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Proposed Enfield town beach gets cool reception at meeting

  • McKenna Johansen, of Lebanon, right, cools off with her daughter Molly, 1, and son Jack, 6, left, at Shakoma Beach on Mascoma Lake in Enfield, N.H., on Monday, Aug. 29, 2022. The Selectboard will hear a proposal at its Sept. 6, meeting to replace Shakoma with a new beach on a 1.5 acre Parcel at the end of Johnston Drive. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2022 1:34:10 AM
Modified: 9/23/2022 9:44:52 AM

ENFIELD — A proposal for a new town beach in Enfield was met with reluctance at a Selectboard meeting Monday night.

Town Manager Ed Morris presented a plan to the Selectboard to create a town beach on roughly 1.5 acres of land the town owns on Johnstone Drive, off Route 4 near the Lebanon town line. While many residents spoke against the site becoming an established town beach, they generally agreed on one point: The lakefront property should remain public and not be sold to a private developer.

“I feel the Johnstone property ... is a beautiful recreation opportunity,” Selectboard chair John Kluge, said during the meeting at the public works building on Lockehaven Road attended by roughly two dozen people, both in-person and online. “I visualize some benches, some picnic tables and some swimming, very limited infrastructure.”

Shakoma Beach, the current town beach, is located at the corner of Route 4A and Main Street. Its parking lot is across the street and while there is a crosswalk, town officials have expressed concern about its safety. Morris, Kluge and others at the meeting stressed that Shakoma Beach and its safety concerns are a separate topic from the proposal for Johnstone Beach.

Morris’ proposal included creating a parking area and making improvements to Johnstone Drive, which is privately owned. The town would also take down unsafe structures on the land and put up some picnic tables. He estimated the cost to be roughly $50,000, which broke down to $35,000 for materials and hiring a contractor to remove the buildings, and an addition $15,000 in labor costs for the town’s department of public works. He also suggested putting up some fencing to discourage cars from parking too close to the water. Some of the costs could be offset by creating a private space people could rent for events or charging those who live out-of-town to use the parking lot, similar to the system that’s in place for Shakoma Beach.

“The word is out now. We have a responsibility to upgrade that road because it’s going to get traveled more often now,” Enfield Police Chief Roy Holland said. “I think it needs to be fully explored so that the town can get the most out of this piece of property for all our residents, not just a select few.”

Among the concerns that residents raised about the Johnstone Road property were traffic volume and speed on Route 4, access for emergency vehicles and safety of people using the Northern Rail Trail, which crosses the property. Many were also against putting in a parking lot, instead preferring it be a spot that people can access after parking on Ice House Road in Lebanon or Lakeside Park in Enfield and getting to it using the rail trail.

“I’m not opposed to it being a beach,” said Johnston Drive resident Barbara Ruel. “It is a beautiful place and the rail trail offers a place for people to walk to it.”

Other residents expressed concerns about the town taking on too many projects at once. Voters at this year’s Town Meeting approved an extensive renovation of Whitney Hall, which houses the Enfield Public Library and town offices, and the construction of a new public safety facility, which will combine the police, fire and EMS departments.

“Right now we have way too many irons in the fire,” resident Jean Patten said. “I think we need to slow down, just keep that land as a basic use for now and put some more thought into what we really can do there or what we should do there.”

Selectboard member Erik Russell talked about the town’s ongoing work on its master plan and how recreation opportunities relate to it. “One thing we heard across the board is people want more access to the lakes that are in town,” Russell said.

He also suggested forming a committee to gather input from residents and come up with a list of suggestions for how to use the land.

“Do the things you have to do now,” Russell said. “If you have unsafe structures they’ve got to go.”

Another option would be to sell the land, Morris said. The town could get around $1 million for the parcel. Kluge and others cautioned against selling it.

“I’m always haunted by the fact that years ago we could have bought the head of the lake property (the former Mascoma Lakes Lodge) and the town voted it down and so I’m against voting down lake property,” Kluge said. The town also had an opportunity to buy the former marina near Lakeside Park, which is now a single-family home.

That prompted a reply from Dan Kiley, who spoke in favor of selling the land to add revenue to the town.

“We voted on it at Town Meeting not to do it and it may have had nothing to do with money. It may have had to do with we like Shakoma Beach and we’re not looking for another beach,” said Kiley, who is vice chair of the town’s Planning Board. “And boy I would like to see us get a million dollars for that land or $500,000 for that land and somebody build a building there and all of sudden we can get $30,000 a year in taxes.”

Kiley’s opinion was in the minority. Most residents spoke about wanting the land to be open to the public.

“The water in this state is owned by the public and there are only a very few of us who own land along that water,” resident Shirley Green said. “We have an obligation to, when there’s an opportunity to give more people access to the enjoyment of that water, to do it.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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