Nothing new on this New Hampshire lake – every 5 years

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Sometime next month, Bruce Ellsworth will head out to the ancient dam at the southern end of Blaisdell Lake and remove a few boards to allow the water to rush through a little more rapidly. Then in early December, he’ll go back and reinstall the boards, significantly dropping the flow of water.

It’s a task that Ellsworth has been doing for about 40 years now. Every five years, the dam is opened up to allow the 153-acre lake level to drop about 4½-feet. That allows the 80-plus property owners on the lake the opportunity to do any deck or other lakefront work they need.

But before that happens, state regulations require a public hearing before the board of selectmen. That hearing was held last month, and no one who was not required to be there attended, Ellsworth reported.

He wasn’t surprised.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and never had anyone shown up,” he said.

Blaisdell Lake in South Sutton is what Ellsworth calls a “family lake.”

‘My great, great-grandfather had a place here in 1900. Before that, I don’t know.’

Bruce Ellswoth, Sutton resident

“It’s a very quiet lake,” he explained. “There are family activities but we’re not a society-driven (community)… There are many, many families that have been here for generations. It’s not unusual for one generations of families to return here and take over (the property) for the previous one.”

Ellsworth has never had to do that because his family has been on Blaisdell for more than 100 years, he said. “My folks built a camp here in 1936 but I was born here in 1938,” he said. “And my great, great-grandfather had a place here in 1900. Before that, I don’t know.”

The 80-year-old resident also doesn’t know when the dam was built. “It’s a stone dam with a concrete face,” he explained. “I know it goes back to the 1800s. Its purpose at one time was to maintain a good level, just like now.

“But Blaisdell Lake was only about half the size it is today. The southern part was called Great Pond, and it was a naturally formed lake, he added. “Than, probably, with the dam it grew to its current size. But, I don’t know for sure.”

Back in 1950, the Blaisdell Lake Property Owners Association, now called the Blaisdell Lake Protective Association, was formed. “And that was the result of the fact that the dam was in disrepair and it was causing some pretty significant changes in the elevation of the lake, depending on the weather,” Ellsworth said. “So, one of our bylaws was to maintain the dam because it was a concern of all the residents to maintain a stable level.”

The drawdown also allows the association to do needed maintenance on the dam, he noted. “We’ve found that pressure washing every five years and adding a protective coating is a good preventative maintenance,” he said. “It costs about $7,000. And it’s the most expensive item we have in our budget.”

Today, state laws require that the association work with the NH Department of Environmental Services to insure that the dam’s maintenance and lake operating plans are suitable to maintain Blaisdell’s ecological health. And as part of that responsibility, there is a public hearing before the drawdown every five years.

So, it’s held, even if no one shows up.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, August 7, 2018.

 

 

Advertisements

Warner voters will discuss land and rail trail at town meeting

This photograph of the town-owned land at 136 E. Main Street, taken by Tim Blagden, president of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail this past winter. Blagden said it indicates how much of the property  can sometimes be flooded. (Courtesy.)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions concerning the future of a 3.13-acre town-owned lot, now that the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail have expressed an interest in it.

The town originally purchased the property at 136 East Main Street in 2016 for $75,000 as a potential site for a new fire department stationhouse. The site was later rejected for several reasons, including the fact that it’s vulnerable to seasonal flooding, said Jim Bingham, the town’s administrator. “It borders on the Warner River and a significant amount of that land is within the flood plain. That area’s been flooded more than once, and some of that has been recently.”

‘Do we drop the (land) price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

Selectman Kinberley Edelmann

 

At the annual town meeting the following year, residents gave the selectboard clear directions about the property, according to Kimberley Edelmann, the board’s chair. “The instructions were, get our money back,” she recalled.

Now two years later, the vacant lot remains unsold and local realtors estimate that its value has decreased significantly from the original $75,000 asking price, Bingham said. (The annual town report lists the property’s value at $68,070.)

Meanwhile, proponents of the rail trail and others interested in local conservation and recreation have come to town leaders with proposals about a variety of ideas including the development a dog park, a new car-top/carry-in boat launch, and developing space for bocce and croquet players.

“So the question is, do we renew the listing, given the fact that it’s likely to go for a much lower price,” Bingham asked rhetorically. “Or, maybe it’s of more value to the town down the road for potential recreational uses and possibly furthering the economy.”

The Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail is a nonprofit organization based in Warner that hopes to develop a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly project would connect the towns of Newbury (at the southern tip of Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the state capital. Supporters say that facilities like the rail trail can improve both a community’s overall health and its economic vitality.

Tim Blagden, president of the organization’s board, said that one of the project’s biggest challenges is acquiring the needed land and/or property easements to construct the trail. Unlike what’s occurred in other areas of New Hampshire, the state never purchased the Concord-Claremont railroad bed so Blagden and his supporters must move through the proposed trail section by section, talking to private landowners, state agencies and local municipalities, to secure easements or purchase property. (About half of the proposed new trail project would include already developed trails like Warner’s rail trail, and the recently approved three-quarters trail between the Appleseed Restaurant and the Pizza Chef plaza in Bradford.)

The town-owned lot is an important link for completing the local trail, Blagden said, because it would eventually help connect the old rail bed from one side of Interstate 89 to the other.

“The railroad grade is on the front of that lot, on the street side – close to Route 103,” he explained. “It’s maybe 40-to-50 feet off the street pavement… We usually ask for a 30-foot wide path and the trail is about 14-feet wide. The extra space is for maybe a bench or a sign or just to trim the brush back… That would cover about 21,450 square feet. That’s just under half-an-acre, or just under 16-percent of the total lot space.”

