River Ramblings Archive

River Ramblings are columns written by Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee representatives and guests.

The Case for Taking Action in the Face of Climate Change

This letter is addressed to all those who, like the ostrich, bury their head in the sand other dark places.  There, now that I have gotten that out of my system, it’s time to identify the challenges other than the obvious social and political ones.
For the sake of limiting this letter’s length I will include only the broad “weather conditions” that respond to climate variations.  The most obvious of these is temperature.  Because of rising global temperature, sea levels are rising and on land floods and droughts are becoming more prevalent.  Much of science requires those involved to study cause and effect.  That is, the scientific method requires identifying the problem.  In this case, it is observable climate changes. 
The most outstanding effect is a greater number of extreme weather occurrences in the temperate zones of the earth.  That is especially true in the northern hemisphere where a greater portion of temperate land mass is located.  Even if you’re not a climatologist, you know that the prevailing winds are from the west in the zone between the subtropical and arctic.  The rotation of the earth causes this to be so. 
Being a scientist is requires the gathering of evidence and developing a hypothesis.  A great number scientists are, and have been, doing detailed studies designed to discover the causes of observable climatic effects.  At a meeting I recently attended I heard it presented as a conundrum as follows:  What we do know, what we don’t know and what we need to know from both global and local perspectives.
We know the Earth’s temperature is rising.  That requires us to ask, is that somehow related to the tripling of weather related disasters since 1960?  Have the heat waves, droughts and forest fires increased in number and intensity as a result?  Is there the likelihood of superstorms like Sandy and Katrina occurring with greater frequency?  Lacking little evidence to the contrary, we must conclude the answer is, yes.
Some of the economic and social effects are grim.  Such things as storm damage, crop losses, public health emergencies and some lesser ones like allergies and respiratory distress.  A study of the costs of hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy costs and the cost of delivering drinkable water concluded that, left unchecked through the end of this century, would require an outlay of 1.9 trillion dollars annually in the United States.  The plain truth is that inaction, in the long run is going to cost more than taking remedial action now.  Pollution does not have to be fuel for our economy.  Dirty profits now will incur health expenses now and in the future.  Efforts to mitigate the carbon emissions are in effect and more are planned for in the future.  Those who deny there is a global crisis need to take their blinders off and remove their rose-colored glasses. The need to take an unbiased look at how we produce and use power.  After they have done that, the should be come part of the solution rather than being part of the problem.
On the local level, we have an entity called the Lakes Region Planning Commission.  In 1990 the put together a regional public utilities and infrastructure plan.  It was a survey and assessment of existing public services with an eye toward future modifications and improvements.  It was developed using a regional perspective with a view toward linking infrastructure across regional boundaries and encouraging cooperation and coordination between communities.  Fast forward twenty-five years and you can observe real progress.  There are many things we know, fewer things we don’t know but the list of things we need to know continues to grow.  Last week the Lakes Region Planning Commission held its 47th annual meeting.  Dr. Lindsey Rustag, author of the previously mentioned conundrum, asked those in attendance to think about what more they needed to know in order to take effective action, environmentally, in their communities.  Perhaps the most effective thing they could do is encourage others to help identify and mitigate problems.  Address needs with organized cooperative actions now and in the future.
Bill Dawson, Northfield

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 www.MerrimackRiver.org 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 UMRLAC@MerrimackRiver.org.

The Merrimack River, history, recreation, and quirkiness

Winter still has us in its icy grip and we will soon have our boots stuck firmly in the grasp of mud season. Why not lighten the mood by contemplating warm summer breezes along the riverbank enjoying the rich history and beauty of the Merrimack River. This meandering 110-mile waterway was plied by Native American dugout canoes from Boston to as far inland as Concord. It powered textile, paper and flour mills, tanneries, and even foundries, was used for transportation of goods and even served as a sewer for New Hampshire’s industrial revolution’s wastes.

The Merrimack River has had its ups and downs. It was a pristine salmon and sturgeon river before being polluted and dammed during the Industrial Revolution. During the heyday of the textile mills, the color of the Merrimack River changed colors daily depending on what materials were being dyed at the factories. Today, however, the river has been revitalized by Clean Water Act mandated wastewater treatment plants and meets the bacteria criteria for safe swimming on all but the rainiest days. The Merrimack has a fascinating history and is a great recreational opportunity for hiking, boating or sunning on the water. So why not take one of my suggestions and explore history while enjoying an outdoor recreational experience.

In A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Henry David Thoreau recalled his 1839 journey up the Merrimack. “The river is by far the most attractive highway, and those boatmen who have spent twenty or twenty-five years on it must have had a much fairer, more wild, and memorable experience than the dusty and jarring one of the teamster who has driven, during the same time, on the roads which run parallel with the stream.” In fact, Thoreau’s retreat to a cabin at Walden Pond was for peace and quiet, so he could concentrate on publishing a book about his Merrimack River trip. Why not emulate Thoreau and paddle the Merrimack? There are many places to put in such as Jamie Welch Memorial Park in Boscawen or near Everett Arena in Concord.

