Freedom – June 29, 2009 – Ossipee Lake Alliance held its biennial Lake Representatives Forum on a sunny morning in June. Approximately 35 people attended the Forum, which was held on Saturday, June 13 at Camp Calumet in Freedom and which featured three speakers. The choice of speakers indicated what could be the Alliance’s priorities for the near future.
WROS: Mapping a Lake’s Recreational Opportunity
Dr. Joshua Carroll, from the UNH Department of Recreation Management and Policy, spoke about his work on the Water Recreation Opportunity Spectrum – WROS for short. WROS is a tool that classifies bodies of water in terms of their recreational opportunities. Naturalists like Carroll spend several days in and around a body of water, observing the area’s physical and social attributes and talking to people who live and/or recreate at the site.
The collected data is analyzed and then the area is mapped according to the language of the Spectrum, which is comprised of these six classifications: Urban, Suburban, Rural Developed, Rural Natural, Semi-Primitive, and Primitive. The goal of the classification system is to identify the water’s recreational opportunity – the opportunity for people to engage in particular recreational activities at that location.
Once the study has been completed and the area mapped, planners and managers have the information needed to make informed decisions. The decision-makers, who might be state officials, local officials, abutting property owners or area voters, know – for a fact – what’s there. In Carroll’s words, the information can give stakeholders a reason “to do something” that they might have already had in mind.
Carroll and his team from UNH recently completed such a study of Squam Lake. A single WROS class covers approximately 250 acres; Squam Lake, therefore, was broken down into several different regions covering the entire span from urban to primitive. If a WROS study of Ossipee Lake were completed, it would similarly include several different classifications.
Could such a study of Ossipee Lake be completed? The short answer is, “Yes, of course.” Who, however, would fund the study? The Squam Lake study was privately funded and cost approximately $30,000. Furthermore, what would be the goal of the study? Carroll outlined several benefits of a WROS study: it provides a visual map and an assessment of proposed changes; it is understandable to the public for defensible decision making, and it is a valuable policy-leveraging tool.
Ossipee Lake Natural Area
Don Kent, administrator of the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands, part of the Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), spoke about the new management plan for the Ossipee Lake Natural Area (OLNA). Kent, in his words, is “the guy responsible for bringing order to the chaos” that was the OLNA issue.
The State has owned the property since 1969; the 400-acre parcel includes a large wooded area and the 9,200-foot sandy beach known as Long Sands. The intervening years brought an increase in the number of boaters using the area, an increase in the number of complaints from area residents, and an increase in state-documented damage to the area’s plant life and historic artifacts.
By 2005, as Ossipee town officials discussed (and eventually dismissed) plans for a public beach at the site and resident complaints about the site’s deterioration escalated, the State decided that something had to be done. Kent was put on the job.
While stakeholders could be brought together and a management plan drafted, the area was closed to public access, starting in August 2007. Kent, for one, didn’t want the closure to be permanent: as he said, the spot “is too gorgeous” to keep it shut down and it “makes perfect sense” for boaters to be out there enjoying the natural beauty.
In September 2008, Kent established what he called the “most important part” of the management plan – the OLNA Working Group. This 17-member advisory committee is comprised of officials from DRED and local municipalities, representatives from the local business community and the boating community, and local residents.
A management plan has been finalized and a portion of the sandy beach is once again open to the public. The rules include: no boats on the beach except for kayaks and canoes (which must stay within the designated haul-out area), carry in/carry out, no bathroom facilities, no fires, no use at night, and no trespassing beyond the fence into the wooded area.
Who enforces the rules? According to Kent, the Marine Patrol, which is out on the lake every weekend, has enforcement authority. State rangers are out there periodically and their focus is usually on educating the public rather than on enforcement per se.
Kent is “encouraged” about the new management plan but won’t be able to ascertain its efficacy until September when the Working Group inspects the site against criteria built into the plan. Kent and other Working Group members, along with volunteers from the boating community, had conducted a clean-up of the beach in May. The beach’s condition after that clean-up is the baseline against which its condition during the summer will be measured.
It is apt that Kent titled his presentation at the Forum, A New Era of Cooperation. Several people spoke from the floor in response to Kent’s presentation, noting that considering the “divisiveness” over the issue just a year ago, the beach’s re-opening and the plan are a “testament” to what can happen when people stop yelling at each other, start talking (and listening) to each other, find common ground, and plan for the future.
Water Level on Ossipee Lake
The last speaker of the morning was Jared Teutsch, President of the New Hampshire Lakes Association. His topic: the water level of Ossipee Lake.
The water level of the lake is controlled by the dam. The usual summer level is 407.25 feet; in order to prevent ice damage, a drawn down in the fall brings the level to 403.5′. The dam’s operations are governed by the Dam Bureau of the NH Department of Environmental Services along with the local Ossipee Lake Dam Authority. The local dam authority is funded by the towns of Freedom and Ossipee, who have Selectmen representation on the dam authority. At one time, the town of Effingham was also part of dam authority.
At what level should the water be kept? Different segments of the lake community desire different water levels. Boaters like the level to be higher so that their boats’ propellers don’t hit the rocks. Lakeside property owners like it a bit lower, so that they can work on their property.
Teutsch stated that the “big problem” when regulating water level is the marked increase in what’s called impervious surfacing in the watershed. Increased development in the watershed – more docks and rafts, for example – speeds the water flow and can cause flash floods.
Though Ossipee Lake One is only 1/17th the size of Lake Winnipesaukee, the two lakes’ respective watersheds are the same size. The Ossipee Lake Dam, in other words, has to handle a lot of water.
Looking to the Future
The Lake Representatives Forum, as described by the Alliance on its website, is a coalition of individuals, lake associations and businesses that meets every other year to hear state officials and professional lake specialists discuss issues pertaining to the area. The Forum connects people from all parts of the lake system – including surrounding ponds and rivers – and allows participants to help set the Alliance’s goals for the coming year.
What possible goals emerged from this year’s Forum? As the Forum adjourned, the Alliance’s Executive Director, David Smith, noted that now that the OLNA issue is stabilized, the two issues – in his mind – that the Alliance should take up are water level and a WROS study.
As participants were leaving the meeting room (it was a rare sunny Saturday morning), Smith encouraged all to contact the Alliance with their feedback.