Ossipee—May 8, 2016—Eight years after DRED launched an ambitious plan to bring state and local resources together to balance competing interests at Ossipee Lake Natural Area, some local stakeholder groups worry the plan is in danger of unraveling.
Chief among the complaints on the lake is a decline in law enforcement that has resulted in open violations of the state’s site-use regulations, and what appear to be attempts to destroy some of the property’s rare plants and plant communities.
The lack of enforcement is the result of the withdrawal of Marine Patrol officers from the Natural Area beat, according to Sabrina Stanwood, administrator of DRED’s Natural Heritage Bureau, which oversees the property.
In an email to the Alliance, Stanwood said the Department of Safety Services cited two reasons for its withdrawal last year: budget cuts and a lack of support from state courts in upholding Marine Patrol citations issued to boaters who violate the statutes that govern use of the property.
Marine Patrol’s withdrawal left enforcement matters to DRED’s Forest Rangers, who had their own challenges. Until last year, DRED did not have a boat available to access the property. Then, according to Stanwood, the Ranger responsible for the Natural Area retired, creating a job opening that took months to fill. Last year’s busy fire season kept the replacement Ranger on the road and off the lake.
By mid-summer, the boaters who serve on the Natural Area Working Group, which helps advise the state on the property’s management, were furious. With no visible enforcement on site, visitors began ignoring the ‘no trespassing’ signs and eventually ripped them down—and then ripped them down again after they were replaced.
Fences were cut, plants were torn out of the sand as if to destroy them, and litter began to accumulate. By August, observers said the property began to look and feel like it did prior to the management plan, when hundreds of boaters spread across the fragile shoreline for barbeques and parties promoted through social media.
For the boaters volunteering to help make the management plan a success, the withdrawal of state law enforcement was disheartening. Having spent years educating their fellow boaters and working with Marine Patrol officers to keep order at the site, the state’s seeming willingness to walk away and cede all progress was a slap in the face, as one boater put it.
In his resignation from the DRED Working Group, Totem Pole Park boater Dennis Gould told the state simply “I along with other volunteers have stopped ‘policing’ Long Sands and Short Sands this year, and we no longer approach boaters to give them rule brochures.”
Richard Lover, another boater and long-time Working Group volunteer, wrote to DRED to say “a law is only as good as it is enforced.” Lover is still a Working Group member but responded to DRED’s recent request for cleanup help this season by saying “I must tell you that after reading the email you sent out, I did not get any warm and fuzzy feelings from it.”
Lack of Timely Information
Compounding the lack of enforcement is a lack of timely information from the state. The first inkling that Marine Patrol had abandoned the Natural Area came from a Working Group member of the boating community who contacted DRED’s Stanwood on July 13 to ask if the rumors were true.
Ossipee Lake Alliance followed up on the request for information by email on July 23 and September 1. But it took until September 11 for DRED to acknowledge that inter-agency enforcement—one of the cornerstones of the management plan—had collapsed at the beginning of the season. Moreover, a request for information about the annual number of citations issued by Marine Patrol officers revealed that DRED’s most current information was from 2013.
“The enforcement issue is a core problem that DRED needs to address in order to keep the Natural Area coalition alive,” said the Alliance’s David Smith. “There are a number of component parts to the issue, but fixing it starts with better and more timely access to information so it can be used to proactively address issues as they arise.”
Lake Capacity Questions
There are other major challenges ahead. This year the Natural Area management plan will be further challenged by N.H. Fish & Game’s expansion of its public boat ramp on Route 25 in Ossipee, a project that could bring hundreds of additional day-boaters to the big lake through Pine River, which abuts the Natural Area.
Even more worrisome to lake residents and environmental groups is the proposed expansion of Westward Shores Campground & Marina. The financially troubled business was purchased in December by a Michigan company that plans to double the current capacity of the business with increased campsites and boat slips.
“The question of the lake’s capacity to handle a larger influx of day-boaters is a good one, says John Shipman, who represents Green Mountain Conservation Group on DRED’s Working Group.
In a recent email to DRED he went on to ask about the owners of Westward Shores: “Could the applicant be required by DRED to provide this analysis since balancing natural resources with economic development seems to fall within their purview?”
DRED’s annual meeting for Working Group members is on Saturday, May 21, from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Micah Room at Calumet Conference Center in Freedom. The forum is for members only but is open to the public, and questions will be permitted at the end of the meeting.