North Country paddling is in your hands.

ON THE WATER You are required to have one U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) approved Personal Floatation Device (PFD) for each person in your boat. These should always be immediately accessible. Children under 12 must wear a properly-fitted USCG-approved PFD at all times. Adults—even good swimmers—would be wise to follow their example.

Canoes and kayaks often have to share New York's public waters with boats ranging from jet-skis to super-tankers. Navigation law is complex and sometimes confusing. Who has the right of way? The answer isn't always obvious, but canoes and kayaks enjoy NO special privileges. Prudent paddlers should therefore observe the "Gross Tonnage Rule," an informal but universally-applicable guideline: "If the other guy's boat is bigger (or faster) than yours, stay out of his way." And be sure you carry a flashlight or lantern when paddling at night or during conditions of reduced visibility. You can't expect faster boaters to avoid you if they can't see you, after all.

If you think you'll be paddling on heavily-traveled commercial waterways, familiarize yourself with the Inland and International Navigational Rules and know and observe all Coast Guard equipment requirements. You'll be held to the same standards as the captain of a supertanker. Be prepared!

Camp Here!

CAMPING Land designated as Forest Preserve or State Forest is generally open to camping, unless this is expressly prohibited. On the other hand, camping is usually NOT permitted in Wildlife Management Areas. Most popular paddling routes traverse public lands, at least in part. When in doubt, check it out.

Designated campsites are identified by a disk bearing the legend Camp Here. If camping at a non-designated site, you may not pitch your tent within 150 feet of any body of water, road or trail. (If you're making a side-trip into the mountains, note that camping in prohibited at elevations above 4,000 feet during the paddling season.) No party may stay at one site for more than three consecutive nights without first obtaining a DEC permit.

Special restrictions apply within the popular High Peaks Wilderness Area (HPWA). If you plan to climb in the High Peaks, or if you'll be paddling the Adirondack Canoe Route (down the Raquette River from Long Lake to Tupper Lake), you'll need to familiarize yourself with these new rules. They can be found at the HPWA webpage.

ADIRONDACK LEAN-TOS These state-maintained, three-sided, open log shelters are familiar sights along Adirondack paddling routes and hiking trails. They have a certain rustic charm, but don't expect privacy. Lean-tos are open to any and all comers up to the marked capacity of the shelter. As is the case at other campsites, you may not stay at a lean-to for more than three consecutive nights without a free DEC permit. When using a lean-to, don't hammer nails into the logs or make other "improvements." It's even illegal to set up a tent inside a lean-to!

GROUP SIZE Groups of ten (10) or more people who plan to share a campsite must to obtain a DEC permit.

PERSONAL PROPERTY It's illegal to store personal property on state land. For example, you cannot legally set up a tent at an unoccupied site in advance of a holiday weekend in order to "reserve" it.

No Fires!

FIRES Fires may NOT be built in any place marked with a No Fires disk. If you take a day off to do some peak-climbing, note that fires are prohibited above 4,000 feet (except in emergencies).

Whenever you build a fire, use the existing fireplace or fire-pit, if any. Chopping down standing trees, whether alive or dead, is prohibited: use only downed, dead wood. Never leave a fire unattended. Always extinguish your campfire with plenty of water before leaving a campsite, stirring the ashes to be sure that the fire is completely out. If the ashes are still hot to the touch, the fire's not dead!

Open campfires are prohibited during prolonged dry spells. Check with the DEC or other authority before setting out on your trip. Even when there isn't a ban on campfires, don't assume that it's always safe to build one. Use your common sense. Is the surrounding vegetation tinder-dry? Does the ground underfoot crackle when you walk over it? Then don't build a fire! Use your stove, instead.

DOGS Dogs should be kept on a leash at all times. This is required in some areas, and it's a good idea everywhere. Don't permit your dog to dig up burrows or chase wildlife. Collect your dog's excrement and dispose of it as you would your own waste (see below). Never allow your dog to defecate near springs or other sources of drinking water.

SANITATION When you gotta go, you gotta go, but that doesn't mean you can go wherever you want. Use a privy if one is near-by. Be careful, though. It isn't uncommon for privies to be vandalized and in a poor state of repair. If a serviceable privy isn't available, select a sheltered site at least 150 feet away from water, campsites, trails, and roads. Dig a small hole between 6 and 8 inches deep, do your thing, and then replace the dirt you just removed. Restore the groundcover as best you can before leaving.

When washing up—whether you're washing dishes, laundry, or your own body—dump "gray water" at least 150 feet away from any body of water.

If you're an angler, and if you keep and cook some of your catch, follow the same drill in disposing of viscera and other remains: bury them least 150 feet from water, campsite, road or trail. Unless you want a bear as a dinner guest—and you don't!—never dispose of fish scraps or other food waste in your fire-pit.

GARBAGE If you carry it in, you can carry it out. It's no longer acceptable to bury trash. Consider carrying out other folks' garbage, too. Monofilament line, snagged fishing lures, broken glass bottles, and plastic bags can cripple or kill wildlife. They can even injure other paddlers. Play safe!

Now that many popular paddling routes are becoming more crowded, some paddlers are taking the "carry it out" principle to its logical conclusion. A variety of lightweight portable toilet systems are on the market, and these make a great deal of sense for canoeing parties of all sizes, particularly if they include small children.

NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES It's illegal to remove plants, rocks, fossils, or archaeological artifacts from state land without a permit. Needless to say, the best way to fix your memories in the emulsion of your mind is to use a camera (or make a sketch or painting, if you're so inclined). Take only pictures, leave only footprints. You'll see this on trailside signs from time to time, and it's always good advice. You'll want to come back someday, so leave things as you'd like to find them.

Want more Information about Rules and Regulations?
Go to the Source! Ask the NYSDEC

The Adirondack North Country comprises two DEC administrative regions. Region 5 serves Clinton, Franklin, Essex, Hamilton, Fulton, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties. Region 6 serves Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and St Lawrence Counties. Contact the appropriate regional office to apply for camping permits, or to obtain updated information about rules and regulations, paddling routes, trail conditions, and fire bans. You might also want to stop in and visit the headquarters when you're in the area. There's almost always something interesting to see.

NYSDEC Regions 5 & 6 NYSDEC Region 5 Headquarters
Route 86
PO Box 296
Ray Brook, New York 12977-0296

Stuart A. Buchanan, Regional Director
Phone: 518-897-1211

NYSDEC Region 6 Headquarters
State Office Building
317 Washington Street
Watertown, New York 13601-3787

Sandra L. LeBarron, Regional Director
Phone: 315-785-2239

Additional information can be found at these websites:

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Adirondack Guide and all pictures and drawings within are
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.
Written by Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

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