Issue: The Connecticut River offers a broader range of recreational opportunities than any other waterbody in the region, from the immersion experience of whitewater kayaking at Sumner Falls to a slow pontoon cruise along the oxbows, or a leisurely Sunday drive along the river roads and among the hills overlooking the valley. The water and the views are always changing. Canoeing has always been a fine way to enjoy the river up close, for both fastwater and flatwater, and the Upper Valley Land Trust's growing string of primitive canoe campsites from Dodge Falls to the Massachusetts border is bringing river recreationists into a well-managed relationship with riverfront landowners.
The task of this plan is to balance the use of the river with what it can bear. Riverfront landowners are rightfully wary of increasing troubles with crop damage, littering, and abuse of their property by people who cross their land to camp, picnic, or gain access to the river. Almost every riverfront farmer has a tale to tell. This all-too-frequent disrespect for private property is a real factor in the apprehension of many valley people toward inviting increased river recreation and tourism. Yet, with recreation and tourism come dollars, dollars which are all the more valuable because they are spent here in celebration of clean water, fine fishing, and a river valley that presents one photo opportunity after another.
Riverfront landowners throughout the valley report that wakes from power boats are causing bank erosion which threatens both their property and the quality of the water. Several highly significant archeological sites along the river have been partially destroyed due to the added impact of boat wakes and waterskiing along narrow, sensitive sections. Some boats are more prone to throw a large wake than others; a deep V hull can inflict serious damage on a riverbank, while a pontoon boat produces practically no wake at all. Compounding this problem is that many boaters are either unaware of the existing boat speed law on the Connecticut River, or are able to ignore it because it is irregularly and inadequately enforced. New Hampshire RSA 270 states that boats must travel at headway speed (6 mph) within 150 feet of shore, islands, other boats, swimmers, rafts, or floats. Throughout much of its length the river is narrower than 300 feet, and the headway speed law applies.
More subtle is the potential damage which can result from overuse by canoes and other cartop boats, whose owners are sometimes tempted to launch over steep erodible banks or uninvited on private property. Too many canoe campers using a campsite can destroy the vegetation which helps to hold the bank together, and careless waste disposal can threaten water quality.
Opportunities: Maximize the chances for public enjoyment of the river without incurring damage to public or private property or to the river itself. Direct experience with the river fosters motivation for stewardship, both among local citizens and more distant voters. People should not be deprived of access to the river, yet the rights of private riverfront landowners must be respected. The design of river access sites should reflect the rural character of most of the riverfront, and be closely tailored to the specific site, rather than a generic design that could introduce a discordant suburban note.
1. The New Hampshire legislature should provide adequate funds to allow the Department of Safety Services, Marine Patrol, to increase enforcement of existing boating speed laws on the Connecticut River to help improve safety for both boaters and riverbanks.
2. Boaters should obey existing speed and safety laws.
3. The State of New Hampshire should institute a required boating safety course similar to that for Vermont. This boater education should address riverbank erosion, etiquette for use of private property, and proper boat cleaning to avoid transporting milfoil, zebra mussels, and other pests.
4. The states of Vermont and New Hampshire should establish more small, cartop access sites throughout the 271 miles covered by this plan, and refer to individual subcommittee sections for guidance on location. These sites should be located on low, stable banks to avoid causing erosion, offer limited parking, and carry signage designed for a rural setting that informs users of river dangers, potential for bank erosion, and etiquette for use of private property.
5. States and towns should avoid construction of further large public access for trailered boats. It is the consensus of the five subcommittees that sufficient access for trailered boats already exists on the Connecticut River, with the possible exception of Westmoreland. Increasing parking facilities at boat ramps can lead directly to increased use, which may have unwanted effects upon water quality and riverbank stability.
6. The states and New England Power Company or its successors should erect signage at their existing boat access sites to inform users about bank erosion, boating and fishing laws, etiquette for use of private property, and proper boat cleaning to avoid transporting milfoil, zebra mussels, and other pests. Signage should be designed to reflect the nature of the setting.
7. Further development of marinas should be oriented to areas not located directly on the river, to avoid shoreline disturbance and potential contamination by motor fluids. For example, Fairlee Marine is located away from the river on the west side of Route 5, and launches boats by trucking them to the Orford boat landing.
8. The Conte Refuge and state tourism promoters should educate visiting sportsmen and recreationists about boating laws, access sites, and etiquette for use of private property.
