Fish in the Saranac River are about to experience some new-found freedom. Deconstruction to remove the remnants of the Indian Rapids Dam and Frendenburgh Falls Dam in Plattsburgh is just about complete, which means fish will now be able to move more freely on that stretch of river.
The projects are a combined effort of NYS Electric & Gas (NYSEG), US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and Trout Unlimited to improve fish passage before a fish ladder is installed at Imperial Mills Dam.
The Indian Rapids Dam has long been a barrier for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile trail that follows historic waterways from Old Forge, New York, to Fort Kent, Maine. Although the dam was partially breached in the 1950s for safety reasons, it represents a hazard for paddlers, funneling fast-moving water through a channel over an eight-foot drop between concrete piers.
Atlantic salmon will soon be able to access 13 miles of spawning habitat on the river’s mainstem, and another 18 miles on tributaries, for the first time since 1786.
In 1786, the state of New York sued Zephaniah Platt, the owner of the first mill dam constructed across the lower Saranac River, on behalf of local fishermen in upstream communities who could no longer catch the salmon they depended on for their sustenance and livelihoods. The fishing community lost that lawsuit.
In the early 1800s, Dewitt Clinton, a naturalist who would go on to become New York’s governor, reported in his Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New York that these fish had once been so numerous, fording the river at Plattsburgh was considered dangerous because horses would startle at “the darting of the salmon through the water.”
For more detailed information on this project, visit the USFWS website.
Photo: Remannts of the Fredenburgh Falls Dam on the Sarnac River before removal.