A New Sense of the River

Most people think of a river as a place to go fishing with their pals. Some have a much broader sense of rivers. A few, who are members of the Planning Boards in communities, take on serious responsibilities for their land and water resources. The principal duty of the boards is to protect the natural heritage of their communities. In the central part of New Hampshire, the communities along the Merrimack River from Franklin to Bow have the help of the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee.

The Winnipesaukee River flows along the northern boundary of the town of Northfield into Franklin and joins the Pemigewasset River to form the Merrimack River. As it flows on downstream, the Merrimack forms the western border of Northfield. Northfield feels a double obligation to the flowing waters that need our care and concern.

In addition to approaching the river with fly rod in hand, many of our members now also pay attention to what’s growing on the bank and what’s in the water besides fish. There is more knowledge of the ecology of the stream now because of the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee. It serves as a watchdog monitoring development planned on or near the banks of the rivers in our area. In addition, there is monitoring of stream flow and the types of plants and insects found in or near the stream.

The author’s interest in the river has also led me in a related direction. A few years ago, an opportunity to attend a UNH Cooperative Extension Community Tree Steward course was offered to planning board members. The training had a lot of content related to the trees that grow along or near the river. One concern of many New Hampshire conservation people is what are called “invasive species”—plants that have been imported into our ecosystems on purpose or by accident, but that are now crowding out native species. Other invasives have been brought in by migrating birds and, in the case of water plants, by boats towed in and launched on the water.

In early in July each year, the UMRLAC asks for volunteers to help in the water sampling of the river. The sampling is to monitor the levels of bacteria at various points along the river course. As volunteer, my duties took me to a point under the bridge near the Hannah Dustin Park and ride. At 8:15 AM, water sample and checked the temperature of the site where the sample was taken. The collected from that site and another taken near the mouth of the Contoocook River were taken to the Department of Environmental Services building where a cooler containing samples from additional sites downstream was waiting. Those samples and along with those previously mentioned were then delivered them to the Regional Sewage Plant in Franklin. There, the samples are tested and a report is generated and kept on file at the plant and another is forwarded to the DES.

The purpose of the bacteria sampling is to evaluate the condition of the river on a regular basis during the summer months. The data from eleven sites has been collected into records kept by the DES over several years. Researchers of various types make comparisons of our river with other streams throughout the country.

We at the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee invite you to visit our website and to become more aware of the vital resource we are monitoring so that it continues to flow through our communities with sparkling clarity. There are many ways that you can help us in our efforts.

This month’s River Ramblings column was written by Bill Dawson, Representative from Northfield to the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee. Please visit to learn more about the river and watershed, view water quality data, access natural resource information and tools, and to sign up to be notified about river events and news. For further information, please call 603.796.2615 or email