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Known as the best fishing destination in the 1000 Islands Region of upstate New York, Black Lake has been drawing anglers and vacationers to its shores for well over a hundred years. The natural lake covers 7,761 acres in a long, narrow ribbon gouged from the rock by the last glaciers in the region. The 20-mile long lake lies parallel the Saint Lawrence Seaway less than five miles to the north. Fed by the Indian River and Fish Creek, the lake flows into the Oswegatchie River and then into the Saint Lawrence River.
European settlement has occurred here since very early in the 1800s. Unlike many lakes, Black Lake never saw large towns develop along its shores. Instead, larger villages were concentrated along the St. Lawrence and father inland where stronger-running streams were better suited for the operation of water-powered mills. Even though mining for several minerals and logging occurred in the area, and at one point a steamboat transported ore down the lake, the water body itself never became economically important to the pioneering families of upstate New York. When word got out about the fishing, however, a whole new industry was born: tourism!
Black Lake is relatively shallow, with many sandbars, shoals and rocky islands that create ideal habitat for a variety of game fish. 'Resort camps', mostly for fishing, developed along the shoreline, and some of these camps have been operated by the same families for nearly a hundred years. As preferred activities of guests changed over time, the resorts increased their amenities. Swim areas have been developed. Boat-accessible restaurants, bait shops and convenience stores have become a part of the lakefront landscape. Resort camps offer both cabin rental and RV pads with amenities, WiFi, satellite television, fishing tournaments, bingo games and group excursions.
Several camps rent fishing boats, pontoons and water toys. Private cottages and homes around the lake have the best of both worlds; some of the lakefront properties are quite large, offering as much solitude as residents wish, but with neighbors near enough for company on occasion. Sailing, pontooning, water skiing and tubing are all popular on the lake.
Although there are a couple of public boat launches on Black Lake, most visiting fishermen launch their boats at one of the convenient camps that sell bait and gas for their boat motors. The lake is large enough that the proper fishing trip will require several days of intense angling to make sure no hotspot is left uncovered. Many fishermen arrange lodgings for a few days - or a week. Many make it an annual family vacation, as there are many attractions in the area to see.
Crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, channel catfish, muskie, bluegill and yellow perch test anglers' skills. On summer evenings, the shoreline flickers with lantern light as bullhead fishermen spend an evening fishing 'the lazy way'. As some resorts stay open all year to accommodate ice fishing, Black Lake makes an ideal base for hunting, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
The area around Black Lake is home to many Amish farm families. Farm stands sell fresh produce, baked goods, local crafts and woodworking items along the nearby country roads. Most regular visitors have several favorite stores where they purchase foodstuffs during their stays at the lake. The quiet roads are ideal for hiking and bicycle riding - sharing space with Amish buggies.
Organized trails exist for cycling; the Black Lake Bicycle Loop goes to Ogdensburg and back. In winter, a system of snowmobile trails crosses the area, connecting with other trails going in all directions. The local snowmobile club produces good maps showing parking areas and commonly-used way points.
Several local Wildlife Management Areas offer hiking, wildlife viewing and hunting in season. The Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area, a conservation area south of Black Lake, is accessible only by canoe. A variety of birds and native animals are found here, including white-tail deer, turkeys, cottontail rabbits, grouses, beavers, muskrats, minks, otters, waterfowl, marsh birds, and songbirds. Because there are no marked trails through the area, visitors should come prepared to tramp through a wet and wild wilderness. More accessible is the Indian Creek Nature Center, part of the Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area near Clayton. The Nature Center is handicapped accessible and offers several trails, including a Wildflower Loop and guided interpretive walks in the spring and fall.
A great destination for the budding geologist in your family is the Gouvernour Museum in nearby Gouvernour. The museum holds an extensive collection of minerals found in the area that have been mined in the past and are still mined in some instances. Meanwhile, the rest of the family can enjoy exhibits of the artifacts from early settlers' lives in the area. At Canton, both the Antique Boat Museum and the 'Traditional Arts in Upstate New York' location provide displays of antique restored boats and traditional local crafts respectively. Nearby Ogdensburg is the place to head for formal art. The Frederick Remington Art museum, located in the famous artist's widow's old home offers not only a vibrant collection of his works but visiting collections by other artists.
A few miles south of Black Lake, along the St. Lawrence Seaway, Alexandria Bay holds a variety of interesting tours that you can arrange. A trip to Boldt Castle on Heart Island or a visit to Singer Castle on Dark Island gives visitors a sense of the opulent lifestyles enjoyed by wealthy residents at the turn of the last century. The Boldt Castle was never lived in after the death of the intended mistress of the house, while the Singer Castle housed family members into the 1960s. Both offer elaborately landscaped gardens, lavishly appointed rooms and a variety of outbuildings. Both are in heavy demand as wedding locations and are accessible only by water. A private attraction holds exhibits of native fish, reptiles and even alligators-a sure child-pleaser.
Besides resort camps and private rentals at Black Lake, the area is well-supplied with small family-run motels and several bed-and-breakfasts. Larger hotels can be found around the larger towns but not at the lake itself. As many resort visitors return each year, you should make reservations to assure yourself of lodgings for your visit.
Real estate is available for purchase, some with water frontage and often at extremely good prices. Less than 20 miles south of the international border, Black Lake is an ideal location for Canadian families to experience 'cottage' summers on the US side of the Seaway. So, bring the boat, water toys, the sunscreen and the kids. Black Lake is waiting for your visit and offers a hearty welcome to all.
* Some statistics are 'best-guess' estimates from available sources as there appears to be no official survey of this lake.
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