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 lake community that continues to outshine all other comparable towns, even as interest in lake living and vacationing has significantly diminished over the years. With just one bus coming from NYC’s Port Authority bus station every day and major highways nearby, this lake haven is still not that hard to reach, but has fallen so far out of favor that NYC dwellers have long forgotten the Lake Mohawk address and now only seem to know how to spell “The Hamptons”, “Nantucket”and “Martha’s Vineyard” on their destination itineraries.
The center of Lake Mohawk’s Alpine style village is located within a section of the small town of Sparta, located in the rural Sussex County, New Jersey. The hamlet harks back to a simpler time from the past and still echoes some of its former glory when Lake Mohawk was established over 100 years ago. In 1920, 2,600 acres of rural farmland in the valley of the former 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 and Lake Mohawk was born.
Lake Mohawk site was formerly a lush 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. The underwater artifacts that still exist include the original farmers cottage, outbuildings and many of the farm walls. There is even a crashed seaplane from the 1930’s at the bottom of this lake that was never recovered. All of the actual water park of the lake in Lake Mohawk exists in the town of Sparta, but a small percentage of its homes are officially located in an adjacent town, known as Byram Township. This was created because the original regional town lines were not drawn around the valley topography and the two towns were allocated jurisdiction of any roads that may cross into the other towns maps, so Byram Township gets to list a few homes on their tax 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. Even bone-fide lake locals can still experience a level of frostiness of an elitist country club akin to some of the worst offenders in East Hampton or even Bar Harbor, but its misplaced snobbery has been in decline as fewer families have moved in to the area and less people have visited each year resulting in an increasingly aging population that are not being renewed by fresh blood and new money.
Private Country Club Status Keeps Out The Common Folk
Lake Mohawk is arguably the best lake community in the North East region and that can be qualified by many reasons. For a start, the lake’s private status keeps it very quiet, so quiet that many people have not actually heard of it. 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. It is those goals that can often be at odds with popular sentiment of the county electorate, as any self respecting waspish private community may experience. Membership to the association is mandatory for all homeowners and the high property taxes and steep association fees keep the riff-raff out. The association even has a new member initiation 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. As with other elitist clubs, the fee is not a percentage of the property sale value, but a fixed fee, which encourages sales on more expensive homes where they are effectively subsidized by less well-off neighbors. Attempting to apply a means test to this fee would be just a sacrilege.
Lake Mohawk has a prestigious lake side 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 quite gorgeous, if not overly expensive for the region and both serve as excellent wedding venues for couples who dare to dream. The notable lake side country club on the boardwalk 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 a visitor arrives for the first time at Lake Mohawk, they may feel like that they have stepped out of the mediocrity of New Jersey and stepped into something quite different and a little bit special. The Alpine style village seems genuine and the welcome is initially warm, but it is often at arms length. What greets the water sports enthusiast is clean, quiet flat water and a multitude of water sport options. Sometimes the flat water can last all day, 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, Lake Mohawk is pretty exclusive and many people are working to keep it just that way, but by closing its doors to fresh blood and new money, it may have set in events its own ultimate extinction.
Boat Owners Face Many Hurdles To Use Lake Mohawk
To put a boat on Lake Mohawk a boat owner must first own property on (or near) the lake. Any property that is part of the country club catchment area qualifies for this. Then they must apply for mandatory membership of the country club (which seems like a contradiction, because you cannot be denied despite being a liberal atheist). Next they must have their boat authorized for use on the lake and will need to meet a number of other stringent boat requirements, including boat power, length and beam restrictions. At the end of this lengthy process they 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, they can just put a kayak or a sailboat on the lake, which has a far cheaper application fee, but still has to meet 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 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 the 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, if not overly-managed, private lake community can be, despite its sometimes over zealous approach to preservation, history and rules.