9. All river users should respect private property and ask permission of the landowner before entering private land.
10. The states should develop discreet signage to identify the river, designed to reflect the nature of the setting, to be placed at crossings.
11. The states of Vermont and New Hampshire should cooperate on a bi-state Connecticut River access policy and provide coordinated review of permit applications for docks on the Vermont side of the river.
12. Existing railway corridors should be retained, either for rail transportation or for conversion to trails. Ownership of the corridor should remain with the state.
13. Establishment of new public trails along the river should only be attempted with the complete support of riverfront landowners, who need assurance that they will not bear liability and that their property will be respected. Trail construction along the river is challenging because of the issues surrounding trespassing and the difficulty and expense of constructing bridges over the many large and small ravines where tributaries enter the mainstem.
Guaranteeing a Future for an Agricultural Valley
Issue: The Connecticut River has provided its valley with the finest agricultural soils in New England. The colonies' first major road from the New Hampshire seacoast to the interior of our region, the Province Road, was built around 1773 to access the rich alluvial soils known as the Cohass Meadows, on the Haverhill/Newbury section of the river. Unlike most of northern New England, which still remembers the nineteenth century exodus from bony hill farms and the struggle to survive competition with newly opened deeper Midwestern soils, farming held onto its future here. Indeed, some of the most valuable agricultural lands in Haverhill are now protected from development, and their future as farmland is secure. That is, as long as farmers can afford to stay on the land.
Costs are high, return is low, the work is hard. Fewer young people are turning to farming, and help is difficult to find and more so to keep. Land is not cheap, particularly flat land, which is in short supply in our region and goes under pavement with little trouble. Farmers provide an essential service that is difficult to duplicate: they feed us. Beyond that, they keep the land open and fruitful, they underwrite the picture postcard scenes, they keep our cultural memories of an agrarian era alive. Still, they pay taxes in many forms, including the burden of trying to teach the rest of us to respect the land and their way of life.
Recreationists cross cropland without asking, often because the farmhouse is out of sight, and leave pasture gates open or drive vehicles through ready hay. Government agencies and river users expect that a farm will not pollute waterways, although many pollution prevention devices demand a capital investment which the farmer cannot recover by simply charging a higher price for the product, as another business could. When the farm family retires, the need to sell the farm may result in the land being put to "the best and highest use," an ironic term for seeding prime agricultural land to a final crop of houselots or commercial development.
Homes and shopping centers do not depend upon deep, fertile soil. Agriculture does. Why should we seek to remove from our food production base, from our flood storage areas, from our riparian habitats, and from our river viewsheds those very special soils which function best in those ways?
As new residential neighbors elbow in on farms, farmers may find themselves defending farming practices such as manure spreading, and competing with homeowners for the assistance of Cooperative Extension Service staff. New farmers can be discouraged by a long-standing policy of the Farm Services Agency to deny cost-sharing to those who have been on their farms less than five years. The professional support of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cooperative Extension Service, and Farm Services Agency is critical to moving farming into a world where business competition is tougher than ever before. Farming remains a vastly different enterprise in New England than in parts of the country with less challenging climate and topography, yet it is no less imperative that the region retain the ability to help feed itself. Farmers need to be able to sell their product at a fair price. Marketing assistance is a key need.
The economics of small New England farms are difficult at best. Recognizing the importance of removing the threat of development from agricultural lands, the New Hampshire legislature established a farmland protection program a number of years ago that reimbursed farmers for their development rights in exchange for permanent easements. That program has not been funded for some time, although a similar program in Vermont continues to be a mainstay of farmland protection facilitated by the Upper Valley Land Trust and other organizations. Finally, easing taxation is considered by many valley farmers to be the primary answer to relieving pressure on farms and farmland.
Opportunities: Agriculture must have as firm a future in the Connecticut River Valley as it has a past. Farms should be profitable businesses and respected neighbors. Development will and should occur in riverfront towns, but it should not take place on soils whose highest and best use is to feed body and soul.
1. Communities should identify and prioritize those agricultural lands that are particularly worthy of protection. Towns should work with regional planning commissions and land trusts to identify and map their important agricultural soils and lands which are already protected. USDA should support GIS mapping of agricultural soils in Vermont and make this information available as soon as possible to the towns.
