Doing More by Doing Less

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Upper Saranac Lake Back Bay Boat Launch

by Chris Cohan, AdkAction Adirondack Pollinator Project and AdkAction Board

Where once there was a slope of shorn grass that enticed Canada geese and little else, there is now a thriving pollinator habitat, including rain gardens and bluebird nesting sites, flanking the Upper Saranac Lake Back Bay boat launch (USLBBBL). Not only is the new landscape rich in biodiversity, it is protecting lake waters from nitrogen pollution runoff. How was this accomplished? By doing less.

“Doing more by doing less” is the driving concept behind the Adirondack Pollinator Project at the newly renovated boat launch and grounds, where the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) installed a brand-new launch, boat check station to catch invasive species, two rain gardens, and some additional plantings.

Initially, the site featured wide open grass fields surrounding the large parking lot sloping down to the lake’s edge. The State cut the lawns like clockwork leaving the clipping in place. These sterile lawn areas cost the DEC time, money, and manpower to maintain. Unfortunately, these well-groomed grass areas were very attractive to Canada geese. As a result, within a few months the brand new launch, flanking docks and surrounding areas were covered in goose droppings. The droppings, combined with the limited runoff mitigation value of a well-cut lawn, began to create non-point nitrogen pollution of the lake at the boat launch.

It became clear that a more environmentally sensitive approach to the site was needed. One of our AdkAction board members contacted DEC suggesting an alternative to save the State time, money and resources while improving biodiversity, reducing non-point nitrogen pollution of the lake, and mitigating the goose problem by creating “no mow” areas at the launch site.

Today, the road edge, slope of land from the parking lot to the launch, and the lake shore are all designated no mow areas. Wildflowers like black-eyed Susan, aster and goldenrod are thriving, drawing monarchs, native bees, dragon flies and other pollinators to the site – doing more by doing less.

Two bluebird houses were added to the site as well. Bluebirds have nested each year since installing. The distinctive blue plumage and song of the State Bird of New York are a grand addition to the site.

Building on this positive relationship, NYSDEC donated native trees and shrubs which others planted at the launch site including Tamarack, viburnum, and red twig dogwood. AdkAction Executive Director Brittany Christenson, collaborated with Guy Middleton, Upper Saranac Lake Foundation’s Lake Manager, to plant pollinator plants in one of the rain gardens. AdkAction will plant the second rain garden and additional areas next spring. There are many more planting opportunities for native trees and shrubs, and NYSDEC plans to offer more native trees and shrubs for the site in next spring’s planting season.

Today, the site looks more natural, and is home to a wide variety of native plants that provide a much-improved biodiverse setting attracting monarchs and other pollinators along with bluebirds. The lake is benefiting from reduced non-point nitrogen pollution, while saving NYSDEC time, resources, and labor by simply not mowing.

This successful public/private partnership can serve as a model for expansion, and discussions have begun on ways to replicate this solution at other NYSDEC boat launch sites in the Adirondacks. These no mow areas can expand valuable pollinator habitats, reduce pollution of lakes, and save the State resources while building a healthier Adirondack Park by doing less.

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