Attendees skeptical of state motives at Lowell Lake meeting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Craig Whipple, Director of Vermont State Parks, speaks with the crowd outside the Old Town Hall before opening the session. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

By 7 p.m. last Thursday, nearly 120 people had signed in at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation’s Lowell Lake Master Plan meeting at Londonderry’s Old Town Hall. But when asked, none of those leaving said their minds had been changed by the presentation. In fact, the format of the session itself had become the focus of more suspicion and ire among many opponents.

As the 6 p.m. start time approached, a crowd gathered outside while FP&R representatives prepared a circle of more than a dozen posters that explained the department’s plan, including two scenarios the included either the restoration of existing historic buildings or construction of new buildings for overnight camping. Vermont’s Director of Parks Craig Whipple handed out a pad on a clipboard asking those attending to sign in before entering the hall.

“I’m not signing that,” said one woman to a companion. “That’s what they want.”

That assertion reflected the sense among many attending that the plan being presented for comment was a “done deal” and presentation was something to check off along the way. The plan includes selective logging of the site, overnight camping in either restored or new cabins, expanded parking and the imposition of visitor fees. Currently, access to the park, just off Route 11 in Londonderry, is free of charge.

Left to right, Londonderry Select Board member George Mora, Weston Select Board member Annie Fuji’i and Weston Conservation Commission member Deborah Hennessey begin the circuit.

“I think it’s telling that they called this meeting together to tell the town what they are doing but they haven’t provided a forum for response other than one that dissipates everyone’s responses,” said Irwin Kuperberg, chair of the Londonderry Conservation Commission. “…no chairs, split everybody up. If I were them, this is exactly what I would do.”

Robert Nied, a Chester resident and vocal opponent of the state’s proposal, who started the Lowell Lake Working Group in 2018 to study the state’s plan and weigh in on it, said, “There’s nobody standing up making public statements; that doesn’t encourage other people.”

Whipple disagreed.

The posters which attracted the largest crowds were those explaining the two “overnight use” plans.

“This is a method of gathering public input that our department uses on a fairly regular basis. It’s sort of the modern way to do this,” said Whipple, who as been with Vermont Parks for 37 years. “Having an opportunity for people to stand up and give speeches – that kind of dynamic – I think we have found that a lot of people are not comfortable enough to provide their input in that kind of situation and others relish that.”

Larry Gubb of Londonderry served on the steering committee for planning the use of the park back in 1997 and 1998. He noted that from what he has seen of the plan, it’s a reduction of what was proposed then. Gubb said that there was a lot of discussion and listening.

“Our concerns were all the same then, in terms of concerns for the environment,” said Gubb. “But the Agency of Natural Resources also had a mission. We were told that doing nothing was not an option.” According to Gubb, when the earlier plan was done, the state didn’t have the money to develop the park. So the park has sat undeveloped for 20 years. In the intervening decades, residents, second homeowners and visitors have become accustomed to using the park.

“Many of us fell in love with it as an undeveloped park,” said Diane Holme of Chester. “I could go there on some days and be the only person in that park. We’ve learned to love it, we’ve learned to appreciate the nature. We’ve had that time to learn to love it and they have now come up with a development plan that’s anathema to how we know it.”

Putting the place into an historical context, Gubb noted that the Lowell Lake is not a pristine natural area, but is the product of a man-made dam. He added that its trees have been cleared in the past and it was the site of a hotel and a day camp before it became what it is today.

A participant registers her preference on one of the overnight use plans. “Don’t like it” to the left, “Like it” to the right.

“To me it’s unfortunate that people have mischaracterized what has been presented,” said Gubb. “I’m good with whatever the final decision is – whether it’s overnight camping or not.” Gubb said his concern is what he called a “one-sided conversation” put on by an ad-hoc group that is against the development. “People think it’s a done deal because they have been told it’s a done deal. They have been told that no matter what (the state) tells you, don’t believe them.”

People milled around the outside of the room, reading posters, asking questions and chatting amiably with state representatives. In the center of the room, the conversations were more pointed but still more polite than many that have been posted on Facebook recently.

Toward the end of the circle of posters were a few that asked attendees to place a green dot on them to show how strongly they were in favor or against the various plans that had been outlined on earlier posters. It quickly became clear that the overwhelming majority were in favor of day visitation and against overnight camping. Still many felt that the decision to proceed had already been made.

Whipple dismissed the view that the plan being shown was a “done deal.”

“This is the process we go through to make a decision, I get a recommendation and I pass my recommendation to the commissioner and the commissioner makes the decision,” said Whipple. “I haven’t made one, I haven’t heard the analysis, I haven’t heard all the input, and he (the commissioner) doesn’t know anything about it. So this is the process and this is how you make decisions in public land management in the public context.”

“I think it takes a great courage to leave the park without overnight development as a beautiful, serene, quiet, sacred place,” said Holme.

The meeting marks the beginning of a 60-day comment period during which the public can weigh in on the issues surrounding the Lowell Lake Master Plan . Click on the “Take the survey” tab.

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  1. Robert Nied says:

    Mr. Gubb’s suggestion that those opposed to the development of Lowell Lake have not discussed or directed people to Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation’s own documents, is untrue. Not only have FP&R’s documents been highlighted, distributed and discussed, Lowell Lake Concerned Citizens have obtained additional internal FP&R documents through the Vermont Public Records Law and have made those available as well to anyone wishing to review them. Lowell Lake Concerned Citizens have supported, and continue to support, a fully informed and open community discussion on this important issue.

  2. Randy Miles says:

    It is nice to find out more and more information about Lowell Lake and how it came to be. It is a beautiful place that was created by humans.

