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Five Ponds Wilderness Area

State Land Master Plan February 2014 Description

This Wilderness is located in the Towns of Fine, Clifton, Colton and Piercefield in St. Lawrence Coun­ty, the Town of Webb in Herkimer County and the Town of Long Lake in Hamilton County. The lands of this unit are bounded on the north by Cranberry Lake, a portion of the Os­wegatchie River, and the road from NYS Route 3 leading to Inlet and private lands; on the northeast by the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest and the southern edge of Otter Brook Road; on the southeast by the 2.4 mile road from the Otter Brook Road to the Lows Upper Dam and the 2.2 mile road from the road to the Lows Upper Dam (providing deeded access to a large inholding on the north shore of Lows Lake owned by the Boy Scouts and private lands) and south across Lows Lake to easement lands near Long Pond and down to and including Bog Lake and Clear Pond; on the south by private lands in the vicinity of Gull Lake, and the Stillwater Reservoir; on the southwest by the Pepperbox Wilderness; and on the west by Watson’s East Triangle and Aldrich Pond Wild Forests. In the vicinity of Young's Road in Star Lake the Wild Forest and Wilderness boundary is the Tamarack Creek snow­mobile trail and the South Access Trail from Youngs Road. Land south and east of this boundary will be classified Wilderness upon acquisition of inholdings.

In 1975, the Oswegatchie River was classified as a wild river by the Wild, Scen­ic and Recreational Rivers Act, and in 1977 was closed to motorboat use. The fire truck trail that once served High Falls from Wanakena was closed in 1976. Within the former Oswegatchie Primitive Area, approximately 7.2 miles of snowmobile trails were closed and two tent platforms were removed. These actions made the reclassification of the Oswegatchie Primitive Area possible, adding 16,920 acres to the Five Ponds Area.

The Broadhead Gore was acquired by the State in 1976. Prior to that, this parcel was con­sidered State land from about 1890 to 1947 when the State lost it in a lawsuit brought by the late Augustus Low. The Gore, which contained original growth timber, was logged soon after the lawsuit and was then sold to the Onondaga Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Although the Gore was only about 300 acres in size, it extended from Mud Pond westward a distance of about eight miles, coming to a point in the Wilderness. This acquisition offers significant additional protection to the Five Ponds Wilderness.

In 1979 the State purchased 15,850 acres in the Towns of Webb and Long Lake, 8,635 acres of which became part of this Wilderness. The remainder of the tract lies on the opposite side of the railroad and the road leading to Partlow Lake which became the Lake Lila Primitive Area. In 2000, approximately 1,340 acres of the Lake Lila Primitive Area lying westerly of the railroad were added to the Five Ponds Wilderness Area. The State accepted the gift of a conservation easement over 6,646 acres of land surrounding Nehasane Lake, as well as fee interest subject to a 50­year estate over 3,664 acres in the vicinity of Gull Lake. This latter parcel is due to become part of the Five Ponds Wilderness in 2029.

In 1982 the State purchased 6,676 acres of land in the Town of Webb, seller’s retained timber cutting rights were extinguished in 1990. This land was classified as Primitive and named Wilderness Lakes. Upon expiration of the timber rights, the Primitive Area was merged into the Five Ponds Wilderness. A private inholding remains and the ROW associated with the private road is a Primitive Area.

In 2000, approximately 13,220 acres of land acquired in Watson’s East Triangle and land classified Wild Forest as part of the Aldrich Pond Wild Forest were reclassified Wilderness and added to the Five Ponds Wilderness. This area contains the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River, Brindle Pond, Grassy Pond and Upper South Pond. The area also contains an inholding on the north shore of Bear Pond, which, if acquired, should be added to this unit.

In 2005, 1,100 acres of land acquired in the vicinity of Bog Lake and Clear Pond were classified Wilderness and added to the Five Ponds Wilderness providing a more direct Wilderness canoe route to Lows Lake from the Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor and the waters of Lake Lila in the William C. Whitney Wilderness. 

The terrain is low, rolling and interspersed with many small ponds. Wetlands and small brooks are numerous. The forest cover varies from hardwoods in the sections that were heavily logged and burned more than forty years ago to virgin pine and spruce stands.

This is one of the few locations in the northeastern United States where stands of virgin timber can be found. Early logging efforts avoided the area because it was found to be impractical to haul huge logs by horse and oxen out to the landing on Wolf Creek. The old growth pine and red spruce stand on the esker between Big Five, Little Five and Big Shallow, Little Shallow and Washbowl ponds is an example of this virgin timber. The pure pine stand at Pine Ridge along the Os­wegatchie is another well known spot whe­re examples of original growth timber may be seen. However, portions of the Pine Ridge stand were completely blown down in the 1950 hurricane and, pursuant to legislation, the timber was salvaged by a logging contractor. Additional pines on Pine Ridge and the esker through the Five Ponds were blown down in the 1995 Derecho.

In addition to these spots, other points of interest to the hiker, camper and angler are: High Falls on the Oswegatchie River; Alder Bed Flow on the Middle Branch of the Oswegatchie River; Cat Mountain; "The Plains," which are very similar in soil and cover type to that of the Moose River Plains; and numerous, clear, spring­fed ponds, most of which support brook trout. The Oswegatchie River was long considered the top brook trout stream in the State, with catches of three to four pound brook trout common during the summer months. This distinction was lost when perch were, apparently, introduced accidentally into Cranberry Lake in 1945. Despite the adverse impacts to the brook trout population, the area is popu­lar with hunters and anglers who frequent the interior ponds.

The Oswegatchie is a fine canoeing stream and is commonly used as such to reach interior wilderness points of interest. The river has received increasing use in recent years and care must be taken that such use does not result in resource degradation. The exist­ing lean­tos on the river will be phased out and ultimately replaced by primitive tent sites.

The Five Ponds area is accessible to the public from the north and also from the south if one has a boat or canoe. The area can also be reached from the southwest via the Raven Lake Road and from the east, by boat via the Bog River/ Low's Lake tract. The western boundary in Herkimer County is accessible from the Bear Pond Road in the Watson’s East Triangle Wild Forest.

The Mt. Electra observation tower was removed in September 1989, bringing this area into compliance with Wilderness standards

In 2009, portions of the lands belonging to the former Lows Lake Primitive Area were reclassified to Wilderness and added to the Five Ponds Wilderness. In light of the Wilderness and Primitive classifications of the land surrounding Lows Lake and Bog River, DEC will manage the waters as Wilderness, precluding both public and administrative use of motor vehicles, motorboats and aircraft to the extent prohibited by the Wilderness classification. Public float plane use will be eliminated December 31, 2011.

A Unit Management Plan was adopted for this area in1994.

Mapping Resources:
(Not from the State Land Master Plan or Unit Management Plans)

Recreational Opportunities Map

View larger map with additional options

Soils and Wetlands

View larger map with additional options




Five Ponds area statistics:

State Lands 125,363 Acres
Private Inholdings (7) 13,092 Acres
Bodies of Water (213) 2,699 Acres
  (minimum) 1,386 Feet
  (maximum) 2,489 Feet
Foot Trails 68 Miles
Lean‑tos 14
Non‑conforming Uses:  
1.5 Miles of Roads
1 Gravel Pit


DEC Unit Management Plan Link


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