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Locked or Unlocked?

An On-Site Saranac Lake Upper Locks Construction Project Update

As I packed, planned and prepped for a weekend trip to Saranac Lake to undertake some personal agenda items and attend my best friend’s father’s funeral, the word on the street was that the NYSDEC’s tentative opening of Saranac Lake’s upper locks had recently been pushed back to July 1st. With 2024’s camping season already nigh upon us, any last-minute lock opening delays would put this summer’s near-term Middle Saranac Lake boat mounted camp plans in grave peril.

I stopped by Lower Saranac Lake’s NYSDEC boat launch registration booth on my way into town. Staff there reassured me that while the upper locks’ planned opening had indeed briefly been pushed back due to some unspecified construction hiccup, whatever issues had caused that delay had been resolved and the original planned opening of June 28th was back on schedule.

Even so, after paying respects at Friday evening’s Fortune-Keough Funeral Home calling hours and attending Saturday’s St. Bernard’s Church funeral and graveside services complete with military honors (Rest in Peace, Mr. Tolhurst), I decided it still might be prudent to conduct my own quick scout recon mission and get eyes on target.

I had originally contemplated conducting my planned scout recon solo by rowing my Zen Boat canoe in via South Creek. However, the weekend’s weather report projected wind, rain and cold. So. I scratched that plan in favor of a joint Saturday afternoon boat mounted foray upriver through the lower locks from Lake Flower with my brother Ray on his pontoon boat.

It was a cool afternoon. A good stiff breeze made it quite brisk on the water. Dark clouded skies warned my brother and me that we stood a good chance of not successfully completing our mission without getting wet. As a result, boat traffic, or watercraft traffic of any sort, for that matter, was noticeably lacking, which worked to our benefit.

As we passed the DEC boat launch, I snapped several images of the barge being used to haul men & materiel in for in the project.

Sources tell me that barge engine problems earlier this spring were one of the factors causing delays. My sources also tell me they heard that as part of the contract, the upper locks project contractor may get to keep the barge once the work is complete, though that bit of intel has not been independently confirmed.

Once we navigated up Lower Saranac Lake into the river and made our approach, it was clear that upper locks construction was still very much a work in progress.

The downstream docks and lock tender’s boat slip have all been rebuilt. It looks to me like the decking has all been done with some type of composite.

Once we cut our engine and tied off at the dock, I got my first look at the project status since shortly after the locks closed last September.

(Below are some September 2023 upper locks pics for comparison.)

Once we were securely tied off and ashore, I made my way up to and around the construction, doing my best, without losing my footing and ending up in the drink, to capture the current status of progress with series of photos.

Both sets of doors have been replaced, the new top decking concrete looks cured, and I spotted a brand-new interior ladder. It looks to me though like the old interior side rail boards and ropes remain, so I’m guessing they did not repour the sidewalls themselves, though they may well have repoured, or at least resurfaced, the interior locks floor.

The new doors are grey, (the old ones were yellow), and their seals look to be some sort of rubber, instead of wood, which is probably a good thing, because the wood parts of the old doors always rotted. Still, it looks to me like the gate tops (lying there on the concrete) will still be NYSDEC brown pressure treated wood when completed and mounted, giving the new locks a similar look and feel to the old ones.

It also looks to me like once gates and wickets are fully installed and operational, the new locks will be functionally pretty much the same as their predecessor.

As will the other upper locks rules & infrastructure essentials.

While the downstream dock decking has all been rebuilt and upgraded, at this juncture, the upstream dock decking has not. The exterior upstream sidewalls have not yet been repoured either.

That all may well be work that gets done after the locks are re-opened, because for 1.6 million dollars, it seems to me that they would rebuild everything, not just part of it. So, there may be additional construction work even after the upper locks re-opening. That, however, is pure speculation on my part.

It also does not appear to me that they have done anything, at least exteriorly, to the locktender’s cabin. That may well come later on too. I honestly don’t know.

In summary, based on my June 8, 2024, eyes on scout recon, barring unforeseen circumstance, the upper locks construction looks to be on target to hit the currently projected June 28, 2024 re-opening date. Though there may well be ongoing “punch-list” construction and site clean-up for several weeks beyond that.

That being the case, just one question remains:

When all is said and done, after nearly a year’s worth of work and $1.6 million taxpayer dollars reportedly spent on the project, who in the end actually owns the barge?


Until Our Trails Cross Again:



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