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

About 100 years ago Lake Mohawk was considered to be the finest vacation playground in the North East. Now the lake is a forgotten destination stuck in a time warp where that only the rich, or the very lucky, can experience its unique charm and bask in its private allure.

Membership has its privileges and in this lake community you better be well-heeled or well connected.

Lake Mohawk Has Roots in the Past as a Popular Vacation Destination

Lake Mohawk is located in New Jersey 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 lake vacationing has significantly diminished over the years and modern transportation methods have opened up so many alternative destinations, Lake Mohawk continues to soldier on.

With just one bus coming out 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 they 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.

Lake Mohawk Country Club in Sparta NJ
Lake Mohawk Country Club in Sparta NJ

How Lake Mohawk Was Originally Created

The lake’s former glory began when Lake Mohawk was originally 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 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 farmer’s 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. It was located soon after the crash, but the cost of salvage was just not worth it so they left it there.

Lake Mohawk: Split Across Sparta and Byram Township

All of the actual water part of the lake in Lake Mohawk exists in the town of Sparta, as do most of the homes. There is a small percentage of homes on the southern shore of the lake that are officially located in an adjacent town, known as Byram Township.

This split was created because the original regional town lines had not been drawn around the valley topography when the area was developed. Following the development of Lake Mohawk, the two towns were allocated jurisdiction of any roads that may cross into the other towns maps. This is why Byram Township gets to list a few Lake Mohawk homes on their tax register. An Byram makes them pay dearly for the honor.

Pristine Lake, Clean Beaches and Quiet Roads, but a Clear Conscience?

The lake itself is about 3 miles long by half a mile wide and boasts both lakeside and lakeside-adjacent homes. The pristine waters are celebrated by boaters and non-boaters alike for its cleanliness, beauty and exclusivity – but not for its friendliness to outsiders.

The water quality may ebb and flow each year depending on the amount of algae and how much nitrogen finds its way into the water from the rich people’s over-fertilized yards, but there remains an underlying spirit of conservatism that is rarely found in other lake towns.

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. Over the years, Lake Mohawk’s misplaced snobbery has been in decline as fewer super-rich families have moved into the area and less people overall have visited each year. This has resulted in an increasingly aging population that are not being renewed by fresh blood and new money. But their attitude still remains.

Twin Hickory Docks at Lake Mohawk NJ
Twin Hickory Docks at Lake Mohawk NJ

Private Country Club Status Keeps Out The Common Folk

Lake Mohawk is arguably the best lake community in the North East region. This can be qualified in many ways. For a start, the lake’s private status keeps it very quiet, so quiet in fact that many NYC people may not have not actually heard of it at all.

The lake has a dedicated group of homeowners who want to conserve its tranquility and harmony and an active board that attempts to 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 out the riff-raff. 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 to the rich residents who hold all the political power on the Board of Trustees.

Lake Mohawk Demographic Shift

Many members complain that the vibe has changed over the years as has the lake demographic. The skew on age segmentation and family segmentation is compounded by the fact there has been little to no movement on gender segmentation and ethnicity. As family income segmentation has skyrocketed, so the inverse curve has been applied to race and religion.

The previously close kit family community has slowly been replaced by rich and snooty business folks. The bankers and business people have no appetite for a neighborhood community that does not look like them and they have molded the community in their own image.

Happy Valley Beach 8 at Lake Mohawk NJ
Happy Valley Beach 8 at Lake Mohawk NJ

Country Club and Golf Club Atmosphere

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 motion events that leads to its own demise.

Boat Owners Face Many Hurdles To Use Lake Mohawk

LMCC Member Boat Owner Docks at Lake Mohawk
LMCC Member Boat Owner Docks at 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. Then they must apply for mandatory membership of the country club (which seems like a contradiction in terms, 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 boaters 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 so much other criteria.

Mainstream Water Sports Only

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.

The marine services committee at Lake Mohawk has long had a tight grip on its eccentric approval process that deters those that either lack political clout or big money to spend. Homeowners often take a look around the lake and wonder “how did THAT boat get approved?”. The answer is usually political or money. Sometimes it is both.

The blanket watersports ban includes jet skis, jet boats, para-sails, air-chairs, sky chairs, kitesurfing and pretty much anything else that is new, untested or unapproved.

Excessive Rules Also Provide Some Control

On the flipside, It is these excessive 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.

The Lake Mohawk rules are often used and abused by “connected” members to get what they want, at the expense of others. Either getting their boat approved or getting others rejected.

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 its rules.

Lake Mohawk Vista
Vista of Lake Mohawk From Alpine Beach

Comparing Lake Mohawk to Other Local NJ Lakes

Around Lake Mohawk there are quite a number of other lakes.

Lake Hopatcong, is just 10 miles south of  Lake Mohawk, and is a local NJ public lake where anyone with a boat license and a cold can of 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 the reality which is more-often-than-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 hand waves and Mojito recipes.

