Lake Mohawk NJ: A Welcoming Lake Community or Elitist Haven?

Once considered the finest vacation playground in the North East, Lake Mohawk, NJ is located less than an hour from New York City and is a private housing lake community that continues to outshine all other comparable towns, even as interest in lakeside living has diminished over the years. With one bus per day out of NYC’s Port Authority, this lake haven is not hard to reach, but has fallen so far out of favor that NYC dwellers now only know how to spell “The Hamptons”, “Nantucket”and “Martha’s Vineyard”

This center of Lake Mohawk’s Alpine style village is located within the small town of Sparta, in Sussex County, New Jersey and harks back to a simpler time from the past. Lake Mohawk was established over 100 years ago, when 2,600 acres of rural farmland in the valley of the Wallkill River were dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the valley was subsequently flooded to form a man-made lake around which over 2,500 homes were built.

Lake Mohawk Country Club
Lake Mohawk Country Club in Sparta NJ

Lake Mohawk Site Was Formerly a Green Valley With a Historical Farmstead

The site of what is now Lake Mohawk was formerly known as Brogden’s Meadow and many of the original stone structures still exist under the clear and clean blue water of the lake. Underwater artifacts, that still exist, include the original farmers cottage, outbuildings and many of the farm walls. There is also a crashed seaplane from the 1930’s at the bottom of this lake that was never recovered. All of Lake Mohawk exists in the town of Sparta, but a small percentage of its adjacent homes are officially located in an adjacent town, known as Byram Township. As the regional town lines were not drawn around the valley topography and the towns were allocated complete jurisdiction of roads that may cross into the other towns maps, Byram Township gets a few homes on their register. The lake itself is about 3 miles long by half a mile wide and boasts both lakeside and lakeside-adjacent homes. The pristine lake is celebrated by boaters and non-boaters alike for its cleanliness, beauty and exclusivity – but not for its friendliness to outsiders.

Private Country Club Status Keeps Out The Common Folk

Lake Mohawk is probably the best lake community in the North East region for many reasons. For a start, its private status keeps it very quiet. It has a dedicated group of homeowners who want to conserve its tranquility and harmony and an active board that helps realize the goals of its members.  Membership to the association is mandatory for all homeowners and the high property taxes and steep association fees keep the riff-raff out. There is even a new member association application fee of $4000 (soon to be raised to $5000) that does its best to not encourage property sales, especially to the less well-heeled. There is a prestigious lakeside country club and a hillside golf club that both fit perfectly with the clientele that live in the Lake Mohawk Country Club Community (LMCC). Both clubs are gorgeous, if not overly expensive for the region and serve as wedding venues for couples who dare to dream. The notable country club serves as a banner advertisement for the lake as a whole, as it is a very popular location for weddings and events that are held in the grand ballroom, which is often busy during the summer with all those crazy kids tying the knot (hopefully with a good pre-nuptial agreement). When you arrive at Lake Mohawk, you may feel that you have stepped out of the mediocrity of NJ and stepped into something quite different and special. The Alpine style village seems genuine and the welcome is warm, but it is often at arms length. What greets you as a water sports enthusiast is clean, quiet flat water. Sometimes the flat water that can last all day on the weekends, a phenomenon that is unheard of at other local lakes like Lake Hopatcong, Budd Lake and even the much maligned Greenwood Lake that straddles the NJ/NY border. Clearly, this lake is pretty exclusive and many people are working to keep it just that way.

Boat Owners Face Many Hurdles To Use Lake Mohawk

lake mohawk boat owners
A LMCC Member Boat Owner Docks at Lake Mohawk

To put a boat on this lake you must first own property on (or near) the lake. Any property that is part of the country club catchment area already qualifies for this. Then you must apply for mandatory membership of the country club (which seems like a contradiction, because you cannot be denied). Next you must have your boat authorized for use on the lake and you will then need to meet a number of other stringent boat requirements, including boat power, length and beam restrictions. At the end of this lengthy process you will still have to pay a hefty annual boat fee just to put it on the water of Lake Mohawk. As an alternative at this point, you can just put a kayak or a sailboat on the lake, which has a far cheaper application fee, but you still have to meet all the other criteria.

Given its very conservative values, Lake Mohawk does not like any water sports out of the ordinary. Anything that does not resemble a small sailboat, kayak, paddle board or water ski boat is automatically banned by default at Lake Mohawk. This blanket ban includes all jet skis, jet boats, para-sails, air-chair, sky chair, kitesurfing and pretty much anything else that is new, untested or unapproved. It is these requirements that keeps the harmony of this lake intact, while other New York area lakes are often degraded into a free-for-all, especially on the weekends, Lake Mohawk continues to be a shining example of what a well-managed, private lake community can be, despite its sometimes over zealous approach to preservation.

