Species start to vanish from streams during the first stages of suburban development, according to the United States Geological Service. By the time impervious surfaces had absorbed 20 percent of the terrain of some New England watersheds, for example, those streams’ aquatic invertebrate communities had shrunk by roughly 25 percent.
The 7,500-acre Indian Brook Watershed – the second largest subwatershed in the Lake George basin – has yet to reach that dangerous threshold of 20% hard surface. According to Sarah Hoffman, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s communications manager, less than 10% of the Indian Brook watershed has been disturbed, surfaced or built upon. Nevertheless, much of the watershed’s land remains unprotected and is currently available for development.
In response, the Lake George Land Conservancy has pursued an initiative to purchase property or acquire conservation easements across sensitive lands up and down the Indian Brook corridor. Of course, on Lake George, streams are important not only in themselves – as communities of interdependent aquatic life – but for the sway they hold over the water quality of Lake George.
More than 141 streams flow into Lake George, contributing 55% of the volume of water that flows to the outlet at Ticonderoga. Two-thirds of this surface water comes from just eight subwatersheds.
By protecting one of the most important subwatersheds, “the land continues to do what it does best—naturally filtering and controlling the quantity and quality of the millions of gallons of water that flow into Lake George,” said Sarah Hoffman.
Thus far, 2,500 acres of the 7,500-acre watershed have been protected, acreage that includes wetlands crucial to both biodiversity and water quality and Amy’s Park, which filters 40% of the water that flows from Indian Brook into Lake George.
Since 2016, the Lake George Land Conservancy has also protected: the Isabel La Roche Godwin Preserve, a 114-acre property with 1,000 feet of stream buffers and several acres of vernal pools; the 130-acre parcel formerly owned by SUNY Albany that was home to a 100-foot parabolic radio telescope, with 2,200 feet of stream corridors and 100 acres of wetlands; and a 159-acre parcel above Northwest Bay that includes Wing Pond, prime wildlife and plant habitat.
“This is what’s really exciting,” said Mike Horn, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director. “As you conserve an entire corridor, you sustain these natural functions of a pristine stream: water filtration, stream bank protection and all the other good things that we at the Lake George Land Conservancy all talk about, such as landscape connections for animals that rely on healthy, intact forests.”
Not all lands need to be purchased outright to buffer an environmentally sensitive stream corridor, said Horn. In 2021, for instance, the Lake George Land Conservancy protected 150 more acres of the Indian Brook Watershed through the purchase of a conservation easement from Gail and Tony DePace.
“There are many ways to piece together a mosaic of protected lands throughout a watershed or a stream corridor,” Horn said. “Conservation easements are a great way to protect sensitive lands while ensuring that landowners can continue to use their land in sustainable ways.” In the absence of the conservation easement, twenty-three homes could have been built on the environmentally sensitive lands, Sarah Hoffman stated.
This past year, the Lake George Land Conservancy protected even more land in the Indian Brook Watershed. In October, 2022, the organization announced that it had purchased 48 acres of forest, wetlands and intermittent streams as well as an additional 3,745 feet of Indian Brook.
The newly protected lands include a 10-acre property downstream from the DePace easement adjoining the 130-acre SUNY Albany property, which extends the boundaries of that property and enhances the ability of its 100-acre wetlands to slow and filter surface waters.
According to current zoning regulations, the development allowed on those 48 acres would have resulted in disturbed soils, impervious surfaces, and septic systems that would have posed threats to the water quality of Indian Brook and Lake George itself, the Lake George Land Conservancy stated in a press release announcing the acquisition.
In the era of climate change, of severe storm events, extreme variations in weather and early spring thaws, a protected subwatershed such as Indian Brook’s provides additional benefits, said Horn. “This watershed complex can handle most if not all the entire volume of Indian Brook,” he said. “A protected watershed is better able to mitigate storm events that deliver sediment to the lake. It can make downstream homes, roads and infrastructure much more resilient in the face of natural disturbances.”
According to Horn, the work of protecting the Indian Brook watershed is far from complete. “We’re seeking additional projects; we’re always looking for landowners willing to work with us,” said Horn. And once an acquisition is completed, yet still more work remains, he said.
“Once we’ve protected the land, we invest in the stewardship that keeps the land healthy, capable of doing what we want it to do – protecting everything from water quality and the natural community’s habitat to scenic values and recreational opportunities,” Horn said.
For more information about the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Indian Brook/Northwest Bay Conservation Initiative, visit lglc.org.
Photos, from above: Saddlebrook Stream, which feeds Indian Brook; map of Indian Brook Watershed; and Amy’s Park, which filters 40% of the water that flows from Indian Brook into Lake George.
A version of this article first appeared on the Lake George Mirror, America’s oldest resort paper, covering Lake George and its surrounding environs. You can subscribe to the Mirror HERE.
Ellen Brown says
Kudos to the LGLC and all the success they are having in protecting the Indian Brook Territory, and of all their wonderful efforts to protect the Watershed at Lake George. It might be appropriate to point out to everyone that this methodology didn’t spring up out of nowhere, but that Northwest Bay, Tongue Mountain, and all of the islands on the Narrows were being threatened by “suburban development” in about 1920 – considering all the logging, road building, and various other forms of development that were being proposed at Lake George around that time, especially with the increasing number of cars and the push to extend roads from Bolton over Tongue Mountain. We should be grateful for the valiant efforts of the Loines family, of George Foster Peabody, William K. Bixby, and of John Apperson, and many others, who supported the idea of a Lake George Park. Apperson deserves credit for protecting the islands and getting them ready to be state campsites, but Dome Island was especially important, as it became the first nature preserve, with an endowment of $20,000, of the Eastern NY Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, in 1956. It is wonderful to see that the LGLC has been carrying on this important work!