FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Freedom — January 22, 2006 — State officials have told Ossipee Lake Alliance there is no basis in fact to statements that White Lake State Park turns away visitors or that the Marine Patrol opposes swimming at Constitution Park Beach.
Alliance officials approached the state after Ossipee selectmen made the assertions in public meetings last year regarding the town’s plan to lease part of state-owned Ossipee Lake Natural Area for a beach. The Natural Area is the lake’s largest wetland buffer to development and contains rare plants and historic artifacts.
While the Alliance is opposed to the beach on environmental grounds, it also says it believes the state has an obligation to validate the need for another beach before giving up public land for that purpose.
In a letter to DRED last fall, the Alliance listed local swimming options that include a town beach on Duncan Lake that two selectmen say is underutilized, and White Lake State Park on the town’s border with Tamworth. The letter also said the town has a beach on Ossipee Lake that remains largely unused more than 25 years after it was acquired.
White Lake Not Crowded
In response to the letter, Selectman Harry Merrow told reporters that White Lake State Park is not an option for local residents because it is “crowded” and “often turns away beach-goers on busy weekends.”
State officials say park records show otherwise, however. Chris Gamache, supervisor of park operations for DRED’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said in an e-mail exchange that the state has a number of parks that can become crowded on weekends and holidays, but White Lake State Park is not one of them.
“As best as can be determined, there has not been any instance in the past three to four years when White Lake State Park beach was so crowded that people were turned away,” Gamache said after reviewing the agency’s park attendance records.
Swimming Ban Questioned
State officials also disputed statements about swimming at the town beach in Constitution Park, which is next to the Long Sands residential community at the mouth of the channel between the main lake and Broad Bay.
At the August 15th selectmen’s meeting, Alliance executive director David Smith asked town officials why swimming is prohibited at the park since access to the lake was one of the reasons the town acquired the shorefront property.
According to the minutes of the meeting, Selectman Joseph Skehan replied that “no one is allowed in the water for safety reasons per order of the state’s Marine Patrol,” a statement Merrow reiterated to a reporter in September.
David Barrett, who oversees the Marine Patrol as director of the Division of Safety Services of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, says the town is in error.
“No one in this agency has ever ruled on swimming at that location or has even speculated about it,” Barrett told the Alliance in a phone interview. “The issue has never come up,” he said, adding that there are no restrictions on swimming in any part of the channel.
The Alliance says there is swimming at Constitution Park Beach despite signs prohibiting it, and the site may be one of the safest areas of the channel to swim because boats are directed away from the shore by closely-spaced channel markers.
In 1990 the town was awarded a federal grant and combined it with town funds and volunteer labor to develop Constitution Park for recreation, including interpretive trails and a boardwalk over wetlands to the beach. Smith speculates that swimming has been prohibited at the park for so long that town officials may simply not remember who made the decision and why.
“People swim from one end of the channel to the other and the state doesn’t see an issue with it,” Smith said.
“Given the effort the selectmen are making to find another beach on the lake, it’s not unreasonable for people to want to know why the town bans swimming at the beach it already has.”