Round Lake Wilderness

There are many lakes and ponds throughout the Adirondacks bearing the name “Round,” but a quick glance at a map will show few of them are round in the geometric sense. This observation holds true for the Round Lake located along Hamilton County’s northern edge, in the Bog River watershed. Here you will find one of the largest lakes entirely within the Forest Preserve, and the largest of all the so-called “round” lakes.

And as it just so happens, this one is the star feature of its own namesake wilderness.

State agencies pieced the Round Lake Wilderness together in 2006 from two sources: the landmark acquisition that added the lake to the Forest Preserve, and a piece of the existing Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest to its north. The result was a pocket-sized area with big features, including not just Round Lake, but also the last free-flowing section of the Bog River.

This area is very compact, with its potential growth (in terms of acreage) severely limited by the belt-like encirclement of three pubic highways and a railroad corridor. Even so, the Round Lake Wilderness is not as large as it could be; the current size of 10,310 acres is close to the bare minimum required by the State Land Master Plan to justify a wilderness designation. But left on the table in 2006 were several thousand acres north of the Bog River, without which the wilderness seems distinctly incomplete. There are also non-public lands in the vicinity that would add greatly to the area, if they could be acquired.

Nevertheless, despite its small size this “pocket wilderness” is not without its exceptional qualities. The most prominent, of course, is the vaguely triangular Round Lake itself, which may have been named long ago for the round whitefish, Prosopium cylindraceum. At least, this is a theory that is consistent with the way many other Adirondack lakes were named by early settlers for the fish they contained. Before the lake was acquired by the state, several small camps stood along its shores; now those sites are choice real estate for primitive camping.

The Bog River currently defines the northern extent of the wilderness, although there seems to be no reason why the boundary shouldn’t be moved north, all the way to NY 421. Between the lake and the river lies the wild and wonderful Round Lake Stream, and to the west lurks a trio of intriguing ponds. So while there may be some obvious opportunities for modest enlargements, the Round Lake Wilderness already exists as an example of how wild landscapes sometimes come in compact packages.

Please click through the tabs below to learn more about the Round Lake Wilderness.

Round Lake Wilderness at a Glance

Size: 10,310 acres

First Designated: 2006

Unit Management Plan Status: No management plan has been completed for this area

Special Regulations: None; standard Forest Preserve regulations are in effect

As mentioned in the overview, this is a compact “pocket-sized” wilderness with a height and breadth of just a few miles each. Even though there is an opportunity to expand the area in a few places, the current 10,310 acres do contain quite a few noteworthy features, including its namesake lake, two wild streams, and several ponds.

The area that now comprises the Round Lake Wilderness was pieced together over several land purchases, with the most recent being the 2006 acquisition of Round Lake itself from International Paper. Prior to that, state land managers had not considered this area for wilderness classification, and indeed it seemed like an unlikely candidate; only the northern half of the area was in public ownership, and for many years the Forest Preserve lands shared a checkerboard pattern with several private inholdings. The incomplete ownership pattern made the area difficult to access and explore, and so it was known primarily for the photogenic waterfall on the Bog River near NY 421.

The Round Lake purchase, which occurred in the middle of a decade of stunning, blockbuster-style wildland acquisition in the Adirondacks, filled in some of the holes and created a consolidated block of state land that permitted a wilderness classification for the first time. In fact, the Adirondack Park Agency designated the Round Lake Wilderness before the area was fully open to the public or before all the leasehold camps had been removed; for a short interim period it was a wilderness with active roads and dozens of structures, all of which were soon removed.

Several key features fell within the new boundaries, including the entirety of 740-acre Round Lake. Once part of the original Whitney Park, it was later sold to International Paper in the mid-twentieth century, along with thousands of other acres. Most of those sale lands remain working forests today, but when I.P. chose to divest itself of all its Adirondack lands, Round Lake was singled out as one of its choicest pieces of real estate. The lake (and a sufficient land buffer on each side) was sold to the state, with the goal of protecting its wild shorelines and creating a corridor of public land continuous with the William C. Whitney Wilderness to the south and the Horseshoe Lake Wild Forest to the north.

The lake also shares a native brook trout fishery with Little Tupper Lake – but unfortunately, that was jeopardized years ago by the illegal introduction of bass. Presumably an act of ecological sabotage committed by unknown individuals sometime around 1998 to 2000, land trusts have cited this event as a reason not to sell any other rare fisheries to the state on several occasions since then.

Because of the checkerboard land acquisition pattern, forest quality also follows an alternating pattern, from young to mature and often back again. The Round Lake parcel and a few other lots exhibit the younger forests of a recently-acquired forestry tract, punctuated by a few clearings that have yet to reforest. Between these areas are the older plots of land with maturing forests; these provide pleasing backdrops to Winding Falls and Trout Pond.

Although named for the large lake at its southern end, the Round Lake Wilderness is just as noteworthy for the section of the Bog River that constitutes its northern boundary. The New York City businessman A. A. Low dammed the upper half of the Bog in two places, and the state now maintains both dams for the purposes of retaining the Bog River Flow, a popular canoe route; it seems unlikely that we’ll ever see a return to native conditions there.

But from Lows Lower Dam to Tupper Lake, the Bog River still goes about its own business, tracing a route through a secluded valley. The highlight of this section is Winding Falls, a powerful cascade with a distinctive S-turn to its course.

The wilderness boundaries also extend west to include three noteworthy ponds and a portion of the large bogs surrounding Hitchins Pond. Because of the small size of the Round Lake Wilderness none of these places are truly remote, at least not on the same scale of the region’s larger wilderness areas, but the area does seem adequately secluded to offer an immersive wilderness experience.

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