Freedom—December 19, 2021—By summer, there would be good times and a return of pre-Covid activities. But the year began with an ugly incident that we’ve found hard to forget.
In February, two documents were posted on a Facebook page for boaters. One was from a law firm representing a Broad Bay couple and 25 other lake residents, asking the state to hold a hearing on water quality, boater safety and disorderly conduct at Cassie Cove sandbar. The second was a neighbor-to-neighbor letter from the couple asking for their support.
As background, twelve years ago the state decided to limit activities at the sandbar after years of complaints. But the regulation it issued was so flawed it has never been enforced. In essence, the petitioners’ request was for the state to correct the flaw.
Reaction on Facebook was swift, with a majority of boaters acknowledging issues at the site but opposing restrictions. Then, as happens so often in social media, a minority of people crossed the line by doxing and threatening the petitioners.
“Careful what you wish for when fucking with people,” wrote John [last name redacted here], promising to blast their house with his boat’s tower speakers. Others piled on with their own threats, including harassing the couple’s law firm.
After a change.org petition garnered 3,000 signatures opposing restrictions, we called the property owners, their attorney and the Department of Safety Services so we could report on the story. Only the state responded, saying they never received the request for a hearing. Repeated calls to the couple and their attorney were not returned.
Accidents on the Lake
March brought a high-speed snowmobile accident in which a Windham man was seriously injured near Pauli Point after striking a rock and being thrown 75 feet. Freedom firefighters rescued him with their “snowbulence,” an off-road vehicle donated to the town in memory of a Massachusetts man who died in an eerily similar accident on Berry Bay in 2009.
At the end of the month, after a long search, divers found the body of Sinead Lyons, a 41-year-old Massachusetts woman who had parked her car at Constitution Park and disappeared. The story prompted speculation about foul play, but in the end it appeared she had simply gone for a walk on the ice with her dog and fallen through near Bearcamp River. An article in the Conway Daily Sun described the challenging search for Lyons by State Police and Fish & Game officers.
As the weather warmed, Ossipee Lake Alliance announced it would partner with Green Mountain Conservation Group and volunteers from the lake’s boating community to increase awareness of the state regulations that balance recreation and preservation at Ossipee Lake Natural Area. A spring clean-up of the site was held for the first time in years, a new brochure was published, and information and maps were posted on the kiosk at the state’s public boat ramp on Route 25. The initiative will continue in 2022.
Camp Huckins opened for its 93rd season in June. In fact, all of the lake’s children’s camps were back after a year off due to complications presented by the pandemic. Only Camp Robin Hood had managed to open and operate in 2020.
The year saw the first loon hatched on Berry Bay since 1975, one of three successful births on the lake. Loon-watcher Dennis Gould and Berry Bay residents used social media to advise boaters to steer clear so the chick could adapt to its environment. Most did, but not everyone. Wildlife photographer Joe Callanan said he watched one day in disbelief as water-skiers repeatedly did loops around the chick near Square Brook.
Long-neglected walking trails in Constitution Park got some well-deserved attention for the first time in 25 years, thanks to volunteers like Edwina Boose, who said she discovered the pathways by accident during the pandemic. She and others formed the Friends of Constitution Park Ossipee, obtained town approvals, and scored an AARP grant to clear two miles of trails and construct a kiosk with a trail map.
A Wanton Disregard
By June, what would become the most important story of the year was unfolding in Effingham. It began with a relatively brief meeting of the ZBA in March, during which a gas station was approved at the former Boyle’s Market despite a town ordinance that prohibits pumping gas at the site, which is in the Ground Water Protection District.
We’ve covered the story in detail elsewhere, but want to quote a letter that received little public notice at the time. It was sent to Effingham officials by Dr. Robert Newton, an eminent geosciences professor at Smith College who has studied the Ossipee Aquifer for more than 40 years.
The letter reminded the zoning board that the proposed site is a “highly porous primary recharge area” for the aquifer, which means contaminants entering the ground can rapidly infiltrate the groundwater system and migrate to neighboring residential wells and beyond. The risks are well known, he wrote, which is why town zoning prohibits a gas station at that site.
“To grant a variance in this case would show a wanton disregard for the health and safety of nearby residents,” his letter concluded. Two weeks later, the ZBA approved a variance for the gas station on a 4-1 vote.
A shout-out to the directors, staff and counselors of the lake’s children’s camps, whose presence was sorely missed in 2020, and whose return this summer was cause for celebration. Welcome back!
Our thanks to our partners in the Natural Area awareness initiative, including Matt Howe, Tara Schroeder and Moselle Spiller at GMCG, and Dennis Gould, who organized boaters for the spring clean-up and summer-long outreach effort. Matt Sawyer, Ossipee’s Town Manager, gets our thanks for his assistance with the spring clean-up logistics.
Bob Smart and Tim Otterbach were indispensable. Bob’s “Smart Report”—our longest-running regular feature—is a touchstone of Ossipee Lake life for its readers, especially those who are only on the lake for part of the year. Reporting from the Ossipee River at the far end of Berry Bay, Tim’s reports and pictures about the new dam provided visual and technical perspectives that reminded us of its importance.
Thanks to everyone who conducted water tests and kept their eyes open for invasive weeds and cyanobacteria, and thanks also to those who wrote letters and attended local meetings on behalf of protecting the lake.
All of us at Ossipee Lake Alliance wish you a safe holiday season, and the very best for a bright New Year!