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Sprawling across nearly 3,200 acres near the Canadian border, the Chateaugay Lakes are held dear in the hearts of many northern New Yorkers. Located entirely within the Adirondack Park borders, Upper Chateaugay Lake and Lower Chateaugay Lake are connected by the main channel of the Chateaugay River. Headwaters of the Chateaugay River, the lakes attained their current size when a dam was built in 1921 across the outlet for use by an iron works. Called Forge Dam, the water barrier is owned by the Village of Bellmont. Taxes from the residents of Bellmont, Dannemora and Ellenburg maintain the dam.
Over 25 miles of wooded shoreline shelter numerous private homes, children's camps, timberlands and a protected wetland area within the Chazy Highlands Wildlife Management Area. Public access to the lakes is at the Department of Environmental Conservation boat ramp on the river channel between Upper and Lower Chateaugay lakes. The two lakes and the river channel between them provide for a boating paradise about 12 miles long. Only the small village of Merritt lies along the lake itself. The business districts of Dannemora, Ellensburg, Brainerdsville, Bellmont, Lyon Mountain and Chateaugay provide services, lodgings and shopping a short distance away. Property owners enjoy sailing, power boating, wind surfing and other water sports. In winter, ice fishing and skating are enjoyed on the lakes. No access at the boat ramp is permitted for ice fishing because of unsafe ice conditions on the river. Due to limited public access, most lake use is by locals and those who arrange a short-term stay at a privately-owned lake house.
Chateaugay Lakes are rich in wildlife. Loons, osprey and common harrier nest in the area, and migratory birds and waterfowl stop off in their annual migrations to rest, fish and feed. Parts of the Chazy Highlands Wildlife Management Area is open for hunting in season, and the small channels among the reeds are excellent places to explore via canoe or kayak.
Fishing is good with a wide variety of sport fish of interest to anglers. There are more yellow perch in the lake than anything else, although illegally introduced northern pike are quickly gaining a foothold. Landlocked salmon, lake trout, a few rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass and pumpkinseed can also be caught. The wide variety of fish is due to the different characteristics of the two lake basins. Larger Upper Chateaugay Lake is much deeper, reaching depths of 72 feet with an average depth of 35 feet. Smaller Lower Chateaugay Lake only reaches a depth of 25 feet with an average of 12 feet. Several inflowing streams provide spawning area, and extensive wetlands at the south end of the upper lake assure plenty of cover for young fry.
Quiet roads along much of the shoreline provide excellent places for walking and cycling. The surrounding foothills of the Adirondack Mountains offer a wealth of hiking and climbing opportunities. In winter, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing are popular, making a place at Chateaugay Lakes the perfect base camp for a recreation break any time of the year. Only 30 miles west of Plattsburgh, Chateaugay Lakes are a desirable place for a weekend or retirement home. Most property ownership is held by local residents with about 15% being owned by Canadian citizens from Quebec. Montreal is only 100 miles to the northeast.
Children lucky enough to enjoy a summer at the camps along the western shoreline can experience the best of woods, water and mountains-an experience they will never forget. One nearby place worth visiting while staying at the lakes is the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum. Here, visitors learn about the history of the area, particularly its rich mining history. The surrounding area has a number of camping venues and small guest resorts. A few local artisan shops brighten many crossroads.
The Chateaugay Lake Foundation and Chateaugay Lakes Association work to protect the fragile environment of the lakes and surroundings. Recently, efforts have focused on ridding the lakes of invasive Eurasian milfoil. Many lake community activities are accompanied by fund-raising efforts to generate dollars for this effort. Water levels are officially managed by the Water Level Control Board. This board is made up of members appointed by each of the three towns whose taxes pay for dam upkeep. However, after the dam was rebuilt in 1992, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency claimed jurisdiction over its operation. The current crest of the dam is 18 inches lower than previously. Prior to the rebuilding, the water was usually drawn down in winter to prevent ice damage to shorelines and alleviate flooding. The dam is now permitted only for run-of-river water control, and lowering water levels is prohibited except when high water threatens the structure itself.
Major local flooding occurred in 1996 and 1998 after the new dam was in place. So, it appears that water level control will be up to the courts to decide. Meanwhile, there are still beautiful homes for sale and vacation rentals to be had along the shoreline with lovely views of both water and the surrounding green hills. Loons still call in the foggy morning mists and children still play in the shallows. The fish are still jumping at barely seen insects-and hopefully your lure. So schedule a week at your favorite vacation rental and come on up to beautiful Chateaugay Lakes. Heaven awaits!
*Statistics are for both lakes and the river channel between the two.
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