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Swimming pair takes on Winnipesaukee islands



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Bev LaFoley of the Loon Preservation Committee with swimmers Brenda Gallagher and Pam Halsey a few days after the Winni Swim. (Photo by Erin Plummer) (click for larger version)
August 14, 2019
MOULTONBOROUGH — Two local women recently finished swimming around 247 miles of Lake Winnipesaukee over a two year period, raising money to help protect New Hampshire's loons and the lake they grew up loving.

For the past two years, Pam Halsey and Brenda Gallagher have been swimming around the majority of Lake Winnipesaukee's islands in different stages as a personal challenge with the added motivation to raise money for the Loon Preservation Committee. Last Thursday, they led the second annual Winni Swim, a community swim around Ragged Island in Moultonborough to raise money for loons.

The swim culminated two years of swimming around the lake's islands, an experience that tested their skills and made for a lot of great stories.

Halsey and Gallagher are lifelong swimmers; both having been raised on Winnipesaukee and live around Meredith Neck. Halsey did triathlons until a cycling accident and now focuses on swimming. Gallagher also swam competitively her first year of college. The two met through Gallagher's cousin Bill Irwin, the Vice President of Sales/Marketing for Irwin Marine.

Around 2016 They came up with the idea of doing a swim around all of the islands on Winnipesaukee. Halsey said they had swum around a dozen of them by that point and decided to do all of them. This endeavor was inspired by the Appalachian Mountain Club's 4,000 Footers Club.

They used Bizer's list of islands to determine how many actual islands there were. Bizer's list has 264 islands, but the pair omitted islands with bridges and ones that they wouldn't be able to swim around. That left a list of 247 islands that they completed in sections according to the Regions A-E on the list, deciding to swim one region at a time.

Weather posed the biggest challenge to the swim. One especially challenging swim was around Varney Point and Fay's Boat Yard in Gilford when the wind really picked up.

One major highlight of the swims was the support from islanders.

"We met so many people that lived on the islands, so many people invited us for lunch and a hot tub," Halsey said.

Gallagher said one person offered to let them have lunch on their rocks. Halsey said while swimming around Smith Point in Alton an elderly woman asked them to help move a big telephone pole that had gone into the water.

They also saw some animal activity of the canine variety. While swimming around Rattlesnake Island their kayak also carried Halsey's dog.

"Every dog came out on the docks," Halsey said. "That dog starts barking, my dog's on the boat, we were in the middle of this cacophony of barks."

Some islands had to be completed in a few days, notably the eight miles of Bear Island.

This year they finished the final region, located in Moultonborough Bay. They took an hourlong jet ski ride to Green's Basin to do the section a piece at a time, completing it after three days.

"The last day was our toughest day, but we take our time," Halsey said. "That last day was push for sure."

Gallagher said the day was a lot winder than they expected.

They both said finishing the big swim felt like a huge accomplishment.

"It's fun to go out on the boat; everywhere you look, Brenda you swam those islands," Gallagher said.

They both said it was a great opportunity to get to know different parts of the lake.

Last year Bev LaFoley of the LPC asked if they would be interested in swimming to benefit the loons, saying it would make a good human interest story.

"We thought that was just a wonderful idea," Gallagher said. "We want to swim in healthy water, we want to see nature."

She then said to LaFoley, "It's just wonderful that you approached us."

Irwin's mother was one of the founding members of the LPC and he has served on the LPC board himself.

The result was the Winni Swim where Halsey and Gallagher would swim around Ragged Island in Moultonborough. people could register to swim and kayak with them. The second annual swim took place Thursday around Ragged Island. While weather kept away a lot of swimmers, they still had a lot of support for the swim.

The swim was sponsored by the LPC, Lakes Region Conservation Trust, and Irwin Marine. Irwin provided a lot of assistance and Irwin Marine offered a boat to transport swimmers and spectators.

This year the swim raised between $4,000 and $5,000.

"The awareness was more important, we really do need the dollars," LaFoley said. "We have no more storage for the biologists to do their work."

LaFoley said the biologists will stay in little huts and need a lot more room to do necropsies on loons and store failed eggs a key for research on threats to loons. She said one Loon Center staff member is keeping those eggs in her garage. This swim has the chance to raise a log of awareness for the LPC's needs.

"What an incredible accomplishment and how great that they want to swim for a cause and how amazing that cause is us,"said LPC Executive Director Harry Vogel.

The Winni Swim will be a yearly event. Gallagher said they will pick an island that people of different abilities can swim around and anyone will be welcome to join them in the water.

Donations are still open for the Winni Swim. For more information and to donate visit https://www.loon.org/winni-swim-2019.php.

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Varney Smith Lumber
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