Lawmakers Seek Boat Ramp Funds

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/21/2019 10:39:28 PM
Modified: 1/21/2019 10:39:32 PM

Newbury, n.h. — Several Sunapee-area lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at resolving the long-standing dispute over increased public boat access on Lake Sunapee by expanding parking, reconstructing the boat ramp and dredging the narrow channel at Sunapee Beach State Park.

“It is time to bring this to a close and provide additional public access,” said state Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, the lead sponsor of the bill.

Wolf believes his proposal, which will be first heard by the House Committee on Resources, Recreation and Development, offers the best chance at a solution to a debate that has gone on for nearly 30 years.

“It is not going to be an exact replica of Wild Goose,” Wolf said, referring to the controversial site that has been the subject of a political and legal battle for years. “There is no replica for Wild Goose on Lake Sunapee, so people are going to have to compromise. If people want to add public access, they are going to have to give up something. If everybody gives a little, there is a lot to be gained.”

In Wolf’s estimation, as well as that of many others, Wild Goose, about a mile south of the state beach, is no longer a viable option to meet the requirements of a state law mandating free, 24-hour public boat access on the state’s lakes.

In a report last March, a commission charged with reviewing public access for boats on the lake recommended Wild Goose be abandoned and Fish and Game find another location on the lake. Wild Goose, a former lodge site on the lake’s southwestern shore not far from Newbury Harbor, was purchased by the state in 1990 and in the proposed site plan there would have been 31 trailered spaces.

Wolf said his plan for the state park would have a net increase of 15 spaces, which would possibly be located along the access road to the main parking area, though he emphasized the plans are “conceptual.”

In 2017, Gov. Chris Sununu pulled renewal of the approved wetlands permit for Wild Goose from the Executive Council’s agenda, thereby letting it expire and effectively killing the $2 million project. Soon after, he created the commission that spent several months studying boat access.

At one meeting of the commission, opponents of Wild Goose, including Wolf, said it was too costly and created a hazard for vehicles turning onto Route 103 and that improving the boat launch at Sunapee Beach State Park was a better idea.

But opponents of the state beach option said the beach needs to be protected from this kind of boat access and obtaining wetlands, dredging, alteration of terrain and other permits for the beach location would take years.

The commission’s report did recommend some expansion at the state beach for trailered boats but only as a temporary solution. Thus far, the state Division of Parks and Recreation has not taken steps toward that effort.

With Sununu in office another two years, Wolf doesn’t see any chance of Wild Goose being developed. Wolf also said his proposal would not adversely impact swimming at the beach or take away parking spaces for beachgoers.

“Absolutely nothing in the plan would affect the experience of beachgoers,” Wolf said. “That has been at the forefront of the plan. The bathing experience at Sunapee would be protected and possibly be enhanced.”

Former Fish and Game Commissioner Don Clarke, of Claremont, who is a strong proponent of Wild Goose and has worked hard for its construction, disagrees with Wolf on the impact increased boat traffic would have on swimmers.

“I think it is a terrible idea,” Clarke said on Monday. “You can say what you want, but propeller boats and swimmers in the same area is dangerous.”

Clarke has blamed the failure of Wild Goose to move forward on too much political influence and money by those who own property around the lake. He called the commission and its report a “farce” with two-third of the members with a connection to lakefront property owners.

There are five boat accesses on the lake now but none have 24-hour access, some are not open to the general public, and parking is limited.

Other aspects of Wolf’s bill, HB 727, include transferring $500,000 from the Fish and Game Department’s public boat access fund to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Division of Parks and Recreation for additional parking and improving the boat ramp at the state beach. Wolf estimates the project could be completed for about $1 million. Wolf also proposes leasing the 3-acre Wild Goose site to “a local municipality entity,” though he did not get into specifics, and using the revenue to offset costs related to the project, including the loss of parking revenue at the state beach.

The commission report recommended transferring the Wild Goose property to the Division of Parks and Recreation for possible use for car top access for boats and canoes, picnicking, fishing and maybe camping. The state Council on Resources and Development has been discussing that recommendation, which is opposed by Fish and Game.

A minority report from three members of the commission, including the director of Fish and Game, insisted Wild Goose remains the only viable location for adequate public access to the lake.

Wolf said his bill is in the preliminary stages and will require compromise by everyone.

“When I objected to Wild Goose, I promised the people who wanted it that I would work hard to find another public access,” Wolf said. “This is going to take people willing to work together. If we get people like they have in Washington now, we will never have a boat ramp on Sunapee.”

Co-sponsors on Wolf’s bill include state Reps. Linda Tanner, D-Sunapee, Karen Ebel, D-New London and John Cloutier, D-Claremont, and state Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, whose district includes the lake towns.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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