    It had overnight camping with its existing camp site in the past for many years. Why is it so wrong to condemn it now? Many kids and adults have enjoyed that experience in the past, why not the present?

    If the final outcome is made by only the 120 at the meeting then that would be a shame for the rest of us. Remember in school we were taught to share and not think so much about ourselves needs but more about others and the better good. This is a resource that was and should be shared!

    The State and Park’s Dep. can and would do a good job in protecting and sharing it for us ALL. Please bring back the over night camping to this site. Thanks

  3. Bette Wunderle says:

    Having a great aunt and uncle who used to enjoy coming to Vermont to stay at the lodge, saying that Vermont was the closest they felt to their homeland of Switzerland; to having lots of friends bring their families to enjoy a wonderful week or two of family activities with the Whites running their summer camp; to enjoying the lake when it became part of the VT State Park systems, Lowell Lake has always been a special place.

    In my memory the worst years were when the White land was sold to a private owner and when you would visit the lake all you would hear would be guns going off for target practice and four-wheelers being driven all around the place.

    I never ran into a loon on the lake during those thankfully SHORT years. Like all special places, it needs someone to watch over it. I personally would LOVE to see some of the original White cabins restored and be able to come for a week with my heavy homemade wooden canoe and just be able to leave it set in one place,to enjoy some extended quiet time on the lake without the hassle of coming and going everyday.

    I wish the State Park system wisdom in what they finally decide to do with a very special part of Vermont.

  4. Larry Gubb says:

    Once again, there is a very “vocal” public and there are a lot more people, who also belong to “the public”. They too, are contacting the state, raising their hands, so to speak and writing letters. From the date of the open house, there is a 60 day comment period and those who attended the open house were, but a portion of “the public” and many of them have seen only a one sided “conversation” coming from those that oppose, which has predisposed them as to what they should believe.

    You will not see this mentioned, nor will you be directed to the documents and information gathered and presented by the State of Vermont, because at least two main people do not appear to want to have a conversation where the entity they are opposed to (who had members of their various departments present at the open house) and keep mis-characterizing are included on the conversation, so they can clarify, explain, defend and correct any allegations made about what their plans are.

    Here is a link to the Lowell Lake State Park website.

    On the above linked to page, on the right hand side, there is a shaded area and just above the shaded area is a clickable link to MAPS/DOCS. If one clinks on that link, one will find lots of information, lots of questions asked (and answered) and more information about the history, the background of the planning process, what has been done thus far and what comes next as stated by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Forest Parks and Recreation. As before, I would urge people to take a look and form their own thoughts rather than have the information narrated by those who object to the process and the plan. Thanks!

    I am truly surprised when I speak to people, how little many seem to know about the history and the process other than what they have been told to believe.

    I am all for holding people and entities to their own standards, but the question here, in many ways is, what objectively, the Lowell Lake Concerned Citizens Group is “protecting Lowell Lake from? Are they protecting it from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources which includes the Departments of Forest Parks and Recreation, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Conservation?
    What exactly is the basis they (who are also users of the Park/Lake) wishing to protect the Lake from are using? Day use was anticipated originally to go up. Whether that number was large or small number did not matter, since in the original discussion, a means to limit use, overall, was the concern and even if it is decided in the end that no overnight facilities should be a part of a plan going forward, day use will still have to limited. Overnight users are day users during the day, who would be spending the night. Overnight use requires reservations, which means a number of visitors can be known (versus day users who randomly arrive). During the night, those spending the night are asleep many of those hours. Day users are not going to be at the Park at night to have their experience ‘ruined’ (as characterized by the opposition).

    It is also interesting to hear so many people say “do nothing”, yet at the same time complain about how crowded it currently is at the Park and how cars park down the road. If FPR does “nothing” how does that solve any current problems?
    We all have opinions, but where is the data that goes against the data that The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, its various departments and non-government entities, has gathered and presented, as well as what is yet to be presented, if there are differing opinions on what overnight facilities at Lowell Lake will “do” to the Lake?

  5. Irwin Kuperberg says:

    That Lowell Lake was created by a man-made dam or was a resort hub in bygone days is irrelevant to the current situation. The landscape and demographics of our state have changed in many ways over the years. The camp that occupied the cabins, the last large scale activity at Lowell Lake, happened generations ago. And when it did the park was not receiving 15,000 visitors per year.
    Preserving Lowell Lake in its current state, as a tranquil and largely undisturbed natural gem, benefits everybody, and creates more tourism benefit than just another one of many trodden campgrounds.

  6. John Merrow says:

    I think it’s funny how people of the surrounding area are up in arms about the re-establishment of the Lowell Lake Lodge and cabins camping area. The first license was granted to George H. Hilton on the 6th day of June 1881. When the railroad was in south Londonderry. He married Dr.Abram Lowell’s daughter. This land was the first settlement of Kent and I’m sure the people before that were just as happy knowing that the settlers were going to set up camp in their pristine hunting and fishing grounds. How hypocritical it is of all you to think you have a right to put a price on “YOUR” sanctuary! If it was so important you all would have bought it and kept it a private land.

  7. Robert Nied says:

    The public has weighed in on the proposal to develop Lowell Lake in the form of written submissions, verbal comments, show of hands votes, letters to the editor and by placing sticky dots on poster board as was most recently requested by Vermont Forests, Parks and Recreation. The public, along with two separate area conservation commissions, have been crystal clear in their opposition to the development of overnight lodging and associated infrastructure at Lowell Lake. No matter how many times they ask, Forests, Parks & Recreation gets the same answer. The only remaining question is whether they have any intention of listening.