Lake Mohawk often provides ideal conditions for many water sport enthusiasts including water skiing, wakeboarding, 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

Sleepy Lagoon Beach at Lake Mohawk, NJ

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 many 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 definitely not open to sharing these resources.

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 any 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 the West Shore Trail have shown to be able to reduce trespass on the seven beaches that exist on that road.

Lake Mohawk Housing Caste System

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 gate security and public access on its roads.

The lakefront homes on West Shore Trail are ground zero for the elites, many of whom still dream of ascending to the “Heaviside Layer” of Manitou Island, where those members enjoy a privacy and exclusivity all their own. If they ever do get their own security gate, then they will have ascended into rarefied air.

Homeowner Fees Inequity

All Lake Mohawk property owners pay the same annual fee.

The East Shore dwellings clearly subsidize its West Shore siblings, while all of them subsidize the super-elites on Manitou Island. The island dwellers pay the same basic annual membership fee, despite having homes that valued at over 25 times the average home value on the lake.

Things like the bridge, security gates, road paving, plowing and maintenance are areas of frustration for Lake Mohawk residents who all pay the same annual fee, yet clearly get different levels of service and facilities.

Upper Lake Mohawk and Alpine Sections

Homeowners at Upper Lake Mohawk and Alpine Beach like to think as themselves as more special than everyone else as they have their own dedicated beaches and a much closer knit community than the rest of the lake. This area is truthfully low-rent in the grand scheme of Lake Mohawk. They suffer from being both gateless and disconnected.

East Shore Trail V West Shore Trail

Both shores have their respective advantages, but the East Shore does have the most amazing sunsets of all.

Sunsets aside, that one value is not enough to redeem the East shoreline that can often be infiltrated by unwashed outsiders. Despite having a higher 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 their facilities. When you have a public road running right through it, it doesn’t help.

The same is not true of its West Shore counterpart beaches as they are protected by a security gate and a private road.

Upper Lake Mohawk and Alpine Beach

There two other beaches on two other smaller feeder lakes are also owned by the LMCC. But In both cases beachgoers not only need to be a LMCC owner, but also need to live in the small catchment area of those specific lakes too.

This makes 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.

What Beach Options Are Available For Non-Members?

Members of the public have no access to Lake Mohawk at all. They are clearly the great unwashed and are not welcome.

The only option for a local beach 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

Alpine Beach at the Alpine Pool Sparta NJ
Alpine Beach at The Alpine Pool, Lake Mohawk

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 elevated to lake royalty.

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 emanates an odd pallor when not viewed from its conventional angle. Many residents have drunk the “Kool Aid” and are oblivious to what is happening around them.

The ultra-conservative Board of Trustees 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 mom reliably had roast dinner on the table at 6PM.

Its no secret that Lake Mohawk was built in the same year that women got to vote, some Lake Mohawkians would like it to return to those days.

The German Christmas Market at Lake Mohawk
The German Christmas Market at Lake Mohawk

Annual German Christmas Market at Lake Mohawk

The annual German Christmas Market has become a huge hit in recent years and provides much needed revenue to a variety of local charities, The event feels a bit old-timey, which in truth has become part of its allure and the choice of venue at Lake Mohawk could not be more perfect. As the market has now moved from the lake, it is like one of part of its past moving one and leaving an empty shell behind.

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. But do they really want it? 

Give Lake Mohawk a Try?

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 live 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. They have ordered you an Uber and it is waiting outside. Now please leave and forget everything you have seen.

Early morning mist at Lake Mohawk New Jersey

EDITORS FOOTNOTE: Lake Mohawk Residents Skeptical of this Article

We have received some responses to this article from Lake Mohawk residents. Some Lake Mohawk residents reject this article as “pure fiction:, “not the place I live in”, and “a load of garbage”.

Others challenged that the lack of outbound external links to confirm facts in the piece demonstrates that this article is not factual. We are not clear exactly where these links should be pointing to.

Some challenged the authors objectivity and described it as “sour grapes”, although they based this on nothing other than their own personal opinion of the piece rather than any facts.

Some believed that the author has an axe to grind and was rejected in some fashion from a housing purchase. Others believed the writer has never been to the town and is a writer making a name.

These statements are all false.

Most readers complaints stemmed from their own interest in the authors motivation, rather than the actual facts stated. Not one complaint challenged a single fact in the article. The complainants are likely the biggest part of the problem at Lake Mohawk. The lack of diversity in housing and on the board. Accounting irregularities and questionable club management.

Is Lake Mohawk a Welcoming Lake Community or Elitist Haven?

Lake Mohawk is probably neither. Just rich white folks pretending to be diversified while they avoid slurping their Highballs and chow down on some hot Hors d’oeuvres at the club at sunset.

“Isn’t it terrible what is happening in Harlem?”, “Oh yes it is, now where is Harlem?”

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.

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