To the editor: Preserve Lowell Lake for all

“RESPECT, PROTECT AND ENJOY”  — words from the website for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Words matter. Lowell Lake State Park’s Long Range Plan matters. This quiet system of woods, lake, swamps, fens and trails found near Londonderry has been an undeveloped park since 1977. The park is an extraordinary teacher of our connectiveness with nature. It is a special place with increasing visitor presence during the summer. Summer visitors have almost tripled in the last four years.

The Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation is working on a plan to develop the old cabins remaining from an early 1940-50s summer camp into overnight lodging. Lowell Lake State Park is a relatively small park, with a third of the 356 acres taken up by a lake and several islands. Two of the 11 cabins are located close to the shore of the lake and most of the buildings, including the lodge, fall within the 300 feet of the protective shoreline zoning regulations of Londonderry.

The impact of the proposed renovation of these buildings, providing accessible paved paths, lighting and new parking areas on this quiet shore area will be felt through the next generations of visitors. No longer will the beach area in front of the lodge be accessible for day use. A new beach will be created. A new parking area for day use will be expanded and a new traffic pattern will be created.

On the busiest day in the summer at maximum capacity, each boat will have 1.5 acres of lake. There is no plan to give the loons space in which to build a nest and raise a family.We would all enjoy the opportunity to spend several nights on a beautiful and fascinating lake and wetlands. There is a lot of demand for park lodging from summer visitors to Vermont.

This is where we need to stop and really look at what we will lose forever if we simply make our personal desires trump the long established ecology and life systems of fish, animals and plant life on this lake and trails. The noise, light and increased footprints on the 10-acre area for cabins and lodge will alter the already established migratory pathways of animals called wildlife corridors.

It will alter the nocturnal activity, affect the mating cycles and change the wildlife experience for all who visit this park.There is common ground with FPR in respecting, protecting and enjoying this beautiful park. We can all agree that the number of visitors needs to be better managed. As an example, when the parking area is full, the staff will send a notice of park closure via social media. Respect the rights of all life in this special place, not just human rights.

The Town of Londonderry’s zoning regulations are designed to protect the lakeshore. They need to be respected. Most of the old cabins designated for lodging are within 300 feet of the edge of the lake. Protect the shoreline, fish, game, plants and wildlife so they may flourish in this area of wetlands, forests and lake.

Our children’s children should experience Lowell Lake as we do. Enjoy the peace and quiet as you walk the trail around the lake, fish off the shore, paddle through the hemlock swamps and swim in the clear, warm summer waters. Loons may build a nest this year. This is a place you can come and be restored in spirit and mind. It gives you gifts of perspective and reminds you of the natural rhythms of life.

Encourage FPR to work on visitor management plans and not develop overnight lodging. Many times doing less is by far the best plan for small natural recreational areas and in particular for Lowell Lake State Park.

Diane Holme
Chester

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  1. J Martin says:

    I sometimes stop for a walk at the lake en route to Chester and in the rare case the lot were approaching capacity I wouldn’t go in. I don’t consider it a “destination” and hope it won’t be made into one, as the lake is actually quite small and shallow. I think expanding for more traffic and adding overnight facilities and lighting would be disruptive and costly. But I don’t want this to sound like “this is our local free park and we don’t want to share it with visitors”. It’s a state park after all not a municipal property. So how to manage the state’s desire to monetize the park and also the capacity problem at peak times? Entrance fees on summer weekends might work. Another idea could be a volunteer group which could help maintain the park and manage traffic at busy times. If capacity is the size of current lot (reasonable) that will mean sometimes turning people away, unfortunate but perhaps better for the health of the park.

    I used to go to Grout Pond when I lived in Wardsboro. It’s similar sized though deeper with a similar sized parking lot and no day use or parking fees. It has 11 remote campsites which used to be free but are now $16/night. As with Lowell the day users of the park are very respectful in keeping it clean though I think the overnight camping had occasional troublemakers. There’s a small cabin staffed seasonally by a volunteer (Al) who oversees the place. There’s a modern vault toilet. If the parking became full (rare but possible in hot weather), a FULL sign would be placed at the entrance, but visitors would have the option of parking at a more distant lot a mile away and walking in. Maybe that’s an option here, fee-based for those that wish to drive right up to the lake and put a kayak in, but free remote parking for those who don’t mind hiking in.

    Thanks to the State of Vermont for acquiring this land, rescuing it from private development and giving us this spectacular little park which is arguably more pristine now than it was 100 years ago.

