Mount Sunapee State Park boat access expansion funding close to approval

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 6/5/2019 10:37:36 PM
Modified: 6/5/2019 10:37:26 PM

NEWBURY, N.H. — Funding to expand boat access for the public on Lake Sunapee by adding parking and improving a launch at the Mount Sunapee State Park beach appears headed for approval this spring but timing remains a question mark.

And boaters should curb their anticipation for significantly increased lake access as the additional parking spaces will be far fewer than the 31 trailered boat spaces proposed at the former Wild Goose motel site, which is no longer under consideration.

“At this time we cannot comment as to a timeframe to approve or expand the boat launch at Sunapee State Beach without more information,” Brent Wucher, the spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Parks and Recreation, said in an email this week.

The House and Senate have overwhelmingly approved a capital budget for the next two years that includes $740,000 for expanded parking, improvements to the boat ramp and dredging of the narrow and shallow channel that leads to the open water from the ramp at the state beach.

State Rep. John Cloutier, D-Claremont and chairman of the House Public Works and Highway Committee, which wrote the capital budget, said with strong support in both chambers, he is confident Gov. Chris Sununu will sign off on it.

“We passed it (the capital budget) overwhelmingly in the House and in the Senate it was unanimous,” Cloutier said

Some $340,000 of the money for the upgrades would come from the state’s boat access fund, while another $400,000 would come from the general fund, Cloutier said.

State Reps. Karen Ebel, D-New London, and Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, said that while increased access at the state beach does not replace the plan for Wild Goose, a 3-acre parcel owned by the state Fish and Game Department, about a mile south of the state park, it will at least partly address the goal of increasing access.

“It is a good compromise and will help facilitate more people getting on the lake,” Ebel said this week.

Wolf, who introduced a bill this session to spend $1 million on improved boat access at the state beach, said while the capital budget does not appropriate as much as he wanted, it will nevertheless improve the situation for boaters.

“I’m feeling good about it right now, but I’m holding my breath until it is done and signed,” Wolf said about the capital budget.

Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said the governor would review the final language of the capital projects once the capital budget reaches his desk.

“As you know, finding a viable alternative to the Wild Goose site has been a priority of Gov. Sununu’s, which is why he established the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission in 2017, and proposed shovel-ready funding for an alternative Wild Goose Site in (his budget) earlier this year, which the Legislature took out,” Vihstadt said via email.

Wolf said in an interview in January that a replica for Wild Goose on Lake Sunapee was not available “so people are going to have to compromise. If people want to add public access, they are going to have to give up something.”

The Public Works and Highway Committee “rolled” Wolf’s proposed appropriation into the capital budget rather than let it stand on its own, Ebel said.

While funding appears likely, actual work could be a different story. In his testimony before Cloutier’s committee in March, Phil Bryce, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation, splashed a little cold water on the idea the improvements would come quickly and also made it clear that providing more trailered boat access could not be done at the expense of losing parking for the beach crowd. He expressed other concerns as well.

Bryce said his department supports consideration of improvements to boat access at the beach, and as a member of the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Commission, Parks and Recreation agreed to a commission recommendation adding boat trailer parking at the beach area.

Bryce told the committee they have prepared a preliminary design for 10 additional boat trailer spaces on the western side of the entrance road. (Currently, there are 12 boat spaces).

But his testimony also laid out a number of concerns and conditions to any expansion, including no loss of parking for beachgoers and no worsening of the flow of traffic, which sometimes backs up to the Route 103 traffic circle on busy days. Bryce raised concerns about school bus unloading and the impact of a “protective well radius” on 12 new spaces contained in a conceptual plan provided to his department. Bryce also wants to be sure state officials can continue to charge a fee to enter the state beach. Wild Goose was to offer free, 24-hour boat access as mandated by state law.

“These issues very well may be resolvable, and we continue to be committed to improve boat access, but we are very concerned that if these issues are not resolvable, expectations would have been created that would not be able to be met,” Bryce said at the time.

Bryce also told the committee the cost of operating and maintaining an improved boat launch and dredging of the channel are not addressed in the legislation. He didn’t think the state park beach should subsidize operation and maintenance of the ramp and that cost would not be covered by boaters’ entrance fees.

There currently are five boat access locations on Lake Sunapee but none are state-owned and some have residency requirements.

The Wild Goose site was the subject of political and legal fights for nearly 30 years before the governor allowed the approved wetlands permit to lapse. He then appointed a commission that recommended Wild Goose be dropped from consideration and an alternative site found. However, Fish and Game officials have said there are no other parcels available and even if they were, the cost of the property would be far more than the $2 million it would have cost to develop Wild Goose.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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