Sunapee Boat Access Still Stalled

  • In Sunapee, N.H., Josh Levasseur, the Sunapee Harbor liaison officer talks with boater Jonathan Klingler, of Grantham, N.H., before Klingler launches his boat at the public launch in Sunapee Harbor on July 7, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Pulled up on the public beach in Sunapee Harbor, Brian Heino, of Sunapee, N.H., left, and friend Nick Clark, of Goffstown, N.H., get ready to spend time on Lake Sunapee with their families on July 7, 2018. Clark grew up in Sunapee. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sunapee — Boaters who find Lake Sunapee to be an inviting place to enjoy a day on the water shouldn’t expect the frustration of inadequate parking for their boat trailers to change anytime soon.

More than four months after the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Commission recommended to Gov. Chris Sununu that the controversial Wild Goose site in Newbury, N.H., be abandoned once and for all from consideration as a state-owned boat launch, none of the recommendations to at least partially address the problem have been pursued, according to state officials.

The divided commission voted, 8-3, in favor of walking away from Wild Goose, which the state has been trying to develop as a launch for more than 25 years, and said the 3-acre parcel should be transferred to the state Division of Parks and Recreation.

The parks division could determine the “suitability of the site’s use, consistent with its mission to provide public access,” which could include car-top access for boats and canoes, picnicking, fishing and maybe camping. The other critical recommendations in the eight-page report said the parks division should expand parking at the state beach, about a mile north of Wild Goose, and New Hampshire Fish and Game should look for an alternative to Wild Goose.

In an email last Thursday, Amy Bassett, assistant director of the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism and spokeswoman for the Division of Parks and Recreation, said the division has not progressed past the discussion stage on state beach expansion.

“The division is still exploring options for increased parking for boats and trailers at Mount Sunapee State Park,” Bassett said.

Bassett did not elaborate on those discussions about expanded parking at the state beach, which only could accommodate shallow-draft boats because the channel from the ramp to the lake is not deep. The parks and recreation division’s commissioner, Phil Bryce, was not available for comment.

Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau, a member of the commission and one of three members who continues to support Wild Goose, said on Tuesday the state agency with the authority to transfer the property has only talked about the commission report.

Today, the Council on Resources and Development, or CORD, which is made up of different state agencies, will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. in Concord to take comment on the commission’s report.

Normandeau said another hearing will be held later and he doesn’t expect CORD to take a vote until the fall at the earliest. As for finding another location, Normandeau said, the commission has looked, but without success.

“There is nothing out there,” he said. “There is not another piece of property available that is suitable, at any price.”

Wild Goose has around 600 feet of frontage, and finding something with even half that frontage would be “pretty tough,” Normandeau said. Furthermore, it could take years to secure funding for a purchase in addition to the estimated $2 million cost of development. A bill in the Legislature last session to include the estimate for developing Wild Goose in the capital budget did not pass.

Boaters in Sunapee Harbor over the July Fourth holiday offered a mix of opinions on the situation.

“You just have to get here early and learn the routine,” said Bob Lockwood, of Milford, N.H., as he waited in line on Burkehaven Hill Road before being waved to the launch’s parking lot. “You are limited by the amount of spaces but you just have to make it work.”

But Ryan Malone was not as understanding.

“This is my first time here and I’m not super impressed with no parking,” said Malone, a White River Junction resident who came to Sunapee because it is the closest “big water lake” from where he lives.

Scott and Catherine Bardier, of Newbury, N.H., agreed with Malone.

“This gets really bad. They could use another ramp,” Scott Bardier said.

When asked if he agreed with those who claim lakefront property owners oppose Wild Goose because they did not want more boats on the lake, Bardier said it is possible.

“You can definitely get that feeling sometimes,” he said.

By 11 a.m. on July Fourth, the parking lot at the state beach was full, and both boaters and sunbathers were being turned away. Other access points include Dewey Beach, which is private, and Georges Mills, but parking there is for Sunapee residents only.

There is no limit to the number of boats allowed at Sunapee Harbor, but the closest parking lot for trailers is about a quarter-mile away and holds fewer than 20 vehicles with trailers. When that is full, there are a few options on Route 11 that are about a half-mile away with a long uphill walk back to the harbor.

Before the boats were allowed to be launched, they were checked for possible invasive weeds by Pam Moskal, a volunteer lake host with the Lake Sunapee Protective Association.

Moskal said she hears complaints about parking and was conducting an informal survey of boaters about whether they would like to see a courtesy shuttle from the Route 11 parking areas that include the Sherburne gymnasium.

“I hear some tell me they think they are being pushed out,” Moskal said about the controversy over access.

A majority of commission members said in the report that Wild Goose simply had become untenable as a site given the opposition, legal and otherwise.

“After 27 years of division, strife and ongoing traffic safety concerns, it is time for the Fish and Game (Department) to be released of this site, so it can comply with its obligations under RSA 233-A,” the report said in its recommendations, referring to the state law requiring around-the-clock, free public boat access to state lakes.

A minority report from three members rejected the recommendation and said Wild Goose remains the only site that realistically can provide adequate public boat access.

“The Majority’s recommendation to abandon Wild Goose without any proposed substitute site is an abandonment of the Commission’s charge to develop a new plan for the development of the Wild Goose Property and expansion of public boat access at Lake Sunapee ... ,” the three dissenting members said in the report.

Wild Goose was supposed to add 31 spaces for vehicles with trailers and provide a deep-water boat ramp.

The Fish and Game Commission, which is made up of representatives appointed by the governor from the state’s 10 counties, recently voted to support keeping Wild Goose.

“We took a vote to retain Wild Goose unless something better comes up, and it hasn’t,” Commission Chairman Robert Phillipson, of Keene, said this week. “At least it is a piece of property people can fish from so it is still a benefit to hold on to. We voted so it is clear that our position is not to give away the site or give up on it.”

Yet not all boaters thought it was a good idea to add parking and have more boats on the lake.

“It is big enough now,” said Peter Barrasso, of Henniker, N.H., as he prepared his boat for a day on the lake with his family. “Right now it is safe. There is enough going on. You get more people and it can get kind of complicated.”

Barrasso also said he could see the situation from the perspective of lakefront property owners.

“If I owned a home on the lake, I’d prefer to keep it quiet,” he said.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.