  2. Penelope King says:

    With a home that borders the State Park we have great concern about the proposed plans to renovate the cabins and provide overnight lodgings. Diane has eloquently described the concern for the natural ecology & wild life of the Lake. The cabins are currently derelict, and the cost will be prohibitive to rebuild. When our house was built in the 80’s we were required to provide an over engineered septic system, how will this be handled with cabins so much closer to the shore? The same question applies to the infrastructure of the roads into the Park, paths and parking areas for the cabins, noise and lights at night? This is a small park that will not sustain these changes. That does not mean that we are not open to methods to sustain a day use park.

  3. Maya Drummond says:

    Thank you, Diane, for your beautifully written and very wise and thoughtful letter. You have expressed my feelings completely.

  4. Larry Gubb says:

    I would like to reiterate my concern about miscommunications.

    The following is a link to the VPR article and what Ethan Phelps actually said. In addition to what is quoted in text, there is audio that adds additional context to what he said.

    https://www.vpr.org/post/londonderry-group-concerned-state-plan-lowell-lake#stream/0

    One may also read and compare what I actually said in my prior response here and compare with what an interpretation of what I said, says.

    I will also direct people to the Lowell Lake State Park webpage and to the MAPS/DOCS link on that page (upper right hand corner) and ask them to please carefully read through all the documents and compare what is said to interpretations of what they have said, by others.

    https://vtstateparks.com/lowell.html

    I would also ask people to please consider (think about) the difference between what it means to answer/respond to questions as one develops answers and responses to them and answering/responding to them on demand and according to someone else’s deadline to answer them. The planning process includes the gathering of information in an order that makes sense for the development of plans.

    If someone were to ask someone a question about their plans when one had not yet totally formulated them and those developing plans said they could not answer those questions right away or found the questions were not relevant or had already been answered, does that mean they are necessarily presenting “lip service” or might it mean they need to get to that point in their planning process before they can answer some or all of the relevant questions asked?

    Just as I would not recommend that one go to FPR to find out what other people have said or have planned, I am concerned people are hearing what FPR has said or has planned or not planned, from those other than FPR.

    In the interest of accuracy and avoiding miscommunication I would recommend people go to FPR for information about what they have done, what they have planned and where their planning process stands and if they do not find what they are looking for, give FPR a call.

    If anyone feels that any development they may end up doing, whether it includes overnight facilities or not, I imagine FPR would like to hear, as they have, from all varieties of support or non-support for what their planning process has shown, thus far. Some people, understandably, do not like to get involved in public discussion, but they can, express their thoughts to FPR and look for any surveys FPR may undertake.

    I would also recommend if people would like to know what I am saying or have said, they read what I have said, not what others are saying I have said. If you have questions about anything I have said, please give me a call.

    Diane and others, I haven’t spoken to a single person that does not have your shared concerns about Lowell Lake, including the people of FPR and FPR’s mission.

    The differences expressed between folks appears to be focused around any development of overnight facilities. As stated in the VPR segment, the current negative pressure on Lowell Lake, its environment and the experiences you so wonderfully describe, are not the result of overnight facilities (because there are none), but the result of too many day users and no means to control them, even if one did not develop any overnight facilities. Whether overnight facilities balanced with day use and as a part of limiting the numbers of visitors will do all that some suggest it will do, is yet to be determined.

    When I say “consider” I am requesting that people think about alternatives, I am not stating anything like, what has been suggested regarding consideration of alternate ownership of the land around Lowell Lake. The current public ownership of the lands that make up Lowell Lake State Park, is what provides access to those lands. If the property were in the private hands it was in, prior to acquisition of the lands by FPR, the current access that people currently enjoy, may not exist. I would ask that people consider this and the access they have and have had, for 20 years, free of any user fees.

    I would also say, with 20 years experience on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the West River Trail, that entity was formed as the result of the State of Vermont wishing to divest itself of the ownership and maintenance of the old West River Rail bed. Before divesting itself, it sought public interest in a public use for the R.O.W.. There was interest by people from towns and planning commissions along the R.O.W. which led to the Friends of the West River Trail.

    Thank you for listening.
    Larry Gubb
    Londonderry

  5. Kelly Capen says:

    Thank you for your letter ! As it stands now there are no finance’s that allow this particular park to thrive , Financially. It Also can not Thrive, ecologictally at the rate people are coming ! We need to find a balance between what Was/ What Is / and what could be. If we want to Save the natural resoure, we may need to pay to get in, not a bad deal !