2. Communities should encourage development elsewhere than on prime agricultural soils near the river and avoid using the high end of the soil production index to calculate taxes on farmland. Cluster development provisions for prime soils can allow development to occur with less interference for both agricultural use and rural character. Communities should understand the potential change in their town's tax structure, demands for services, and character should their agricultural lands be developed
to the full extent allowed by current town policies. Towns should seek the advice of regional planning commissions to investigate ways to permit development while avoiding unwanted impacts on prime agricultural lands. Land trusts can participate in keeping these lands open and working.
3. USDA should adequately fund the NRCS, Cooperative Extension, and other programs to help farmers with the burden of nonpoint pollution control, and make this support available to new farmers as well as established ones, with an emphasis on family farms. They should assist farmers in developing business skills, exploring new products, and understanding estate taxation.
4. Vermont should seek to increase the effectiveness of its current use assessment program. New Hampshire should continue its current use taxation pro-gram, perhaps with an increase in the penalty for removing land from the program.
5. Both states should encourage a diversity of scale, farm commodities, and production practices, including both conventional and organic production. The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture should expand its marketing assistance to better serve Connecticut Valley farmers. The states should work to promote an infra-structure of production and product processing that is economical and mutually beneficial for all agricultural entities.
6. Both states should provide continuing and stable funding for their farmland protection programs.
7. The public and private sector, including the farming community, should cooperate to establish a regional farmers' market in the valley to provide a reliable outlet for local products and to attract tourists interested in the valley's agricultural heritage.
8. Recommendations from the Connecticut River Joint Commissions' 1993 conference, Connecticut River Valley: Opening New Markets for Agriculture, should be implemented. The conference identified a wide array of opportunities for federal, state, local, and private agencies and organizations to support valley agriculture. The 35 recommendations deal with processing and distribution, financing, market regulations and standards, government support, niche marketing, agri-tourism, community supported agriculture, cooperatives, and contract marketing.
9. The CRJC are currently pursuing a study of potential markets for locally produced specialty foods. The results of this study should present a number of opportunities for producers, buyers, and distributors.
10. Congress should pass the Family Farm Bill, to allow transfer of family farms from the estate of one generation to the heirs without the necessity of selling the farm to pay inheritance taxes.
11. All should support the Northeast Dairy Compact.
12. All should purchase local agricultural products.
Issue: As with agriculture, the forest products industry has been an economic mainstay of the Connecticut River Valley for so long that it, too, has developed deep cultural roots. It is this yield of the land which can continue to sustain the valley's economy if it is so managed. The products of the forest are not limited to pulp, sawlogs, and sugar; deer and songbirds are forest products, as are pure groundwater, clear streams, and fine trout. The forest yields pleasure on snowshoe and snow machine, beautiful views, and once again, tourist dollars.
The economic potential for an expanded value-added forest industry could be significant. A sustained yield of high quality logs turned into fine wood products in New Hampshire and Vermont could mean long-term economic stability for the region.
Most forest practices become a pollution threat only when poor practices are used. As with agriculture, forestry operations can send sediment into streams to smother fish spawning beds, and release nutrients into waterways. While clearcutting under certain circumstances is a useful forest management tool, removing large amounts of forest cover suddenly changes the way water moves through a watershed, and can contribute to flooding, siltation, and erosion far downstream. Liquidation logging is arousing concern in the North Country. Regulations aimed at responsible forest management are unevenly enforced. Use of herbicides to control the growth of unwanted species is also a concern to nearby landowners and deserves closer attention, particularly with respect to water quality.
Forest landowners should be aware that their choices in forest management have potential to contribute to a public outcry for further regulation of forest practices. The Headwaters and Riverbend regions of the Connecticut River Valley are the scene of many converging uses of the forest, as the increasing numbers of river-bound recreationists attest. As interpreters to the world outside the valley, the CRJC are particularly mindful that certain types of land management may not be well understood by urban voters. A messy operation or slash left close to waterways and trails is seen by the public. A major clearcut near the river can detract from scenic views for miles and from both states, for a long time.
While the CRJC respect the rights of landowners to manage their own lands, this management should not burden the public with poorer water quality or a landscape that is degraded beyond its natural capacity to recover.
