My mother spent her high school years in Saranac Lake while her mother, a nurse who treated tuberculosis patients, attempted to recover from the same disease. She told me stories of how she and her classmates would take a motor boat from Lower Saranac through the Upper Lock and into Middle Saranac Lake. I’d often wanted to visit that lock and repeat that trip and yesterday I got my chance.
We left the Second Pond boat launch at noon, traveling in a canoe and a kayak. A light rain fell most of the day and there was a strong headwind at the start of the trip. We traveled upstream to the end of Lower Saranac and entered the channel connecting the two lakes. Halfway through we came upon the Upper Lock and visited with the lock keeper as she closed the downstream gates behind us and then opened the upstream wickets causing the water level to rise the two feet necessary to bypass the rapids on the other side of the island.
When we reached Upper Saranac, we stopped for lunch at the first island we came to and then decided to head back. We spent some more time visiting with the lock keeper on the return trip. She explained that the lock had been in place for nearly 100 years with its last major upgrade in the 1980s. On a busy day she will operate the lock more than 100 times. As the water drained to lower us to the exit, she explained that some canoeists actually run the rapids rather than use the lock.
When the downstream gate opened, we paddled around the island and after a short consultation decided to make one more pass through the lock. The keeper shook her head when we passed into the downstream gate and disclaimed any responsibility for damage or injury as the water filled the lock. When the gate opened we turned left, entered the channel and several exhilarating seconds later shot out the end of the rapids and rejoined the calmer waters.
As we paddled away I wished I had visited the lock earlier in my life and been able to share this story with my mother.
I used to live up there and fished along that area in the mid 80’s. The old locks were the one’s I was familiar with and they only had a lock keeper during the summer. The rest of the time you had to close one set using these long steel poles then open the other to let the water fill in. It was primitive but it worked well enough. You just had to push really hard to get the locks to move. They rebuilt it with the new ones you see here I think in 1986 possibly 87. I recall they had a huge barge sitting in Lake Flower with hundreds of bags of cement stacked ridiculously high sitting in the rain. It must have been some huge undertaking making a site like that using bagged concrete but they did it. Saranac Lake is a nice place as long as it’s not Winter, Black Fly or Mosquito Season which doesn’t leave a lot of time to enjoy the region.