State outlines plans for Lowell Lake, Master Plan Derry residents concerned about noise, wildlife, safety

Ethans Phelps, head of the FPR regional All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The 38 people attending a meeting on Monday, Dec. 10 to engage in the planning and design process for a Master Plan for Lowell Lake State Park in Londonderry for the most part expressed concern that the park is already overcrowded and environmentally vulnerable.

While praising the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation for its management of the park, many said that adding parking spaces and overnight stays in cabins would make the situation worse.

The meeting was held at the Twitchell Building.

Ethan Phelps, the FPR Regional manager for southeast Vermont, told the gathering that from 2014 to early 2018, the department had developed a Long Range Management Plan for the park and that developing a Master Plan is the next step.

The overall FPR goal “allows for a long-term, sustainable park model that supports both dispersed recreational activities via trails and waters, and overnight accommodations within the limits of the historical areas of this use,” according to a Powerpoint presentation by Patrick Olstad, an associate landscape architect for the SE Group, which is consulting FPR. Renovating cabins for overnight visits would be a change in the current use of the park.

Area residents listen to the presentation Monday night.

Among goals, according to Olstad, are assessing how many visitors the park can handle without negatively impacting the community and the park itself.

Goal No. 2 is planning for an updated day-use area to include redesigned parking, a park office building, composting toilets and a new swimming area.

Goal No. 3 would allow overnight use, including cabins and restoring the central lodge for communal use with a kitchen and bathrooms. Olstad said this has been an historic use of the cabins and lodge and that everything will have to be brought up to code and be fully accessible and ADA compliant.

Olstad added that the state would like all structures to be low energy usage compliant with LEED and Net Zero standards, if designed for year-round use. That decision has not been made.

A montage of Lowell Lake postcards. By The Chester Telegraph.

One woman asked how financially sustainable the proposed renovations to the cabins are, given the expected high cost. Phelps said the payback would come over time, with continued use of the cabins.  He added that the department needs to prove to the state legislature that its capital funding proposals are “sound and wise.”

Phelps added that a Massachusetts contractor will be conducting a financial feasibility analysis and a market study. Olstad said the park has to be financially self-sustaining.

Another goal is to engage the local community, which Olstad called “key to the process.” He also called Monday’s meeting the start of that engagement.

Former Londonderry Town Administrator Robert Nied said that “financial sustainability” means that entry fees might be added, which would have an “enormous impact on the community” that use the park often, sometimes daily.

Fees are charged at other state parks. Those charges can be found here.  Right now, Phelps said costs for maintenance are covered by fees charged at other parks. At other state parks where fees have been implemented or raised, Phelps said the number of visitors goes down temporarily, but over time, have no effect on usage. He said the number of visitors has jumped from 12,000 last year to 14,000 this year.

Michael Perpall gives a Powerpoint presentation.

Some questioned how the fees would impact owners of private lake side property and whether those visiting the cemetery would be charged. Daniel Cobb, a member of the Londonderry Cemetery Commission, said maintaining access to the cemetery is important.

Forester Tim Morton said that those questions would be answered during the assessment phase.

While one resident said it sounded as though the overnight camping is a done deal, Phelps that nothing has been decided yet. He added that the structures at the lake are a “unique, historic, intact district that has been identified by an architectural historian as being historically important.” He said the next planning step is to determine how many cabins, how many people and how many cars to allow. Roger Badger questioned whether cabins built in the 1940s could be considered historic.

Sharon Wagner is concerned about impact on soils and plants.

In speaking about the park’s capacity, Olstad said significant crowding has occurred on the access roads and paths, in the parking lot, at the day-use area and at the boat launch. On peak days, there is a line of cars waiting for access to the park along local roads. The parking lot can hold 25 to 30 vehicles. Besides renovating the cabins and lodge, in the future,  parking might be altered to allow up to 50 vehicles.

Olstad added that of day-use visitors, 54 percent are from out-of-state; 46 percent are in-state visitors, and 25.4 percent of all vehicles come with boats.

Michael Perpall, an architect with the Cushman Design Group, told the crowd that 10 of 11 cabins are salvageable, as well as two shower cabins, which may be repurposed, a planing/sawmill building, a cabin on the island, the lodge, and a storage building, which he speculated might be a good site for community events. The Recreation Hall is not considered salvageable nor is a small shed/shop.

A resident who lives near the lake said that even on busy summer days, early mornings and evenings and evenings are quiet, but they no longer will be when the cabins are occupied overnight. Another  said, “It used to be a local place, and now it’s not.” And another said, “When you go to Lowell Lake at night, it is dark and it is quiet. If you add 60 people there, that is totally gone.”

Patrick Olstad of SE Group says the park should be self-sustaining.

Sharon Wagner said that as a neighbor to the park for 13 years, she now rarely visits during the summer, and has noticed the impact of heavy use on the the soil, plants and paths. “If you are at the lake a lot, you can see the impact everywhere.” One resident warned against widening the path from the parking lot to the cabins for cars, saying it would take away the beauty.

Olstad replied that he does not see the number of day-use visitors going up, only overnight visitors. What Olstad didn’t address was overnight visitors using the recreational facilities during the day, so that the level of day visitors could rise with the number of night visitors.

Following a question about logging by Wendy Seier, Phelps said the focus now is on recreation needs. Morton added that, responding to public concern, the forestry section of the Long Range Plan reduced “the maximum opening size in the forestry project by 40 percent.” He added, “I doubled the time span over which (logging) activities would occur and I reduced the area to be treated.”

Morton later told The Telegraph that he is waiting until the Master Plan process is completed before beginning logging operations. He also explained that he “originally had called for openings of 1/2 to 5 acres in the forest to replace low quality pockets of trees with new seedlings and to provide a certain type of wildlife habitat. I reduced the max(imum) opening size to 3 acres.”

Carl Lill asked where a new ranger station and parking lot would go.

Carl Lill asked about the placement of new buildings.

A woman who says she swims in Lowell Lake every day in the summer asked about protecting wildlife and if some town benefit could be included such as use of the park by Flood Brook students. Larry Gubb suggested that one building could be a nature center.

Kevin Beattie, a member of the Rescue Squad, asked if rangers were trained in water rescue, which the local fire departments and rescue squad are not. This past summer, a woman and her grandson drowned at the lake.

Olstad said the Master Plan process is expected to be finished by August 2019. “What we would like to do is study it, look at it, explore it. Come back to you guys and hear some more. All this is good,” he said.

Beattie later told The Telegraph that he is is mostly concerned with the quality of the water in the lake, which was not raised at this meeting. And Lill indicated that his mind hadn’t changed. “People weren’t interested in having more work done on the lake. Leave it be. It is already overcrowded,” he said.

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  1. Robert Nied says:

    Forests, Parks & Recreation continues to move forward with a plan to develop the Lowell Lake Park following the approval by their commissioner of a plan addendum in July of 2018.

    Despite a large number of negative comments from the community, including a petition opposing the proposed plan to add overnight accommodations and facilities to host events, charging fees for all day and overnight uses, an extension of the access road and an enlarged and/or second parking lot, the state has yet to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact study to identify and mitigate the likely impacts the development would have on the lake’s ecology.

    The state and proponents insist that it’s “too early” in a process that was started in 1999 to assess the potential impacts. It appears to many that the state is far more concerned about increasing head count and gaining revenue from overnight use than they are about the water quality of the lake, erosion to the trails and shoreline, the impacts on wildlife, the effects of logging, park overcrowding and their conflicts with Londonderry land use regulations designed to protect the sensitive shoreline area. Hopefully, the state will exercise due diligence and begin to prioritize the park’s environment as they push their development plan forward.