Prior to the mid-1970s, summertime water levels on Indian Lake regularly plunged to depths unseen by newcomers to the lake. In the fall, these drops would accelerate. By Columbus Day, levels now not experienced until midwinter were common. With five gas stations and at least twice as many restaurants and resorts as now, Indian Lake was thriving in those days compared to 2009. But it was a much less sophisticated place (if that’s possible). Nevertheless, a few lakefront property owners recognized a need to organize in order to tackle the problem of low lake levels.

Don Ellis, a resident, developer, and owner of the local lumber yard proposed the concept to Pat Atwood of Twin Coves, pointing out that an Association of Adirondack Lake property owners had been formed to grapple with some of their own issues at that lake. Pat and her mother, Florence Hayes, phoned around and got a dozen or so residents to hold an organizational meeting at Bill Daubenschmidt’s on Lake Shore Road.  Mostly business owners, those in attendance included Florence, Pat, her husband Jeff from Twin Coves, Al and Vivian Nixon, from the Squaw Brook Motel, Hank and Genevieve Evatt, Francis and Jean Fish and Dan Kerst from the marinas, Bob and Cynthia Kluin from Chief Sabael, Carol Blanchard and Lee Fish of Fish’s Cottages. Bill Mergenthaler, of the Adirondack Lake Association, was invited to speak, and he described his group’s activities. Jeff was chosen acting president and secretary of what was then redundantly called “the Indian Lake Lake Association”. Pat agreed to serve as vice president and treasurer. The two were encouraged by the others to “take the ball and run with it.”

Ahough the organization’s original objective was to try to protect lake levels here, there was not any awareness of the fact that a much larger group of shorefront property owners on the Great Sacandaga Lake had already organized themselves for a similar purpose there, and were hard at work lobbying to protect their interests at our expense. In fact State Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Glenn Harris would soon sponsor legislation on behalf of Sacandaga that would have had severe implications for Indian Lake. Indian Lake and Sacandaga were and are the two principal, controllable sources of the Hudson River. Both bodies of water had been utilized, since their creations, for flood control downstream. And this usage had proven very effective in ameliorating what had been dire flooding problems in Albany and many other areas downstream. The lakes’ waters were also used to maintain river levels, for industrial purposes downstream, during the dry months. However no limits or targets for lake levels had ever been established; and the drawdowns were often vastly in excess of what was actually needed by these other interests. Any legislation protecting water levels on Sacandaga could only come at the further expense of Indian Lake.

In 1976, The Indian Lake Lake Association sent out 150 solicitations for membership. They received 48 responses, netting 71 members. By laws and a constitution were voted and the first slate of directors was elected by mail. The organization held its first annual meeting in 1978. Besides trying to rein in lake levels, another objective was established: the marking of navigation hazards. The concept for this apparently went no farther than someone tying a Clorox bottle to Idiot’s Rock and some of the other major hazards. When it was learned that to legally do this would require that the lake be blanketed with the full complement of Coast Guard channel markers, and that these would have to be constantly changed as the lake level varied, the Association finally disclaimed this objective.

When Dick Catlin of Timberlock joined the Association, a lobbying effort in Albany, at the office of Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, began to gather momentum and yield real results.  We also enlisted the Town Board, and the Fish and Game Clubs to assist us in our lobbying efforts. The principal objective of the lobbying effort was to defeat the water level bill put forth by the Sacandaga Association. That bill would have set water level limits for Sacandaga at the expense of a larger drawdown from Indian Lake. Town Supervisor Dick Purdue was instrumental in spearheading the lobbying effort. Members of our board along with the town and various fish and game clubs all descended on Albany and using a well rehearsed argument, took turns going to each of Assemblyman Hinchey’s Environmental Committee Member offices.

The Indian River Co. (a consortium of industrial interests which included International Paper, Niagara Mohawk, Finch Pruyn and Saratoga Box & Board Co.) resisted these efforts with Niagra Mohawk in particular pushing for even bigger drawdowns. Although no formal, legally binding contract or law was ever made codifying our lake levels, the ILA advocated successfully enough for our interests that the bill never got out of committee. The threat receded, and Indian Lake began to be publicly acknowledged as the recreational resource that we all know and love. Finally, the Indian River Co. gave up their last legal claims on the dam in 1987, and The Hudson River/Black River Regulating District, a publicinterest corporation chartered by the State, agreed to take over the operation of our dam; with the understanding that it would undergo extensive rehabilitation work at the Indian River Company’s expense. This work, valued at one million dollars, took place that fall. The Indian Lake Association had conducted a poll of its membership in 1985, reached its own consensus on what would represent a desirable lake level compromise – recognizing both local and downstate interests – and “a gentleman’s agreement” was struck with HRBRRD setting target lake elevations that have been quite well maintained to this day.

Many residents here fail to appreciate how enormous our watershed is. It can be impossible, at times, to draw enough water off the dam to balance the massive inflow that we experience in the spring and during major storms. Nevertheless, historical records show that HRBRRD has done a fairly good job meeting its targets. One of the dam keeper’s responsibilities is to measure snowpack through the winter so that spring runoff and drawdowns can be better anticipated. Much of this success is the result of the excellent relationship and communication that Dick Catlin established with the Regulating District personnel over the years, and now continued by his son, Bruce.

So, while the Indian Lake Association has been successful in its founding purpose, we have also successfully established a basic organization able to wield political power as other issues have arisen. We are very much under the control of the NYS DEC here on Indian Lake, and a good example of our organization’s effectiveness came a couple of years ago when a new DEC Unit Management Plan controlling a portion of the lake contemplated placing the southeastern third of the lake off limits to any motorized boat traffic. This was an exceptionally unpopular idea with the membership; and we were able to wage a successful campaign which thwarted this proposal. However, it is doubtful that this will be the last major issue that will be of critical concern to property owners here.

And what kind of concerns should we have. Certainly the quality of our water is foremost. Because there is very little man made runoff into the lake and because septic systems are regularly checked, and because the lake is constantly flushing itself from south to north, there is very little chance of man made pollution. However there is the chance that invasive species can enter the lake and get a foothold and your association remains the major vehicle to keep watch. There is also the remote possibility that interests may resurface that would like to create a hydro electric project at the dam. This might or might not be good for the community depending on many things that your association could monitor. And finally, the dam itself is over 100 years old. It is a stone and mortar dam and although it was completely repointed and repaired in 1987, it is probably that it will face another restoration in the near future. Your association would want to closely monitor that possibility.