In part of Lake Sunapee, boaters and owners clash over public water access
Ryan Nugent is a cautious boat owner.
Step aboard its 22ft bow and the first thing it does is show off the fire extinguisher and life jackets.
“My wife makes fun of me,” he admitted. “I’m very careful in everything I do with the boat.”
Nugent, an Air Force veteran and commercial airline pilot, spends his summers boating on Lake Sunapee in the western part of the state. Along with his wife and three children, he enjoys traversing the wide open heart of water and heading into Jobs Creek. It’s a finger off the main part of the lake, narrow as a channel, accessible in the northwest corner.
“We’re back here just to relax, get out of the wind a bit, let the kids swim,” he said. “And then we’re usually here for a few hours and then we leave.”
Lake Sunapee is one of New Hampshire’s gems: an 8-mile-long, postcard-perfect body of water that attracts celebrity owners like Steven Tyler and Ken Burns, as well as local families on weekends. end. But there are tensions right now in Sunapee over this sliver of water that Nugent and other boaters prefer for its calm water and cove-like swimming area.
The shoreline owners of Jobs Creek say an increase in boat traffic in recent years is bad for the environment and public safety. This summer, they submitted a petition calling on the state, which owns and oversees the lake, to ban rafting — when multiple boats dock, a common way for many boaters to socialize — as well as to prevent boats individuals to drop anchor within 150- feet of shore. If approved, the restrictions would only apply to the end of the creek, where the water widens to form a pond in the larger lake.
Needless to say, boaters like Ryan Nugent were unhappy with the petition.
“To be here, after years of military service and so on, and bringing my family here and having my children swim in the water and safely enjoy a beautiful lake, to be classed as loitering is incredibly offensive” , did he declare.
So-called “no rafting” zones were first introduced in New Hampshire in the 1980s and are currently found on only three bodies of water. This includes two other small sections of Lake Sunapee and over 15 designated areas on Lake Winnipesaukee.
The proposed Jobs Creek area divides the community, an example of the tension that often arises when you have an attractive public resource – a lake, a trailhead, a beach – and competing visions of how it should be used.
For 125 years, the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, a nonprofit now headed by Elizabeth Harper, has attempted to reconcile these concerns. People love this lake, people want to come and use the lake, swim in it, sail in it, she says, but this traffic also threatens it.
“It’s an incredibly important resource, but because there’s such heavy use of the resource, it’s causing problems,” Harper said. “That brings challenges in terms of water quality and efforts to maintain that ecological integrity.”
Lake Sunapee, formed 12,000 years ago by glaciers and frequented by water lovers ever since, is healthy, according to Harper. His group takes no position on the petition, but is cautious about the impact of all the boat traffic in Jobs Creek.
“As the anchors descend into the sediment, it brings the sediment to the surface, disturbing the sediment in a way that can release phosphorus, which is a concern for algal blooms, cyanobacterial blooms,” a- she declared. “And we also know that it influences the plant life that is at the bottom of the lake.”
She notes that fertilizer runoff from people who insist on green lawns can also harm the lake. Almost every time humans come into contact with a body of water, there are impacts.
The reason Jobs Creek is reaching fever pitch right now seems to be due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been really good for boating,” said David Kennedy of advocacy group BoatUS.
A rise in boat owners and people spending more time outdoors has led to friction across the United States, including in Georgia, Florida and Sausalito, California. can turn into “death by a thousand cuts”.
“Well, we’ll just cut it here, and right here. And then all of a sudden, there’s nowhere to go,” Kennedy said.
The owners of Jobs Creek presented a different set of facts during a public comment hearing last month at Sunapee Town Hall.
William Hack, who started the petition and owns a home facing the affected creek, declined an interview for this story. He told the hearing officer there were environmental concerns with increased shipping traffic, while fellow supporter Dave Howland painted an intimate picture of what it’s like to observe and hear boaters from the shore.
“They drop anchor for four hours drinking beer. They need to relieve themselves, and they do,” he said.
Concerns were also raised about safety, with a neighbor saying she was worried about children swimming around anchored boats.
But last week, New Hampshire Department of Safety Commissioner Robert Quinn dismissed the petition, ruling in a 16-page opinion that there was not enough evidence to impose a boating restriction in the stream. That decision could still be appealed, but for now at least boaters can still visit Jobs Creek, moor up and drop anchor.
This includes Ryan Nugent.
“COVID has caused people like me and my family to add to the volume,” he said. “But I think you can add volume while participating responsibly, without damaging it.”
These articles are shared by partners of The Granite State News Collaborative.