From Fish & Game: Ensuring boating access to NH's lakes

June 15. 2018 5:46PM


Boating on any of New Hampshire's 917 lakes - our "Great Ponds" - is a treasured summer tradition for many natives and tourists alike.

The first recorded public boat access was laid out by survey (Country Pond Road/ Wilder's Grove Road) in 1894 - to Country Pond in Newton. For the most part, access to New Hampshire's lakes, ponds, and rivers remained a local and informal concern until after World War II.

In 1945, RSA 230 established the "Road to Public Waters" program that created a procedure for citizens to petition the state for access to water bodies. The state would old a public hearing, followed by evaluation by a governor-appointed three-person commission. Then the proposal would be voted on by the Governor and Executive Council.

The Road to Public Waters program resulted in over 140 new access sites through 1991 when the Legislature let it expire, replacing it with the Statewide Boat Access Program (SBAP), administered by the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

In the early 1980s, a booming second-home market was rapidly turning the tradition of free, guaranteed public access to lakes and rivers into a historical footnote. The Road to Public Waters' ad-hoc approach to creating boat access did not have a consistent funding mechanism, and land costs were rising quickly. In 1983, the Legislature recognized this concern and authorized $200,000 as a grant in the 1984-1985 biennial budget for Fish and Game to acquire and build 11 boat access facilities. Locations were proposed by citizens and Fish and Game conservation officers. The first three projects pursued under this mandate were the ramp at Ashley Ferry in Claremont, the Boscawen ramp to the Merrimack River near the State Forest Nursery, and Big Diamond Pond ramp in Stewartstown.

The SBAP authorized Fish and Game to acquire land and build boat access areas. The legislation directed $5 from each motor boat registration to a dedicated account to build the ramps. That allocation remains at $5 today - 26 years on - which returns about $460,000 annually from about 92,000 motor boat owners. The SBAP fund is used as 3-to-1 match to receive $3 of federal funding through the Sport Fish Restoration (aka Dingell-Johnson) Act of 1950 and the Wallop-Breaux Amendment of 1984.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act is funded through various excise taxes on fishing equipment, imported motor boats, and motor fuel taxes. Based on the size of New Hampshire's angler constituency it provides about $3 million per year to fund NHFG hatcheries, fish-stocking, and fisheries resource management programs. Fifteen percent (about $450,000) is restricted and dedicated to develop and maintain recreational boat access sites.

Much of the $910,000 annual budget is earmarked to maintain Fish and Game's 130 existing boat access areas and law enforcement summer patrols at major ramps. There are many "Great Ponds" still without public access, and New Hampshire Fish and Game remains committed to evaluating and developing new opportunities for the public to enjoy the tradition of escaping by boat to a beautiful lake on a hot summer day.


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