Comparison to Other Local NJ Lakes

Lake Hopatcong, which is just 10 miles south of  Lake Mohawk, is a local NJ public lake where anyone with a boat license and a can of cold beer in hand and full grown mullet can launch their vessel. Lake Hopatcong can often become a torrid affair on weekends with thousands of boaters speeding around the lake with great abandon, getting as drunk as possible and then tying up into large party flotillas in the Byram Cove area. It is in that cove that boaters begin acting like they are at Spring Break at Lake Havasu, NV and not in Sussex County, NJ. In the main lake at Hopatcong, white-cap rough waters reign supreme on the weekends but conversely Lake Mohawk will often have gorgeous flat water at the very same time. Mohawk often provides ideal conditions for many water sport enthusiasts including water skiing, wake boarding, knee boarding, swimming, sailing and kayaking. Mohawk even allows diving, which would be certain suicide at Lake Hopatcong or at any of the other crowded public lakes on the East Coast, but totally fine on Mohawk.

Many Beaches of Lake Mohawk

sleepy lagoon beach at Lake Mohawk, NJ
Sleepy Lagoon Beach at Lake Mohawk, NJ

The fourteen gorgeous beaches on the main body of Lake Mohawk are all private, as is the lake itself. Members of the public are not allowed to use the lake or its beaches. Lake Mohawk members pay a huge amount of money in fees and taxes to use the private lake and its beaches and are understandably miffed if members of the public find their way onto the private lake or any of its exclusive beaches. A locked boat launch ramp ensures that no out-of-town boats ever find their way onto the lake and a new security gate on the West Shore Trail has shown to reduce trespass on its seven beaches significantly. The other seven beaches of East Shore Trail remain somewhat unprotected from public access and have required heavier control from lifeguards and club staff to ensure that only approved members can access. There are two other beaches on two other smaller lakes that are also owned by the LMCC. In those cases you not only need to be a LMCC owner, but need to live in their small catchment area too, making the barrier to entry for those amenities even higher than the main Lake Mohawk. For members of the public, there are beaches at the local public lake at Lake Hopatcong, that charge a small fee and are more than welcoming. They also have a beach bar and a grassy area for children to play on. The public boat ramp is at Lees County Park which is located at Howard Boulevard, Mount Arlington and the other is a beach at Hopatcong State Park located at Lakeside Boulevard, Landing, NJ.

Living The Lake Mohawk Dream May Be Only For The Well Heeled

Lake Mohawk Beach Sparta NJ
Lake Mohawk Beach Sparta NJ

Lake Mohawk may be a water sports Nirvana, but it’s only for the chosen few who can really afford it. It has seen home owners from the Trump’s to the Pitt’s and many of Hollywood’s elite in between. From the village’s Stepford Wives kind-of-vibe, to the somewhat twee Ski Hawks water ski team to the ultra-conservative community board that seems to have a mission that often rubs up against the modern-day progressive  values, Lake Mohawk harks back to a simpler time when The Readers Digest had the scoop of the day and roast dinner was reliably on the table at 6PM. The annual German Christmas Market has become a huge hit in recent years and provides much needed revenue to a variety of local charities and even that event feels a bit old-timey, which is part of its allure. Life at the lake may not be for everyone, but it is a different life that many baby boomers may yearn for and only now, in their golden years, can they actually afford it.  If you want to get a glimpse of this world, visit the Lake Mohawk Country Club beach bar on any given Saturday night in the Summer and you will see well-heeled boat owners pull in for a few lakeside cocktails and dance the night away to the band. You will also see what your life could have been like.

If you do visit, please be sure to remember that you in fact still a visitor here and not a resident. This may be the the life you have always dreamed about, so if you want in, you better get your checkbook out. This exclusive club makes it clear that the impoverished need not apply. Ditch your acid wash jeans as the club rules apply and if you cannot comply, then you might want to try The Hamptons.

Frank Roberts

A ten year veteran of remote tech writing, Frank hasn't set foot in an office for over two years. He misses the human connection, but is thankful that he doesn't have to put up with the distractions any longer. Specializing in wired/wireless tech and mobile software, Frank has written about everything from the iPhone7 to the Timex Sinclair z81/1000. This stiff is always interesting, never boring and the writing isn't bad either.