Opportunities: A comprehensive study by the Northern Forest Lands Council brought all players to the table to discuss their needs and sometimes conflicting interests, and made an exemplary effort to solicit and incorporate public opinion in its 1994 findings. A recently-completed study for the Lake Champlain Basin, oriented toward promoting a competitive wood products industry and a sustainable working forest, offers a worthy model for the northern forest of the Connecticut River Valley.
1. The Northern Forest Lands Council's recommendations form a significant blueprint that should be followed and put into action.
2. Landowners and forest operators in both states should heed the guidelines of the American Forest and Paper Association for sustainable forestry, as well as state guidelines for management practices when working in the woods. These are the Recommended Voluntary Forest Management Practices for New Hampshire and Acceptable Management Practices for Vermont. Good communication between major north country timberland owners and the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services is a recent step in the right direction, for which both parties are to be commended.
3. Forest landowners should practice selective, sustainable harvesting, particularly in the visual corridor of the Connecticut River, where destructive harvesting should be avoided.
4. Existing laws regarding responsible forest management should be enforced. Vermont and New Hampshire should consider measures to address the growing problem of liquidation logging.
5. Government at all levels and entrepreneurs should provide expertise and financial incentives for businesses to add value to forest products and consider the recommendations of the Lake Champlain Basin study.
6. Congress should support the Family Forestlands Preservation Tax Act and the Northern Forest Stewardship Act.
7. Landowners should leave riparian forests undisturbed where they remain and allow them to return wherever possible. These forests provide a better pollution filter and sink than any solution people can engineer, and provide significant benefits to the river.
Issue: The 2400-foot fall of the Connecticut River over its 410 mile path provides hydropower free of the polluting emissions which plague other power sources. There is no other river in New England that works as hard as the Connecticut River. Beyond its renewable nature, hydropower offers key features that cannot be duplicated by nuclear, fossil fuel, or other types of power producers. Because a gate on the river can be almost instantaneously opened or shut, hydropower can provide effective load balancing, responding to changing demand in a matter of seconds rather than the hours required by other kinds of producers. Hydro provides voltage support to maintain or restart the electrical grid system, and is the only kind of power source that can restart itself after a major outage. During the massive blackout that shut down the entire northeastern United States in 1963, it was Wilder Station that started the New England grid toward recovery. Hydropower will continue to be a major contributor to power generation in this region as deregulation requires utilities to provide a specified percentage of their generation from renewable resources.
The substantial amount of open land along the river presently held by New England Power Company has contributed greatly to wildlife habitat, recreation, and the scenic nature of the region. Some 6000 acres in the Riverbend region are under NEP protection, and thousands more around First and Second Connecticut Lakes. Indeed, Second Lake has remained in an essentially natural state as a result of NEP ownership. These lands are open to the public and protected from subdivision and development as long as they remain in company possession.
Flow management diversifies recreational opportunities on the river. While the dams require portaging, they also keep many river miles canoeable and boatable at seasons when naturally low water would bring the riverbottom too close for comfort. The 35 boat launches, picnic sites, and visitor centers operated by NEP alone attracted a measured 750,000 visitor days in 1992. Finally, there is no missing the fact that hydropower production is a major contributor to the valley economy, paying millions of dollars each year in local taxes and offering jobs to local people.
Opportunity: As legally mandated divestiture takes place separating generating facilities from production facilities and property, it is important that new managers maintain the established tradition of stewardship and conservation management of lands. 1. The large holdings managed for conservation purposes, especially around the Connecticut Lakes and Moore Reservoir, have served the river and the public well as conservation lands. They should continue to be managed for watershed conservation, and not for costly community development.
Issue: The Connecticut River Valley is a site of superlatives: largest river, finest soils, most classic New England villages. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world. More and more tourists are seeking out destinations that are rich in natural and cultural resources. The economic benefit for the destination varies from increased sales at local country stores, busier guides, and more fishing licenses to more guests in bed and breakfast establishments and more patrons at local museums. Beyond that is increased business to those who service them. These benefits cannot be sustained without preservation of whatever it was that attracted the business in the first place. In the case of the Connecticut River Valley, it is the myriad ingredients in that mystical feature called "character:" historic buildings, agricultural scenes, country roads, rural landscapes, and the river itself. This valley is remarkable not only for its array of natural features, but also for the pervasive evidence of a rich and distinctive cultural history. The sort of visitor who is attracted by such things is likely to be the sort one would like to invite again.
