Freedom — June 1, 2009 — It was the Age of Aquarius when land developers sold 400 acres of Ossipee Lake forest and swamp to the State in 1969. “Hair” was a hit on Broadway and Jimi Hendrix played at Woodstock. The Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon.
To boaters on the lake, and I was one, the change in ownership passed unnoticed. Before and after the sale, Long Sands, as it was called, was a vacant lot with shallow water and pure white sand ideal for swimming, sunbathing and hanging out.
It was a quiet, isolated place that seemed far removed from the rest of the lake – and it was mysterious.
Rivulets of colored water seeped from the ground and ran across the sand. Floating peat mats undulated along the shore and stretched far into the lake in spots.
If you knew where to look, you could wiggle your feet into pockets of what seemed like quicksand and sink almost to your knees. Rumor had it that there was real quicksand in the interior, but who could tell? Just beyond the shoreline was an impenetrable bog – a no-man’s land of thick brush and brambles.
While State officials, in no hurry, considered what to do with the parcel, researchers began exploring. Barre Hellquist knew Long Sands as a boater and fisherman; and as a graduate school biologist in 1971 he became the first to document the site’s rare plants and natural communities.
Others followed, including archeologists from the N.H. Division of Historical Resources who declared Long Sands to be the home of the area’s first human settlers, making it and its prehistoric artifacts historically significant.
As evidence of the property’s unique value increased, so too did recreation. Without realizing it, crowds of boaters contributed to the loss of rare plants and the diminishment of natural communities at the site, which by then was called Ossipee Lake Natural Area.
Three years ago, our Board of Directors and our Lake Representatives advisory group voted to make saving the Natural Area the Alliance’s primary focus.
At the start, the process was adversarial. But timing is everything, as the saying goes, and the return of George Bald as DRED’s commissioner and the arrival of Don Kent as head of the Natural Heritage Bureau offered an opportunity for a fresh start.
We’re proud of our role in bringing the Natural Area issue to a head with the State. But credit is due to Don Kent and Commissioner Bald for bringing all parties to the table as a Working Group to share ideas and write a management plan to balance recreation and preservation.
In our special summer 2009 edition of our newsletter, you’ll hear from some of the people who participated in that Working Group – all of whom will continue to be involved when the management plan’s first season is evaluated this fall.
As we mark the 40th anniversary of the State’s purchase of Ossipee Lake Natural Area, the Age of Aquarius is a dim memory. But it’s a new age on the lake nonetheless.
David Smith is the co-founder and Executive Director of Ossipee Lake Alliance.
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