Ossipee — July 2, 2008 — With a summer holiday weekend looming, state officials held an open house at the Ossipee Town Hall on Friday, June 26, to discuss the proposed management plan for the Ossipee Lake Natural Area. People trickled into the open house beginning around 3 p.m. to inspect the posted visuals and converse with the officials wearing nametags, many in uniforms.
By 4 p.m. the room buzzed with conversations among the couple dozen people who had shown up to learn more about the management plan. Representatives from several state agencies were on hand to provide answers, collect feedback and ask questions of affected property owners, boaters and the general public regarding the 30-page draft.
One part of the plan enacted last August by the state Department of Resources and Economic Development includes closing all but 1,500 feet of the OLNA, located at the south end of the lake. One of the immediate changes affecting boaters this summer is that no boats will be allowed on shore, including kayaks. DRED erected signs saying “Closed to All Public Access” along the shoreline of the 400 acre parcel of the state-owned land on August 24, 2007, in order to “protect rare plants, exemplary natural communities and historical resources.”
The intent of the action is to prohibit all foot and boat traffic on shore and limit the use of 1,500 feet at the south end of the lake to adhere to existing state laws, such as the restriction on removing or damaging plants, marine life, natural features or historic property or cultural resources, littering and sanitation, fires and other rules that apply to waterfront parks. The restrictions were put in place following a public meeting held in Ossipee in May 2007 to provide information about the specific challenges to managing the OLNA and invite public input.
The property, which was sold to the state in 1969 by the land developers White and Sawyer, includes sandy shoreline that is home to several rare and endangered plant species as well as “nonrenewable, fragile and rare” historical resources identified between 500 to 11,000 years old. The deed stipulates that the land be used for educational or recreational purposes and requires a 100-foot buffer strip between it and the privately owned property along the northeast boundary.
Several state agencies worked together to draft the management plan with the goal to manage the area for education and recreation while protecting the natural and historical resources found along the sandy shoreline and the adjacent nearshore area. Issues that the management plan must deal with include: preventing damage to rare plants, natural communities and historical resources, the absence of public bathroom facilities anywhere on the lake and the need to educate the public on the importance of the Ossipee Lake Natural Area and the existing laws that pertain to any state park property.
Philip Bryce, director of the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, places the most emphasis on education. Their goals include reminding the public of the rules for using state lands and informing them the importance of natural resources. While they will be working on enforcing existing rules, “we’re trying not to take a heavy handed approach to enforcement,” Bryce said.
Forest rangers, whose primary duty is fire prevention and suppression and timber law enforcement, will be joining forces with the state Marine Patrol to educate the public about the state laws and the new restrictions regarding the use of the OLNA. Jacquie Colburn, lakes coordinator for the Water Division of the Department of Environmental Services says, it’s learning process for all.”
While her professional area of interest is water quality, she and all the other state agency representatives are actively seeking public input to manage the area in way that supports all concerns. While no one doubts the natural resources of the area are fragile and should be protected, the question remains how to preserve the recreational resources that Ossipee Lake and its natural area provide.
Debby Regan, a homeowner in Indian Mound feels “it’s a little drastic to shut it [the beach] down.”
Homeowners in Indian Mound have a marina and boat ramp at the west end of the lake, but not a good beach. Many of those who spend their summer on the lake have been using the undeveloped shoreline for generations. The current restriction of public access to the beaches has, for some, “ruined our summer, basically.” While Regan feels the concerns for the ecological aspects of the situation have resulted in a “lopsided compromise,” she appreciates the efforts of the state agencies to hear everyone’s concerns as they study the OLNA management plan.
“They all seem open to our comments,” she said.
For the current summer, the public and the state agencies will be riding the learning curve as each adjusts to the new restrictions. For the future, the state agencies that have been working on the OLNA management plan – DRED, DES, NH Marine Patrol, NH Parks & Recreation and state law makers – have proposed a working group that would make recommendations to the state and assist with implementation. The proposed group would include all stakeholders concerned with the Ossipee Lake Natural Area: the towns of Ossipee and Freedom, the boating community, conservation, protection and natural resource education organizations and the business community as well as the state agencies.
Donald Kent, administrator of the Natural Heritage Bureau, who with Phil Bryce brought together the state agencies to develop the management plan, is looking for constructive recommendations for managing the popular and naturally significant state area. He welcomes public input through the state Web site or personally through email or by phone. He can be reached at (603) 271-2215, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit the Ossipee Lake Natural Area Web site, “Saving A New Hampshire Treasure,” at http://olna.info for news archives, photos, quotes and to read or leave comments. Information is also available at the Ossipee Lake Alliance website: http://ossipeelake.org. The official government site for DRED division of Forests and Lands is www.nhdfl.org, where you can download documents regarding the OLNA, including a draft of the management plan.