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Sand Lake is one of the best-known lakes along the Rideau Waterway in Eastern Ontario. Sand Lake is the location of idyllic Birch Island and home to many cottages. The lake was increased in size by the building of the Jones Falls Dam during construction of the Rideau Canal. A central crossing for boaters navigating the canal, Sand Lake is home to two of the canal's more famous locks. Sand Lake, once called Davis Lake after the settler who built the first sawmill, connects to Opinicon Lake via the Davis Locks. Considered a 'solitude' lock because of its remote location, there are no local services nearby. Because of the distance to the nearest marina, the lock provides overnight docking, shore power, water, phone, restrooms and picnic area. The restored defensible lockmasters house is open for exploration.
Although easily accessible by county road, there are no true towns along the Sand Lake shore. Instead, informal communities occupy many of the points jutting into the lake, often with some limited services. A marina offers gas and supplies but no transient docking for waterway boaters. At least one other public boat launch site offers access to the large numbers of anglers that fish here regularly. Known to support smallmouth bass, northern pike, yellow pickerel, rock bass, pumpkinseed, bluegill, black crappie and yellow perch, largemouth bass are the game fish Sand Lake is best known for. Many returning anglers have their favorite 'hotspots' which they are loath to share with others. The many islands and bays create a variety of underwater habitat in which to try their luck. As is true with some of the other excellent fishing lakes along the Rideau Waterway, portions of Sand Lake are totally off-limits for fishing. These protected spawning areas assure a continuous healthy fish population in the lakes. A copy of applicable fishing regulations should be picked up at the local marina.
Although there are many seasonal cottages and some year-round homes along the Sand Lake shoreline, much of the remaining surrounding land is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. These designations help to preserve the rural character of the local countryside. Rideau Lakes Township further controls excess development to assure the lakeshore maintains its 'wild and natural' atmosphere. Many areas remain undeveloped. Others contain wetlands conducive to wildlife reproduction and habitat. Amid this natural splendor, lakelubbers swim, sail, water-ski, enjoy pontooning, canoeing and kayaking. Many large and small islands create a warren of hidden straits to delight paddlers and house-boaters. Many a city-dweller goes to sleep at night dreaming of owning a cottage on Birch Island or a boat with which to sail the Rideau Waterway.
In winter, the frozen lake becomes an ice-fishing paradise, where ice skating is also enjoyed. The nearby Cataraqui Trail is open year round and hosts snowmobile touring, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding the rest of the year. Developed along an abandoned railroad bed, the trail is part of the Trans-Canada Trail. The trail continues nearly 65 miles from Strathcona near Napanee to Smiths Falls, where it intersects the Rideau Trail system. Country roads and lanes in the area are conducive to leisurely walks and cycling where one can encounter a variety of birds, wildlife and waterfowl.
Boaters on the Rideau Waterway are advised to obtain a map of the complete system: Sand Lake is not the only lake with enough channels and islands to be confusing. Any boat under 90 feet can travel the canal as long as it draws less than 5 feet draft. The waterway has a total of 47 locks which are independently operated. Parks Canada is responsible for management of the waterway. The canal was built between 1826 and 1832 by British officer Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers. Originally meant as a supply line to bypass the St Lawrence River due to hostilities with the United States, the Rideau Canal was an engineering marvel that was never used for its intended purpose. By the time the canal was completed, hostilities had ended. The waterway became invaluable in increasing trade and encouraging settlement of Upper Canada. The unique engineering solutions needed to complete the canal included the 60-foot high arch-shaped stone-faced dam that was the largest dam built in North America at the time. Boaters heading south out of Sand Lake follow a narrow channel called 'the quarters' before they arrive at Jones Falls. The Jones Falls dam has a viewing area at the top of the dam with a public dock and picnic area. Overnight boat camping is allowed. A series of four locks raise or lower boats a total of 57 feet. The southbound boater emerges into Whitefish Lake.
The largest communities near Sand Lake are the little village of Jones Falls and California to the west. Finding a vacation rental is seldom a problem; the entire area is well-supplied with rustic resorts, motels, bed-and-breakfasts, fishing camps and a great many private self-catering vacation rentals. Boats can be rented along the lakeshore and most private rentals come with a canoe, kayak or rowboat for the vacationer's use. Two or three campgrounds are usually in operation during the warmer months. Real estate is usually available among the existing cottages. Many families come back to rent the same cottage year after year, so it's wise to begin your search long before your scheduled vacation. And after your first visit, you'll have memories to populate those dreams of the perfect Birch Island cottage. You'll be hearing the call of the loon and the drumming of the woodpecker as you plan your next visit. See you next year!
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