Ossipee — July 10, 2003 — This summer the Ossipee Lake Alliance is conducting a survey of the recreational uses and environmental conditions on Ossipee Lake.
The survey is part of the Lake Environment Assessment Program 2003, and uses techniques developed by the state to assess current conditions on the lake. The group has enlisted the aid of all the summer camps on the lake as well as individual property owners and members of the various lake associations. There are three associations which focus on different sections of the long lake: the Broad-Leavitt Bay Association, the Berry Bay Association and the North Broad Bay Association.
David Smith, executive director of the Alliance, said the idea for the assessment came from last year’s annual meetings of the associations. Starting July 4 weekend, volunteers were out counting pontoon boats, power boats, personal watercraft, sail boats, kayaks, water skiers, swimmers, picnics, fishing, the occasional sea plane and any other activities.
On the survey, they were asked to make observations for 15 minutes between 10-11 a.m., 1:30-2:30 p.m., and 4-5 p.m., and to note location, types of shoreline, current weather conditions, water surface, wind and temperature. They marked whether boats were anchored in the water, tied to shore, moving on the water, tied to one another, or pulled up on shore, and the number of people in the boat and outside the boat. They were also asked to look for littering, drinking, loud music, trespassing and hazardous boating.
In addition to the holiday weekend, volunteers will be surveying on another Saturday in July and one weekday in August to get a sample of how busy the lake is on different days.
Smith said the camps on the lake “all jumped at the opportunity. Their whole business is based on parents wanting to come here and wanting to send their children here.”
Don Johnson, director of Camp Calumet, was out on the lake with volunteers Saturday morning. “I’m a very enthusiastic supporter,” he said. “This body of water is so important to the well being of the whole community. There’s tourism. It’s a natural resource. There’s the natural beauty and keeping the aquifer clean. Any group of citizens that wants to work on those issues, I’m all for it. And we’re using whatever resources Calumet can to support the whole process.” He also said the coalition approach of the Ossipee Lake Alliance, of bringing together various associations, camps and other land owners is the way to approach such an issue.
Ossipee Lake Alliance members David Smith and Susan Marks were out on the lake all weekend, counting and observing. They are working with Moselle Spiller, of Effingham, who has been hired for the summer to coordinate the volunteer surveying efforts. She said the survey will give “a solid benchmark to determine what’s going on and what we need to target to make things better.”
A tour of the lake on Saturday morning showed what they said was uncharacteristically quiet weekend day on parts of the lake where boaters congregate. Even so, dozens of boats could be seen at Long Sands and Cassie Cove before noon and a steady stream of boats.
Ossipee Lake has sand bars and other long, shallow, sandy bottomed stretches of land near the shore at various points along the lake which make it very inviting to boaters. Some own homes on the lake, some put their boats in at the public boat launch on Route 25 in Ossipee or one of the lake’s three marinas.
Boats tend to congregate at such locations as Long Sands, Cassie Cove and Berry Bay Point. “People are looking for anyplace that doesn’t have a house on it,” Smith said.
Smith said the lake also has one of the highest numbers of unique habitats of any lake in New Hampshire, including pond shore habitats, wetlands, pine barrens and a heath bog. Ossipee Lake is one of the largest lakes in the state.
As the lake becomes busier, it needs a management plan. “Without a plan you’re left to whatever happens,” he said. “If this lake were not here or were polluted it would not be a place people would want to come and have a vacation. That would have a serious impact on towns. A plan would allow coordination between associations and property owners to protect the lake.”
One growing complaint as the number of boats on the lake has increased is the erosion caused by them speeding through narrow areas. This has also become a safety concern as those sections of the lake become more populated, and many sections now have no wake zones.
The LEAP survey will give an indication of current conditions, Smith said, “so we can start to talk about what’s a good thing or a bad thing for the lake.” With the assessment as background we can begin asking such questions as “What makes this a lake people want to be on?” and the perhaps more difficult, “At what point are there too many boats on the lake?”
Both Marks and Smith grew up spending their summers on Ossipee Lake and the growth they have seen over the years has amazed them. “When we were kids we met at the sandbar,” Marks said. “There would be about 10 people.” The week before the Fourth, Marks said, there were about 150 to 200 people gathered at Cassie Cove. On July 4, the first day of the survey, 42 boats were counted, which she estimated to be between 200 and 250 people. “You could hear the music blasting and the yelling,” Marks said.
Perry Fine, whose home on the lake has a clear view of Cassie Cove, said the Fourth was typical for a Saturday. “People come looking for a social experience and a place to cool off,” he said. And despite a state ruling a few years ago against rafting on Cassie Cove, it clearly continues.
The state limited the number of boats allowed to anchor there to 10 at any one time. Most weekends there are far more than twice that number in close proximity in the area, which also includes a volleyball net set up in the water.
The state ruling on rafting in the area is clearly unenforceable, Fine said, particularly when there is usually only one marine patrol officer on the lake. In the years since the ruling was made he said he has noticed no change in people’s behavior there. The ruling is not posted at the site, he said, so most people are probably unaware of it.
“This is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I’ve been all around the world. This is where I choose to come,” Fine said. He too has watched the population living on and using the lake grow over the years. “The impact is getting extreme. And with that comes the obligation to accommodate multiple uses of the resource,” he said.
At Long Sands on the last weekend in June, there were about 200 boats counted, with an estimate of 1,500 to 2,000 people. On July 4th there were 337 boats counted at the busiest time, with an estimate of 1,700 to 3,000 people. “When you have 3,000 people there’s going to be an impact. We don’t know what the impact is going to be, but it’s going to affect the quality of water and the environment.”
Neither Long Sands nor Cassie Cove has public bathroom facilities, and one of the complaints about overuse of the area is that people staying in these areas all day are using the lake and land as a toilet.
Another concern is the trash that is generated by those visitors. Although many people do carry out their own trash, Smith said, some do not, and quite a bit has been noted along shorelines and in the water.
“There’s definitely a littering problem,” Spiller said. Spiller said what volunteers are seeing for the most part is not out of control behavior. But with the numbers of visitors, over time, there can be damage to the habitat and wildlife. “We want to help people become aware that this is a fragile environment. Long Sands is not a beach. It’s a pond shore community and a protected area.”
Smith said he too was a visitor to such areas as Long Sands and loved to water ski through narrow sections of the lake (which at the time was not prohibited). But he said the knowledge of the effects of such activities was not as well understood as they are today. And improving that understanding further, and using the new knowledge to preserve the lake is a need he hopes that all those who use the lake will understand and support.