Merrow May Seek to Limit Law Protecting Archeological Sites

Ossipee — July 16, 2005 — In the latest move surrounding Ossipee’s determination to build a town beach in state-owned Ossipee Lake Natural Area, Selectman and State Representative Harry Merrow says he is considering filing legislation to limit the law protecting the state’s archeological sites from vandalism and treasure-hunters.

“I’m building up steam,” Merrow told a reporter for the Conway Daily Sun.

The move comes after Merrow announced that he had obtained a copy of a report that he was prevented from discussing under the provisions of RSA 227C:11, the “Confidentiality of Archeological Site Location Information” law. That law states that information that may identify the location of an archeological site on state land or under state waters shall be treated with confidentiality to protect the resource from unauthorized field investigations and vandalism.

Others Have Copies

In an e-mail exchange with Ossipee Lake Alliance, Merrow said that copies of the report have also been provided to his fellow selectmen and to the head of the Ossipee Conservation Commission. All of them have signed a non-disclosure agreement, he said.

It is widely assumed that the report contains information on archeological finds in and near the Natural Area property, which was acquired by the state in 1969 and is managed by the state agency DRED. Shortly after the state acquired the property it was documented to contain rare and endangered plants and globally rare plant communities. While reports on the plants are public, reports on the archeological significance of the Natural Area are shielded by state law.

Openly Skeptical

Merrow’s move is the latest in a series of written and verbal skirmishes he has had with the state in which he has expressed skepticism about the existence of rarities at the site, which he characterizes a matter of opinion. In June he demanded that the state provide “proof” of such rarities so that the town can design a boardwalk to the beach that will avoid damaging anything of value.

Merrow has proposed leasing a portion of the Natural Area from the state for $1 per year and building a boardwalk over the wetlands and rare plants that would be similar to the one the town built at town-owned Constitution Park Beach, which is also on Ossipee Lake.

In April, DRED detailed the plans and studies that the town must implement in order for the state to determine the feasibility of the beach proposal. DRED maintains that the town must pay for those studies because the town, not the state, is making the proposal. DRED turned down Ossipee’s previous request for a beach in 1999, saying that the Natural Area site was too fragile to support it.

Other Town Beaches

While Ossipee has town beaches and designated swimming areas, including a large staffed beach on Duncan Lake, it has long sought an outpost on Ossipee Lake. In 1986 the town leased a portion of state-owned shoreline at the mouth of Pine River near Hodgson Shore but found it could not create access to the water through the wetlands. The town subsequently allowed the lease to lapse.

In 1988 the town’s Ossipee Lake Beach Committee announced that a beach and picnic area would be built on Ossipee Lake on land the town acquired next to Constitution Park. Swimming at the beach was promised by the summer of 1989, according to a newspaper account. In the ensuing years the town enlisted dozens of volunteers to build a boardwalk to the beach and create nature trails dotted with interpretive signs.

Rampant Vandalism

Since then, neighboring property owners and newspaper accounts have documented persistent vandalism and destruction of property at Constitution Park Beach. Those who frequent the area say that it is not uncommon to encounter an ATV, a motorcycle, or a snowmobile sharing the boardwalk with hikers on the way to the beach.

In June, 2002 the interpretive signs along the walking trails were destroyed just days after a dedication ceremony was held to announce them. Numerous acts of vandalism followed and the signs were rebuilt four times, according to newspaper reports. Half of the rebuilt signs were again destroyed in August, 2003, and what was left was trashed in October of that year along with the information kiosk.

The Carroll County Independent reported that the persistent vandalism, which the police have been unable to stop, had the beach project coordinators “contemplating scrapping park upkeep altogether.”

“At this point the group has pretty much decided not to restore the signs,” the town’s parks and recreation director told the paper in October, 2003.

Recent Spruce-Up

During site visits to the area in the summer and fall of 2004 and again in April of this year the interpretive signs and kiosk remained smashed. Pictures taken at the site show piles of construction rubble dumped at the perimeter of the parking lot and a rotting picnic table surrounded by broken glass, litter, and tall weeds.

By early this summer, new interpretive signs appeared in the park and the boardwalk showed evidence of having been spruced up. During the 4th of July weekend, boaters observed visitors swimming and sunbathing at the beach despite signs warning that swimming is not permitted.

State Visits Likely

Observers say that state officials are likely to want to visit and learn more about the town’s management of Constitution Park Beach since Ossipee’s selectmen have offered it as an example of how they would provide access to the state’s Natural Area shoreline over the wetlands and rare plants.

In the meantime, DRED and other state officials are scheduled to update Ossipee’s selectmen on Monday, July 18th at 6 PM. It is expected that several state specialists will attend with DRED officials to discuss some of the rarities in the Natural Area.

While the meeting is open to the public, the selectmen have cautioned that it is an informational meeting, not a hearing for airing opinions. As such, it is an opportunity to listen, learn, and ask questions of the town and state.

Additional information on Ossipee Lake Natural Area is available on the Alliance’s website at www.ossipeelake.org/longsands.

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