Camping for everyone
Fish Creek is the most popular Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) campground near Saranac Lake. People come from miles around, and have for generations. Most campsites are on the water with shade trees, and this makes the Fish Creek campground very attractive to those who want the view without being in the full sun. Fish Creek offers a total of 355 campsites, including eleven accessible campsites for use by people with disabilities.
What makes a campsite accessible?
A camping unit commonly includes the camp living area, where the surface is firm, stable, and level, and where the surface material used is appropriate to the setting. It also must have unobstructed access for a vehicle and space for a tent. Most DEC campgrounds also have accessible picnic tables and accessible places to have a fire.
For the picnic table to be considered accessible there needs to be room to accommodate a wheelchair. This is done by making at least one end of the picnic table longer. An accessible fire pit or fireplace has a bottom that is raised at least 9 inches from ground level, with walls no thicker than 10 inches on level ground that is clear from obstruction at least 48 inches on all usable sides. This is so that a person in a wheelchair can reach the bottom without leaning too far and get close enough to adequately build and tend the fire.
In the day use area at Fish Creek Pond Campground, there is a fishing dock that is accessible with lowered sections of railing for wheelchair anglers. It has two sides and is secluded by bushes. The fishing dock is a nice place to relax and take it all in — and maybe you’ll catch something.
It is important to understand that just as people have different abilities, there are different levels of accessibility needs. The campground's bathrooms and showers were built in the 1960's and 70's. There weren’t any ADA requirements back then. Many of the bathroom buildings near accessible campsites have ambulatory accessible facilities, designed for people using walkers and mobility aids, but do not provide sufficient turning space for a wheelchair. There are wheelchair accessible toilet facilities in the day use area at Fish Creek. People with disabilities are welcome to use the accessible shower building at the adjacent Rollins Pond Campground, as Fish Creek does not currently offer shower facilities that are wheelchair accessible.
More accessibility on the way
Fish Creek’s latest Unit Management Plan (UMP) that will add more accessible features was finalized in December of 2021. The UMP includes plans to replace seven comfort stations, all of which will have ADA-compliant features but come with price tag of $400,000 each.
There is a 4-mile trail that goes around the pond. It weaves in and out parallel to the road. A .6-mile section is currently paved and offers a smooth ride for any wheels. Most of the trail is natural forest floor and easily traversed with a power wheelchair.
According to the Unit Management Plan, the current condition of the trail on the corridor discourages use by standard bicycle riders or people with limited mobility. The UMP proposes to resurface the multipurpose trail with pavement or an alternative material such as stone dust. Learn more: Fish Creek Pond Public Campground Unit Management Plan
From my work as Chair of the DEC/Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Accessibility Advisory Committee, I have learned that UMPs set the trajectory of work for each DEC facility, but do not necessarily come with specific funding. Public involvement is critical to making the projects approved in each UMP happen. Our committee works closely with Leah Akins, DEC Statewide ADA Accessibility Coordinator, in identifying accessibility priorities and providing feedback to DEC programs. We encourage the public to submit ideas, suggestions, and comments to email@example.com.
If this all sounds complicated, that’s because it is. This has been a long uphill battle and one that will continue to be waged in order to make things more compliant. Leah and her team have been working on upgrading accessibility at the campgrounds for many years now. It’s important to understand that these things don’t happen overnight, and that funding definitely plays a role.
Until then, the focus is on knowing what to expect, and if the accessibility level of the venue meets with each person's individual abilities.
Find out more about accessible features at Fish Creek and learn more about accessible recreation on state lands. An up-to-date list of campgrounds and their available accessible features is maintained by DEC.
If you have a disability and have questions about accessibility at DEC campgrounds and day use areas, you can contact your regional ADA coordinator.