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Heat wave re-ignites discussion about public access to local water bodies

July 19, 2018
OSSIPEE — As temperatures have heated up this summer, so has the conversation about public access to the town's many water bodies.

Ossipee resident Jessica Williams kicked off the latest conversation when she brought concerns about the no swimming signs at Conner Pond to the July 2 selectmen's meeting.

The 85-acre pond is part of an ancient volcano, and for generations served as a favorite swimming hole and fishing grounds for many. The White family owned a five-acre parcel on the pond before selling it to New Hampshire Fish and Game around 2007. They allowed the public, through a well-beaten path, to access the pond. When the state agency acquired the property, using a combination of federal, state and user fee funds, they officially created a boat launch area. And with that came the "No Swimming" signs.

Williams, noting the lengthy heat wave, said she chose to ignore the signs and go in the water anyway. She was met with a neighbor, who she described as a "public nuisance," screaming and yelling at her about disobeying the sign. The neighbor had yelled at her in the past, but this time, she also called a conservation officer. After a while, she explained, the very polite officer arrived, accompanied by a camera crew from the Animal Planet show "North Woods Law."

The problem, at first glance, seems to be with definitions. Williams said she was told she could go on a boat out past the launch and then swim all she wants. But what is swimming? What is the definition of a boat?

Selectman Chairman Rick Morgan said New Hampshire Fish & Game has administrative rules and on its face, swimmers and boaters don't mix. Motorized boats are not allowed on Conner Pond. The launch is for "car-top boats". The problem lies, said Morgan, with the agency applying the same rules across all boat launches, not taking into account the uniqueness of each.

The next selectmen's meeting, July 16, brought a roomful of people, many living seasonally on the pond. They spoke of the impact increased usage could have on the health and ecological fragility of the pond. It was noted moose have been seen swimming in it and loons nest there.

"It is a treasure, and we are trying to keep it from getting ruined by having too many people misusing it, "one person said.

Several people spoke to the disrespect some swimmers have for the pond and the bags of garbage – diapers, toilet paper, beverage containers – they leave behind. There are no trash cans or Port-a-Potties at the site.

"Conner Pond is one of my favorite places on earth," said Morgan and while he encourages people to follow the rules of the state-owned site, he has no problem with trying to change the rules.

Ossipee did try to purchase a property for a public beach on Ossipee Lake but that attempt was narrowly defeated. The beach discussion, however, brought a renewed interest in the recreation properties the town already owns, including Duncan Lake Town Beach. Town public works crews have "really spruced up" that beach said Morgan and state permits are being sought to allow the town to bring in more sand to further build up the beach.

The Conner Pond conversation has just begun, again, as it does every few years. Selectmen agreed to send a letter to Fish & Game encouraging agency officials to take a look at the sensibility of the no swimming rule and to ask them to address the need for trash cleanup (for those who ignore the carry-in, carry-out rule) and sanitation facilities.

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