State Will Discuss Status of Natural Area Beach on Monday

This Monday night, July 18th, representatives from the state will detail the studies and plans that Ossipee officials must pay for and complete before the state can rule on the feasibility of a town beach in state-owned Ossipee Lake Natural Area.

At 6 PM in Ossipee Town Hall at the end of the regular Selectmen’s meeting, DRED’s director of parks and recreation, Allison McLean, will discuss the requirements sent to the selectmen by letter on April 12th.

Among those requirements is an archeological study mandated by the Natural Historic Preservation Act and the creation of a comprehensive plan to protect the site’s rare and endangered plant species, including establishing monitoring and enforcement strategies. DRED, which oversees the property, says the town must pay for the studies since the town is proposing the plan.

Second Time Around

This is the second time in six years that the town has proposed a beach in the Natural Area. A previous proposal was turned down by the state in November, 1999 after a review concluded that the site was inappropriate for a beach because of the unique plant communities and historic resources found there.

The review was conducted by the N.H. Department of Historical Resources and the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau under the direction of DRED’s then commissioner George Bald. The same organizations will review Ossipee’s current proposal after the town completes its studies.

In rejecting the proposal, Bald wrote to the town that “Given the natural communities and rare plants present, we cannot encourage the increased recreational activities that would result from developing a swimming beach…It is a very fragile environment and any development would only have a negative effect on both the beach and the bog behind it.”

Last year Ossipee approached the agency’s new commissioner, Sean O’Kane, to propose that the town lease a portion of the Natural Area shoreline for $1 per year and pay to construct a beach, access roads, and parking lots. In March, town voters approved a warrant article recommended by the selectmen that earmarked $20,000 for “construction to the land” at the site contingent on the town obtaining a lease on the property.

Other Town Costs

In addition to the lease and the cost of the studies mandated by the state and federal government, the town will also be responsible for the annual operating expenses of managing the property, including police security.

Since the Natural Area will remain state property, a town beach will have to be open to all visitors, not just local residents. Toward that, DRED has asked the town to detail its plan to manage the public at the site, including controlling water and land access.

Other requirements for the selectmen include defining how the town will differentiate between permitted and prohibited uses and how it will monitor and enforce state and local regulations. Determining the feasibility of obtaining wetlands permits and establishing and enforcing a “no rafting zone” for boaters are two additional requirements.

Rare Plants and Artifacts Questioned

Representatives of the state’s Natural Heritage Bureau and the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources are expected to be at the meeting to discuss state and federal requirements regarding the rare plants and artifacts that have been documented at the site.

Ossipee’s selectmen have been openly skeptical of the existence of such rarities. The town’s written proposal to DRED states that there are “differences of opinion” about the presence of rare plants on the property, and Selectman Harry Merrow was quoted in the Carroll County Independent saying that while some are concerned about a “rare flower” at the site, he is “not sure the flower still exists.”

At a selectmen’s meeting last month, Merrow accused DRED of delaying the town’s beach plans by not offering “proof” that there are rare plants and Indian artifacts at the site.

“I’m starting to wonder if there is anything over there,” he told the Conway Daily Sun, adding “If it drags out much longer, I’m going to go to the commissioner and work my way up from there.”

At the meeting on Monday, state specialists are expected to discuss the research that has been conducted at the Natural Area since 1971 when biologist and long-time lake resident Barre Hellquist featured the property in the publication “Vascular Flora of Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire and Its Shoreline.”

Natural Heritage Bureau senior ecologist Daniel Sperduto has also studied and reported on the Natural Area, first in 1984 for the University of Vermont and again in 1994 for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a study that was a joint effort of DRED’s Natural Heritage Bureau and The Nature Conservancy.

The state’s 1994 report details the rare plants at the site and says that the preserve contains “an assemblage of plants which apparently does not occur anywhere else in the world outside Ossipee Lake,” making the property globally rare. The report also notes the damage being caused by recreation.

State Hotspot

In 2003, researchers from the state’s Natural Heritage Bureau made a site visit and issued a report designating the Natural Area a state “hotspot” – an environmentally significant property that is seriously threatened.

While the authors of the report confirmed the survival of many rare plants and natural communities on the property, they said that the use of the shoreline for recreation is destroying the preserve’s unique assets. They ended the report by calling for a restoration plan to be put into effect as quickly as possible, something the state has yet to do.

Ossipee Lake Alliance has created a webpage detailing the history of the Natural Area property and summarizing the studies that have been conducted there during the past 35 years. The site is at www.ossipeelake.org/longsands.

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