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Tucked neatly away on the border between New York's Adirondack and Thousand Islands regions, Sylvia Lake is the perfect Northern New York location for the annual family vacation. Like 'Up North' cottage lakes across the American East and Midwest, Sylvia Lake has become an eclectic mix of new construction and old, revamped family 'camps' whose owners all share a passion for the lake at their front door.
The Town of Fowler, home to Sylvia Lake, was settled in the early 1800s by Revolutionary War veterans who were given land grants for their service on what was then the frontier. The lake, near the western foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, was originally named Lake Killarney but was renamed Sylvia Lake sometime after 1814 by an early wealthy settler who built a marble mansion on the lake for his bride. The wealthy landowner sold out and moved on, and the marble mansion burned and fell to ruins. But others had discovered the beauty of the Sylvia Lake lakefront and built homes along the shore. And as the population of northwestern New York grew, so did the popularity of Sylvia Lake.
Sylvia Lake is a 324-acre lake on a tributary to the Oswegatchie River. For its small size, Sylvia Lake is very deep, reaching 140 feet in the central 'hole' near the middle. An area of wetlands near the inlet at the south end provides habitat for waterfowl including the elusive loon, symbol of northern lakes everywhere. Although about 75% of the shoreline is developed, the heavily-treed perimeter maintains an atmosphere of solitude and wilderness. Water quality is good, and the lake is a known hotspot for lake trout. The shoreline alternates between stretches of sandy beach and towering bluffs. Today the lake looks very similar to when summer visitors arrived at the resort hotel built in 1885. Remnants of the hotel and nearby dance hall and skating rink existed until 1968 when fire again altered the landscape. By that time, numerous private cottages-called 'camps' locally-had been built along the lakefront. Some camps today are in the hands of the same families, who are proud to call Sylvia Lake home every summer.
Residents and their guests enjoy water skiing, tubing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, canoeing and kayaking on the lake. Pontoons are a favorite mode of travel for visiting neighbors. The Sylvia Lake Association, made up of property owners, organizes community events such as an annual picnic, decorated boat parade, summer dock concerts and annual fishing derby. The Association also monitors water quality and invasive species and produces a neighborhood newsletter. The SLA teaches boating classes to enable beginning boaters to gain their boat safety certification, a requirement for boating in New York. One of their favorite annual events is an 'ice-out' contest each year to predict the date at which the lake will become ice-free. The Town of Fowler maintains a swimming beach with lifeguard on the lake, open daily during the summer months.
The Town of Fowler also provides two boat launch sites for visiting boats, one a carry-in site only. Neither launch site is very big and parking is limited. But Sylvia Lake draws a number of regular visiting anglers, primarily fishing for trout. Rainbow trout are planted by New York State nearly every year, and lake trout as large as 20 pounds are sometimes pulled from the depths. Fishing for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass is also great at Sylvia Lake. There are no bait shops or marinas at the lake, so gas must be brought from the Town of Fowler two and a half miles away. This inconvenience keeps down the numbers of outside boaters, so the lake doesn't become overcrowded. Even so, angler advice often suggests spring and fall for the quietest fishing waters. And because Sylvia Lake is at a lower elevation than many area lakes, it is ice-free earlier in the year. A New York fishing license is required, and prospective anglers should always check current regulations for changes.
Although lakefront real estate is hard to find on Sylvia Lake, some residents rent their 'camps' on a short-term basis. The Town of Fowler has a few services, but larger shopping and lodging choices are nearby at Gouverneur, less than 10 miles to the north. Gouverneur has a full range of hotels and motels, shops, artisan craft shops and restaurants. One rainy day activity is visiting the Gouverneur Museum, a project of the Historical Association of Gouverneur, providing several floors of rooms furnished with period artifacts. Canton, 30 miles from Sylvia Lake, is home to St. Lawrence University which houses the Richard F. Brush Gallery, featuring a permanent collection of art along with visiting exhibitions. Canton is also home to The TAUNY Center (Traditional Arts in Upstate New York), dedicated to documenting and presenting traditional culture and folk life of Northern New York. The TAUNY Center features permanent and changing exhibits, workshops and demonstrations by local artists skilled in traditional crafts.
The Oswegatchie River, just north of the Village of Fowler, has two town-owned boat launches for fishing or canoeing the stream. The Wolf Lake State Forest, Trout Lake State Forest, Summer Creek State Forest, and a portion of the Adirondack Park are all accessible within 20 miles of Sylvia Lake. All have camping and outdoor recreation opportunities such as cross-country skiing, hiking and snowmobiling. Guide services in the area are available to lead kayaking and rafting trips, nature exploration hikes in the nearby preserves, and educate new visitors in the unique ecology of the western Adirondack foothills. A visit to St. Lawrence County and Sylvia Lake can offer so many things that will interest you and your family. And, you might just hook that 20-pound lake trout!
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