There are, of course, drawbacks to inviting the outside world to one's doorstep. How would our intimate village centers and one-lane dirt roads cope with increased traffic? Could tourism be a gold mine or a land mine? Are the jobs tourism could create the kinds of high-paying jobs that should be available to valley residents? Can visitors be adequately educated about respecting private property?
A 1996 study of water-dependent businesses in the New Hampshire towns of the Headwaters and Riverbend regions showed that river-related tourism and recreation alone is already a $26 to $31 million dollar industry which provides at least 650-750 jobs. These businesses indicated a clear interest in minimizing environmental damage that could result from overuse by tourists, and asked that effective natural resource policies accompany tourism promotional efforts, to educate both tourists and businesses about sustainable recreational use. Business people whose livelihoods depend upon the health of the Connecticut River strongly support local government involvement.
What about our own quality of life? The tourists come for the same reason we choose to live here: the Connecticut River Valley is simply a very beautiful place. It offers valley citizens the best imaginable combination of cultural, recreational, and economic opportunities, far beyond the photo opportunities. Local business people agree that the scenic quality of the river and its valley is the key distinction to offer a prospective employer in our region. We should work to protect this quality for ourselves, not just for the tourism it may stimulate.
Opportunities: It is important for the public to understand the significance of the Connecticut River to all of New England. Sustainable tourism means responsible tourism. Businesses, agencies concerned with transportation, the environment, and tourism, and local communities must work together to make the most of the benefits of tourism in the valley without destroying its character. The possibilities seem endless in the valley -- agri-tourism, eco-tourism, cultural heritage tourism -- and they could each stimulate and support one another with effective coordination.
An excellent example is provided by the National Park Service at its Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, where the estate and studio of a world-renowned sculptor lure an appreciative public for both cultural events and exploration of the site's natural beauty. Future stewardship of this site could include partnerships with interested landowners and the Conte Refuge to further protect the rural character and riparian resources in the vicinity, to the benefit of both the community and the river.
1. The Tri-State Scenic Byway Study offers an excellent opportunity to investigate the many assets the valley has to offer for tourism. Local communities should participate in this study to best understand the economic value of local assets and to communicate with their neighbors. They should explore how benefits such as scenic easements and educational materials for visitors can assist in reaching their other goals, such as agricultural land protection. The Byway Study should continue to respond to local interests.
2. The states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Massachusetts should support and establish the Tri-State Scenic Byway as a coordinated economic development opportunity compatible with the river.
3. Local historical and cultural groups should make use of the CRJC's new inventory of cultural features to help them bring local history to life for both residents and visitors.
4. Neighboring towns should explore opportunities for heritage tourism together, such as the historic homes of Walpole, Bellows Falls, and Charlestown, and a Precision Valley theme for Claremont, Windsor, and Springfield.
5. Local communities should recognize the economic value of a healthy river, and consider ways to maintain a clean, beautiful river that will continue to appeal to their residents and visitors.
6. Agriculture departments and Cooperative Extension should assist farm businesses to investigate the potential for agri-tourism.
7. State tourism agencies and area chambers of commerce should market the Connecticut Valley to heritage-oriented tourists and focus on coordinating tourism promotion among localities.
8. State transportation agencies and utilities should consider impacts of their activities on community character, and take steps to protect stone walls, historic bridges, naturally vegetated riverbanks, and scenic roads.
9. Towns should maintain the vitality of historically compact village and town centers by encouraging commercial development in existing centers and making use of innovative guidance for land use, including cluster development and similar tools, to avoid suburban sprawl that can destroy rural character.
10. The National Park Service should expand its efforts to support local stewardship of historic resources, such as the Certified Local Government grant program offered to towns through state historic resources offices, and help town officials and property owners to better appreciate the value of their local resources.
11. The National Park Service should support New Hampshire in establishing and publicizing a "Barn Again!" program similar to Vermont's, and state historic resource offices should investigate ways to encourage preservation of these and other historic structures through tax incentives and recognition. The historic agricultural landscape, crowned by its distinctly agrarian architecture, is a beloved yet fading hallmark of both sides of the Connecticut River Valley. Too often, irreplaceable historic outbuildings succumb to decay or are sacrificed to a mounting tax bill.
12. The states should expand opportunities for archeological investigations in our long-populated river valley, promoting bank stabilization to protect riparian sites and establishing firmer relationships with local people.
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