  6. HILARY BATCHELOR says:

    Thank you Diane for putting this in a respectful, caring format. I am sure many people can relate to your words and concern for the lake we love.
    Hopefully, there will be some positive communications with FPR about the management of over crowding and over development as the plan develops and is finalized.

  7. Claudia Dekany says:

    Thank you Diane! Beautifully said, I couldn’t agree more! FPR has made it very clear that they plan to do overnight camping. I really don’t feel there is any misunderstanding in their words. I and many others feel that the overnight camping would be a terrible mistake. I hope we can all continue to enjoy Lowell Lake for many years to come. A beautiful, quiet and peaceful place. Thank you so much for putting my thoughts into such a well written letter!

  8. Robert Nied says:

    Mr. Gubb’s lengthy comment of April 16 contains several misrepresentations:

    1.“Consider that if any one of us would like continued access to Lowell Lake and it’s shoreline as well as a hiking trail around the lake, public ownership may be one of the best means for that to happen, relative to the alternatives.” Mr. Gubb has inferred once again that if the state does not go forward with its development plan, Lowell Lake could return to private ownership and thus be inaccessible to those who currently enjoy it. No one, including the state, is suggesting or threatening that Lowell Lake will be sold off. In fact, an existing conservation easement would likely prevent that under any circumstances. To suggest otherwise is misleading and does not serve an honest discussion of the facts.

    2. Mr. Gubb says that the state “has been listening to many positions.” There is certainly evidence to suggest otherwise. In a public meeting to respond to comments from the community, Forests, Parks and Recreation dismissed or attempted to invalidate almost all concerns submitted by the public. In a second public meeting FPR was either unable or unwilling to respond to public questions. In February, concerned citizens submitted a series of questions reflecting their concerns to FPR. To date, FPR has not answered those questions, saying that they were “too busy” and may in fact not answer some, or all, of the questions. While Mr. Gubb suggests that FPR is listening, many others feel that the agency is simply going through the motions on its way to doing what it wants.

    3. “Some form of development would add some controls to the concern, everyone, including FPR, has with regard to too many.” With that statement Mr. Gubb repeats his assertion that current overcrowding on Lowell Lake will somehow be addressed by building more facilities to encourage more visitors. At the same time, FPR has acknowledged that the current limited facilities, including parking, are the only controls currently in places to limited overcrowding. Ethan Phelps, FPR’s Regional Director also acknowledged to Vermont Public Radio that the plan would indeed result in an “exponential increase” is visitors to Lowell Lake. To suggest that deliberately bringing more people to the park will lessen crowding is nothing short of double talk. The park needs a comprehensive management plan to address the biological and social carrying capacity of the lake, not the construction of new facilities that will only exacerbate the growing stress on the lake and the wetlands, forests and habitats that surround it.

  9. Larry Gubb says:

    I believe all would agree with you and others, Diane, including the Agency of Natural Resources and under it, the Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation. Nothing in their mission or their documentation of their plans, suggests otherwise. I believe people should understand this and understand their interest is your interest, along with a wider public interest. This is the same as any resident of Vermont’s interest in both the natural environment, their own access to it as well as the access of others to it, as a result of public ownership..

    There is also history behind the lake, how it became a lake and the reasons for it becoming a lake, as well as a history which includes not just a former camp, but a hotel being formerly located on the lake.

    Having been on the original steering committee, which also expressed your very fine concerns and additional one’s, then, I believe there have been some misconceptions about the planning process the Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation has undertaken. I also believe there has been little discussion of parks in general, little discussion and the consideration of alternative uses and development, relative to a public park use, discussion of costs to maintain any property, even in a relatively natural state, while at the same time, providing the public access, which is a part of how so many people not only know about Lowell Lake, but are able to visit it and use the lake and the land.

    The main concerns about Lowell Lake exists, in spite of no development having been done over some 20 years. There are few, if any controls on the numbers of visitors to the Lake. Perhaps with a bit of irony, it has been the fee free use and lack of any developed controls to visitation that have contributed to the added visitation and pressure on, as well as damage to, the natural environment of the Lake and Park property. This also has affected the aesthetic experience of visiting the Park. Again, this without development, not because of it.

    There is a cost to repair damage, as well as to maintain the dam, the access roads, the hiking trail, the boat landing, the parking lot and more. All of this without any development of overnight accommodation and adaptive reuse of any structures.

    Pressure and damage to the environment and traffic flow will continue without any development put in place to help control this.