Comparing Lake Mohawk 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 can launch their vessel. Lake Hopatcong can often become a torrid affair on the weekends with thousands of boaters speeding around the lake with great abandon, becoming inebriated and then tying up into large party boat flotillas in the Byram Cove area. It is in that cove that boaters begin acting like they are teenagers on Spring Break at Lake Havasu, Nevada and not overweight, middle aged bankers in Sussex County, New Jersey. In the main lake at Hopatcong, white-cap rough waters reign supreme on the weekends and a spirit of anarchy rules when Hopatcong converts into a watery version of Dante’s Inferno. Conversely, Lake Mohawk will usually have flat water at the very same time, with boat drivers sharing waves and Mojito recipes. Lake 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.
The Many Beaches of Lake Mohawk
There are fourteen well-managed beaches on the main body of Lake Mohawk and all of them are 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 they are not open to sharing. Members are understandably miffed if the general public find their way onto the private lake or any of its exclusive beaches and will often get miscreants ejected. A locked boat launch ramp on East Shore Trail ensures that no out-of-town boats will ever find their way onto the lake and new security gates on West Shore Trail have shown to be able to reduce trespass on the seven beaches that exist on that road. In the caste system of Lake Mohawk elites, West Shore Trail is seen as the choice address for homes, compared to its East Shore Trail sibling that suffers from a lack of security gate and access for the public on its roads. East Shore Trail does have one great advantage and that is its amazing sunsets, but that one value is not enough to redeem the shoreline that can be infiltrated by outsiders. Despite a closer security presence, the seven beaches of East Shore Trail still 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 feeder lakes that are also owned by the LMCC. In both cases beach goers not only need to be a LMCC owner, but also need to live in the small catchment area of the specific lake too, making the barrier to entry for those amenities even higher than the main lake at Lake Mohawk. These beaches are the Upper Lake Beach at Upper Lake Mohawk and Alpine Beach at Alpine Pool. If visitors thought that Lake Mohawk was hard to access, then these small beaches are even worse, so much so that even Lake Mohawk owners cannot get access these beaches, which even adds more mystique to their exclusivity.
What Beach Options Are Available For Non-Members?
For members of the public, the only option is to go to one of the two public parks at Lake Hopatcong. At those parks there are beaches that charge a small fee to access and they are much more than welcoming than Mohawk could ever be. Hopatcong also has a beach bar with live music 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 beach is at Hopatcong State Park which is located at Lakeside Boulevard, Landing, NJ.
Living The Lake Mohawk Dream May Be Only For The Well Heeled
Lake Mohawk may be a water sports Nirvana for some, but it’s only for the chosen few who can really afford it. The lake has seen many celebrity home owners come and go, from the Trump’s to the Pitt’s, to the Murphy’s and many of Hollywood’s elite in between, but no one sticks around long enough to become its king. From the village’s Stepford Wives kind-of-vibe, to the somewhat twee Ski Hawks water ski team, the lake has a stuck-in-time, Dorian Gray appeal that can show a disturbing pallor when viewed from an unconventional angle. The ultra-conservative community board seems to be at odds with modern-day progressive values and Lake Mohawk attempts to hark 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, but even that event feels a bit old-timey, which in truth has become part of its allure. Life at the lake may not be for everyone, but it is a different life that many baby boomers may have yearned for and only now, in their golden years, can they actually afford it. If prospective buyers want to get a glimpse of this world, they can visit the Lake Mohawk Country Club beach bar on any given Saturday night in the Summer and will see well-heeled boat owners pull in for a few lakeside cocktails and dance the night away to the glitzy band. Outsiders will also see what their life could have been like as the revelers disappear into the evening mist in a boating version of Brigadoon. This may be the life they have always dreamed about, so if they want in, they better get their checkbook out. This exclusive club makes it clear that the impoverished need not apply, so ditch the acid wash jeans and the kipper tie, as club rules dictate that if you cannot comply, then you might want to try The Hamptons. There is an Uber waiting.