Alliance Says Beach Study Highlights Need For Protection

Ossipee — December 22, 2005 — Ossipee Lake Alliance says the initial study of natural resources at Long Sands shows that the proposed site for a new town beach for Ossipee does in fact have rare plants and significant plant communities that need to be protected. These include several occurrences of one rare plant (grassleaf goldenrod) directly within the area of the propsed beach.

In a letter to area newspapers, signed by the Alliance’s Executive Director David Smith, the Alliance has called for elected officials, environmental groups and local residents to work together to seek permanent protection for the Ossipee Lake Natural Area (identified in state documents as Ossipee Lake State Park). Smith said that the Alliance and other organizations will soon announce how people can help seek permanent state protection for the property.

In an interview yesterday, Smith said he is not prepared to give details of that plan, but said, “We feel that DRED [the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development] is not meeting its responsibility and is headed down the wrong path. We believe DRED has a responsibility to come up with a plan to preserve and protect that area.”

The new study only reinforces earlier research that found evidence of rare plants and communities, he said. The Alliance hopes the state will hold a community forum to get information and opinions from people who live near and use the lake. He said the town and organizations like Ossipee Lake Alliance, Green Mountain Conservation Group and various associations on the lake could help with preservation efforts, but he added the responsibility for protection lies with the state.

“We’re looking for the state to create a policy that protects the natural area. It is not appropriate for the state to put the town of Ossipee or any other private entity in the position managing that protection,” he said.

According to a press release from the Alliance, the letter was written in response to the results of the Ossipee-funded scientific study of the 400-acre wetland preserve in which the town wants the state to approve a new beach.

Smith called the new study exciting and said he hoped the results would be a matter of pride to area residents and an inspiration to teachers and environmental hobbyists, as was envisioned in the property’s 1969 deed restrictions requiring use of the land for education.

“Ossipee Lake has more special places than any other lake in the state, and the Natural Area is its crown jewel. Once again research has shown it to be a place like nowhere else,” he said. As people learn more about the area, he said, he believes they too will see the importance of its uniqueness and want to preserve it.

Concerns Predate Proposal
The Alliance has opposed placing a public beach at Long Sands since the plan was announced by Ossipee Selectman Harry Merrow in the fall of 2004, because of concerns about protecting rare plants, plant communities, and archeological resources on the land.

Merrow has said the preliminary study conducted this fall is inconclusive as to whether the proposed beach would hurt significant natural resources. Although some of the plant communities are rare (and one identified as unique) in New Hampshire, he said, they may not be rare outside of the state. He said more research is needed and plans should go forward with the second half of the study.

But Smith said, “There is nothing inconclusive about the study. Harry has said all year long that he felt the existence of rare plants in the area was exaggerated over the years, and he didn’t believe there was anything left in there. And the study proves that to be wrong,” Smith said.

Both proponents and opponents of the beach project point out that the beach area is already busy with boater visits throughout the summer. But while proponents say that a beach would not make the situation worse, and might make it better by providing some oversight of beach use, opponents of the project say creating access to the site over land will only exacerbate a bad situation.

”The land was intended to be used for both recreation and education, Smith said. “Our thought was, and continues to be, there is already an abundance of recreation there. There’s so much recreation there the area is being destroyed,” he said.

Even before the beach project was proposed, Ossipee Lake Alliance was calling for more protection of resources for the Ossipee Lake Natural Area.

Referring to earlier studies of the land, one as recent as 2003, the Alliance noted a loss natural resources, apparently due to the way people were using the area.

In the most recent study, conducted this fall by an ecologist from the state’s Natural Heritage Bureau, five natural communities were documented in the Ossipee Lake Natural Area. Natural communities are recurring groupings of plants found in a specific physical environment. Of those communities, four are rare in New Hampshire, and one is not known to exist elsewhere in the state.

Researchers also found multiple instances of the endangered plant species Euthamia caroliniana (grassleaf goldenrod) in and around the proposed beach area.

The report covers the first part of a two-part study. Researchers are expected to survey the property again in the spring and publish a final report by July. A study of archeological resources is also required.

Smith said he hopes Ossipee selectmen will see the project through to completion and fund the second half of the study.

“We hope Ossipee’s selectmen will proceed because the results will provide important additional documentation of the site’s value and unique place in the community,” he said.

Ossipee Lake Natural Area, a massive state-owned wetland was acquired by the state in 1969, and immediately attracted state and academic specialists who documented rare plants and ancient artifacts. At the same time, the undeveloped shoreline became a magnet to boaters who congregated there to swim.

In 2003, DRED’s researchers documented the damage being caused to the Natural Area by recreation. They recommended that a restoration and preservation plan be established for the site which they designated a “hotspot,” an environmentally significant state property that is threatened.

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