The selectboard considered the question at its July 3 meeting, Edelmann reported.

“What the selectmen don’t know is how the citizens of Warner feel about the rail trail,” she said. “And what I want to know as chairman is, how much support does the town want the board of selectmen to give to the rail trail project.”

The answer to that will impact what the town does with the Main Street land, she noted. “Do we drop the price significantly for the rail trail people to buy it? Or do we give it to them? Or, do we hold to it and give them an easement?”

The level of support could also help town leaders understand issues related to development in the areas around I-89’s exit 9, and in the Waterloo section of town, Edelmann explained.

On July 3, the selectmen decided to not relist the East Main Street land for the moment and to bring the issue to the annual town meeting in March.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 24, 2018.

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Local town administrators looking for ways to cut costs, expand services

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.

“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”

The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.

“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.

For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.

“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”

If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.

The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.

“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”

The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.

To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.

When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.

Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.

Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.

But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.

“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

 

Iconic South Sutton Meetinghouse repairs put on hold

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – The Sutton Historical Society has decided to withdraw its request for a grant that would have helped fund repairs to the classic New England church steeple of the South Sutton Meetinghouse.

Don Davis, vice-president of the society, said last week that the local nonprofit organization had planned to request a grant of about $20,000 from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), but decided recently to hold off for at least one year. (LCHIP is an independent state authority that matches grants to NH communities and nonprofits to conserve and preserve the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. )

Davis and his colleagues became aware of the possibility of structural problems at the meetinghouse last year, he said. “The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs,” he explained.

‘The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs. (The building is) not in bad shape.’

Don Davis of the Sutton Historical Society

The group originally received estimates of about $20,000 for the repair work but they later met with Richard Mecke of Historic Homes, Inc., of Salisbury. “He really specializes in historic buildings,” Davis said. “He pointed out that we may need something done that we couldn’t see, and that he’d look at the building as a whole.”

Getting a complete building evaluation is a one of the requirements for getting an LCHIP grant, the vice-president said. “its not in bad shape,” Davis reported, referring to the 2,000-square-foot structure, “but there are things that we’d like to be aware of,” so the society can develop a long-range maintenance plan.

The old wooden meetinghouse, which sits on a grassy hill overlooking the town green, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Constructed in 1839, it is a prime example of a classic Greek Revival New England Meetinghouse that was once common throughout the region. The local building is especially remarkable because it remains virtually unchanged since it was first built; its only minor alterations occurred after it was struck by lightning in 1898.

Behind the meetinghouse is another historic structure that the society owns and manages: the South Village (District 9) Schoolhouse, a former one-room school building. The nearby Azariah Cressy House, which is also owned and managed by the society, is used as the its headquarters. The local nonprofit also manages the town-owned Old Store Museum, nearby the meetinghouse property.

At a recent meeting with the board of selectmen, Davis discussed the LCHIP grant proposal and received the board’s support for its work. (The society later withdrew the application after learning about the need for a full-structure study.)

In addition, Davis told the selectboard about a recent conversation he’d had Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance. Cushing noted that the town could possibly taking over ownership of the three society buildings, which would mitigate some of the ongoing preservation costs (including insurance) and ensure that the structures would remain part of the town’s heritage even if the society dissolved.

The selectmen suggested that Davis and his fellow society member research the idea more thoroughly and, if they’d like the community to move forward with the plan, they draft a petition warrant article so that voters could consider it at the annual town meeting in March.

The historical society has established a fund to help defray the cost of restoration and repair work on the meetinghouse. The estimated price of doing the complete evaluation should be about $2,000, Davis said and while that’s too low to qualify for a LCHIP grant, the society does have some of the money it needs and other resources may be available.

The society hopes to have the meetinghouse evaluation done later this summer or early fall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The following week, Don Davis of the SHD submitted this letter to the newspaper, which was published on July 3, 2018.

The Sutton Historical Society had submitted an intent to apply for a historic resource grant with LCHIP.

A planning study is required before applying for a historic resource grant if the total project exceeds $50,000. It also requires that work done must meet the standards established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

After submitting our intent to apply we had the meetinghouse looked at by a contractor who is familiar with the standards. It became apparent that while we did not have a proposal for the project or an estimate, the project cost could exceed $50,000. The board of directors decided we should have a resource assessment done and that we would apply for a LCHIP planning study grant instead of the historic resource grant.

While in the process of preparing the application, we received the proposal for the assessment study, which is $2,000. LCHIP has a $5,000 minimum for planning studies to qualify for a grant. We did not meet the minimum and could not apply for a LCHIP grant.

We will still do the study this year and explore other funding options. The results of the study can and will be used for a LCHIP Historic Resource Grant application in 2019. The assessment study will address the immediate needs of the building focusing on the steeple and will provide the SHS with data that will help the society establish a long-range maintenance plan for the building. The SHS will be conducting fundraising campaigns this year for the historic resource project (repair of the steeple).

Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance, during a visit of our buildings, told us it was unusual for a historical society of our size to own so many buildings. In many towns the historic buildings were owed by the town with the local historical society managing them. In most cases the arrangement proved to be an advantage for both the town and historical society. We asked the selectmen if they would object to that arrangement in Sutton. They explained it would be up to the voters of Sutton and that we should research it thoroughly and prepare a petition warrant article if we wanted to go forward

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