    I have also been on the Londonderry Planning Commission for many years, inclusive of the years the original meetings were held about Lowell Lake and when Londonderry zoning bylaws were written. It is my view that it is, as said, perhaps ironic in some ways, that it is a lack of development that the original steering committee discussed, that would be needed to control visitation to the Park/Lake and thus its environment, that has contributed to pressure on and damage to the environment of the Park. At the time and so far as I can understand from attending FPR’s open and public meetings, then and now, use of existing structures were on the table as a part of FPR’s plan and obligations as a public entity and no concrete plan as to how they would be used, has been cast. As a part of the planning process, a professional assessment of the structures was needed and has been done. If structures were not viable for reuse, it would make no sense to move forward with a plan that included their use. Because some have been found useable, as far as I know, their potential use, is still on the table, although a final plan that includes them, has not been cast in concrete. As far as I know, a final decision to use the structures or not, has not been determined. This appears to be clear from information, provided by FPR.

    In addition to providing a means for children as well as adults to stay in a structured, planned, managed, environmentally sensitive development, to experience staying close to a beautiful lake (something those who do not own private property around a lake might not otherwise get a chance to do), such facilities provide a means of visitation control as overnight facilities require reservations and that serves, as well, as means of contribution to the financial self sufficiency of the Park. Rather than adding more people to the crowds that currently present pressure on the Park’s environment, overnight and day use can be balanced to a reasonable number found, as the planning process proceeds, to be environmentally acceptable.

    20 years ago as well as today, it was suggested that reusing one of the structures as a nature center to teach children and adults alike, about the natural environment in general as well as the environment and ecology of Lowell Lake State Park, could be valuable in teaching the public about why it is important to protect their natural environment.

    Done well, overnight facilities, reusing historic structures, will provide people with the same experience of paddling the Lake, like any others. As now, depending on the time of day and day of the week, a visitor may encounter just a few others on the lake with them or many. Some form of development would add some controls to the concern everyone, including FPR, has with regard to “too many”.

    I believe rather than suggest State government or FPR as a state entity is working against the public interest and not listening to the public (it has been listening to many positions), try to consider what the alternatives are to having Park ownership of the property, how Parks must contribute to their sustainability (as any owner of the property would). Consider that if any one of us would like continued access to Lowell Lake and it’s shoreline as well as a hiking trail around the lake, public ownership may be one of the best means for that to happen, relative to the alternatives

    The Park is not just a local park, or a regional park, it is a state park, but it does fall within the boundaries of the Town of Londonderry. From the standpoint of local zoning bylaws, there is also the consideration of the intent behind any zone associated with Lowell Lake and surrounding land, allowable exemptions and variances for public facilities and uses, by state statute and by Londonderry’s Development Review Board. This is not to suggest the State may or may not be able to do as it pleases without any oversight, but to consider the use (public access) and in the case of Lowell Lake State Park, in consideration of its mission to protect the environment while also providing public access. Additional consideration would be alternative forms of ownership, which would not provide public access to the property now owned by a public entity.

    I do not know anyone, no matter what their thoughts are regarding anything presented thus far by the Department of Forest Parks and Recreation, that does not see Lowell Lake as an important resource that needs to be protected for future generations and I do not find anything within the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and FPR, that says anything to the contrary and does not support, the same. I believe we can all work together, along with Forest Parks and Recreation in such a way that present good solutions, that work in the best interest of all and the natural environment we (the public) all want access to. In order to do that, we will have to consider more than our own points of view and consider that if overuse and overcrowding are a part of the problem, it is a problem our desire to have access to special places, contributes to. How can we, the public, balance our desire for access to and use of, our natural resources, the same as the Department of Forest Parks and Recreation must work to do, to provide us access?

  10. John Adler says:

    I agree with Diane. Words mean things. I would start by pointing out that the body of water we are referring to is a large pond, not a lake.

    It will take a considerable amount of money to refurbish the cabins that are there.

    If we can’t stop the “development” of the park, at least consider a compromise and build any new overnight structures well back from the waterfront, preferably west of the old road.

    Keep the build’s visual and structural impact to the site very low. Simple structures with no “creature” comforts.

  11. Well said, Diane! So many of us feel the same way. Lowell Lake is a treasure. What problem does development of the lake solve? It serves no purpose. Leave well alone. It is perfect as it is. We can not regain the pristine wilderness once it has been disturbed.
    Stephanie Whitney-Payne

  12. Kelly Wicker says:

    Diane, thank you for your thoughtful letter. I agree 100%! Lowell Lake is a special place and I feel strongly that leaving it as undeveloped as possible and for limited day use only is what will keep it special for all to enjoy for generations to come.

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