Natural Area Enforcement Viewed as Part of Larger State Issue

Freedom—June 23, 2024—There was good news about rare plants at last Friday’s meeting of the Ossipee Lake Natural Area stakeholders. But the discussion quickly turned to lake issues that are beyond the ability of a single state agency to address.

A larger than usual crowd of about 45 turned out for the meeting, at which boaters, conservationists and members of the public twice yearly advise state officials about the state of the Natural Area’s management plan, which balances preservation and recreation.

The 400-acre property is overseen by N.H. Forest and Lands. Under Director Patrick Hackley, the agency has received high marks for monitoring the site’s rare plants and natural communities, improving fencing to keep people out of restricted areas, and proposing an increase in the fine for bringing dogs ashore to $100.

But for reasons that have become obvious to the stakeholders, Forest and Lands alone cannot address the issue of boaters who openly defy the “No Trespassing” signs and recreate on sections of the remote shoreline that have been set aside for conservation. That’s because the agency’s law enforcement officials are Forest Rangers, who are in short supply, and whose primary responsibility is fighting fires.

“If I have a Ranger scheduled to patrol the Natural Area and a fire call comes in, that Ranger is going to be deployed to the fire,” Ranger Tom Trask told the stakeholder group last week.

Ranger site visits were limited last year because of a busy fire season that included emergency deployments to Canada, although a number of tickets for trespassing at the Natural Area did get issued. The fine can be up to $1,200.

Trask said the Natural Area will be back in the regular rotation for site visits this year, but a specific number of visits can’t be promised.

The lake’s other enforcement agency, Marine Patrol, is prohibited by state rules from assisting the Rangers in enforcing the Natural Area’s site regulations.

The limitations on enforcement were acknowledged for years by volunteer boaters, who used brochures and gentle persuasion to keep people inside the area designated for recreation. That back-up strategy largely worked until the pandemic. Last week it was written off as dead.

“A lot of us don’t go there anymore,” said Kyle Copland, president of Broad-Leavitt Bay Association, referring to the Natural Area site, where hundreds of boaters congregate in the water and stretch out on the open portion of the shoreline.

“It’s not just the quantity of people, it’s the lack of civility,” he said. “If you try to educate people about the rules in a polite way, they’ll try to fight you.”

Natural Heritage Bureau administrator Sabrina Stanwood, who chairs the stakeholder meetings, cautioned boaters not to court danger by confronting violators, saying that what may have been an appropriate strategy in the past may no longer be viable.

Dennis Gould, a boater who resigned from the stakeholder group years ago in frustration, pointed to a “lack of energy from the state” in addressing the enforcement issue, saying the state needed to “step up.”

“If you have rules, you’ve got to enforce them,” he said, adding that there needs to be cooperation between Marine Patrol and the Rangers.

Speaking more broadly about the lake, Leavitt Bay’s Copland said he has watched for years as the quality of recreation declined as the number of boats increased, and the Marine Patrol has not been able to keep up.

“I feel helpless,” he said, “and I know a lot of my neighbors feel the same way because we have no power, it feels like, to change any of this.”

Marine Patrol, which is part of the Department of Safety, is a member of the stakeholder group but did not attend last week’s meeting.

There are multiple reasons for the increase in boats on the lake, but much of the lake community looks to Fish and Game’s no-fee boat ramp on Route 25 as a primary contributing factor.

At busy times, the parking lot fills up fast, and boaters leave cars and trailers at the side of the busy highway, which this year will be posted for “no parking” for the first time.

“Why can’t we charge people to park there?”, asked Broad Bay resident Gloria Villari about the boat ramp parking lot.

“It’s ironic that you would be able to park your trailer for free and get on the lake for an entire day and not pay a dime,” she said.

“It’s not free to us landowners. We’re paying for all this excess [boat] utilization.”

Stakeholder group member Garret Grasskamp, who is coordinator of Fish and Game’s Statewide Public Boat Access Program, said free access is a legislative mandate.

He described Ossipee Lake as “generous” because of its free access, saying many lakes have no public access at all.

“The state hasn’t bought a new property for a boat ramp in 12 years…so we’re not keeping up,” he said, describing the lack of new ramps as a “bottleneck on the economic engine of tourism.”

Grasskamp said the lack of boat access on other lakes puts stress on the 135 lakes that do have access, saying that “spreading the wealth” of free access would reduce that stress.

After a DES presentation on state-subsidized pump-out stations and a floating bathroom barge received a tepid response, Leavitt Bay’s Copeland said he was troubled that “one hand is not talking to the other hand” at DES.

“You’re here promoting this as an option while DES just approved docks on an undeveloped island in Leavitt Bay where one of the concerns is where all of the new boaters are going to go to the bathroom,” he said.

Other comments from attendees focused on the spread of milfoil and the proliferation of unapproved docks, which are hot button issues, but outside the purview of the Forests and Lands agency.

As the meeting wound down, Natural Heritage Bureau’s Stanwood encouraged attendees to speak with elected officials and report all boating issues to Marine Patrol, repeatedly if necessary.

Asked if the agency has a plan to expand the stakeholder group by bringing more boaters into the fold for new ideas and perspectives, Stanwood said “We welcome all boaters to join us and to communicate their concerns like what was done today.”

Editor’s Note: The recent six-part series on Ossipee Lake Natural Area is now available as a single document at this link.

2 Comments

  1. John S. 4 weeks ago June 24, 2024

    I see Marine Patrol out on Ossipee Lake on a Wednesday in early May, but come summer they are largely absent – like they were at this stake holder’s meeting. Without enforcement, you can pass all the laws you want. Also absent: Westward Shores, Marina owners, and all the camps on the lake.

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  2. tj236 4 weeks ago June 25, 2024

    “There are multiple reasons for the increase in boats on the lake, but much of the lake community looks to Fish and Game’s no-fee boat ramp on Route 25 as a primary contributing factor.”

    And there it is! The la-la land desire to “open” up the lakes in NH so everyone and anyone could have access has led us here. Not only is the Natural Area at risk but the water quality of the lake has deteriorated of the years as well. I’ve been here since the 70’s and I’ve seen the effects of the massive overcrowding. Who could not have predicted this? The state government, its unaccountable agencies, and the town gov. that’s who.
    Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, I don’t expect anything to improve.
    In essence the more government gets involved the more it grows. The more it grows the more money it needs to try and correct the problems it alone creates.

    REPLY

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