If you end up in Boscawen with your canoe, stop at the island near Boscawen’s park and ride and visit the Hannah Duston Memorial, a monument erected in the late 19th century on an island located at the confluence of the Contoocook and Merrimack Rivers. The monument is at the spot where a Colonial mom executed and scalped the Indian captors that killed her baby and abducted her. The Hannah Duston statue is quite interesting. Hannah’s granite nose has been chipped off and repaired and in her hand is a tomahawk and scalps. There is a similar bronze statue of her in Haverhill that is reportedly the first statue honoring a woman to be erected in the U.S. For those of you that are more into the story, the Haverhill historical society reportedly has the tomahawk she used. Of course, every story has two sides. For the sake of balance, it might be good to also visit Concord’s New Hampshire History Museum to better understand pre-settler tribal life.

Adding a poignant backdrop to your visit to the Hannah Dustin Memorial is the former Allied Leather Tannery and the Stratton flour mill. These abandoned mills were once thriving businesses; if you let your imagination transport you, you can hear the water powered pulleys operate the tannery machinery and the sound of rats scurrying out of the train car loaded with hides from Texas ready to be tanned and sewn into kid gloves.

If a canoe seems too wet and wild for you, in Manchester you don’t have to look hard to find evidence of the river’s influence. The brick mill buildings along the river are the heart of New Hampshire’s Industrial Revolution and are located here because of the energy that could be derived from Amoskeag Falls. The first mill began operating in 1838. By 1840 the mill owners dammed the Merrimack creating the power source for their mills. By 1912 the Amoskeag Mills were manufacturing enough textiles each day to stretch two and a half times the length of the New Hampshire or about 471 miles of fabric a day. The Amoskeag Mills produced the cloth for the first Levis jeans and for uniforms during the Civil War. But they didn’t just make cloth. Its foundry produced iron fences, gates, fire hydrants, railroad engines, steam fire trucks and rifles for the Civil War. To learn more about the history of the mills, I strongly suggest a visit to the Millyard Museum on Bedford Street. The impact of the mills and the Merrimack River extends far beyond Manchester, however. The White Mountain National Forest exists in part because wealthy, early 1900s textile businessmen in the Manchester milliard were concerned that excessive logging of the forest was resulting in rapid runoff and unreliable river flows.

Still not finding enough reasons to explore the Merrimack? Why not drop by the round brick gasholder in Concord that you can spot from I-93 going north through Concord? Although the gasholder is not open to the public, its architecture and history is interesting. A gasholder is a building with a huge upside down steel cup inside, used for storing natural gas for lighting and heating. The steel cup floats up and down on a water seal so that constant gas pressure is maintained in the gas lines while gas demand fluctuates. According to the society of industrial archeology, the Concord Gas Light Co. was repeatedly running out of gas when demand peaked around 10:00 pm every evening. The gasholder was put into service in 1888 to solve this problem and was constructed for $35,000 (over $800,000 in today’s dollars). It was used until the company ceased gas manufacture late in the summer of 1952. That year the Concord Natural Gas Corp. connected to natural gas production areas via the national natural gas pipeline system. How is the gasholder connected to the river you ask? Coal tar produced from the manufacture of coal gas was sewered to the tar pond in the Merrimack’s flood plain. The exit 13 on ramp actually goes over the former tar pond. During the new Exit 13 ramp construction in 1996, 172,877 gallons of coal tar was removed.

If the mainstem of the Merrimack doesn’t intrigue you, don’t forget the tributaries such as the Contoocook River. There is a nice five mile, two hour hike at the Mast Yard State Forest. According to Bouton’s History of Concord, in the early 1800s, this area supplied trees that were used as masts for the king of England’s ships. The trees were dragged to the Contoocook River to an area now called the “Mast Yard”, then floated down to the Merrimack River. Larger logs were dragged by teams of oxen to the sandbanks below Sewalls Falls and thrown into the Merrimack River and subsequently floated to the coast.

Don’t take my word on it, Google Hannah Dustin, Amoskeag Mills or Mast Yard. There is a lot of colorful and interesting history and fun things to do – all connected to one of the most interesting rivers in the U.S., the Merrimack. 

This month’s River Ramblings column was written by Gary Lynn, Representative from Bow to the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee. Please visit www.MerrimackRiver.org 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 UMRLAC@MerrimackRiver.org.

All About UMRLAC

Any evening from now until mid-October will find anglers from the beginning of the Merrimack in Franklin to Garvins Falls trying their luck on the Merrimack River, hoping the next cast will be the one to prompt a decent fish tale. But not all those who plumb the great river’s depths are pursuing the trout, salmon, bass, and other fish that call the Merrimack home.

Some, it turns out, are seeking much smaller prey – mayfly, stonefly, and caddisfly larvae – in an effort to determine the health of the river and its inhabitants and help the communities that share its banks decide how to manage to the resource. Volunteers with the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee’s (UMRLAC) Upper Merrimack Monitoring Program (UMMP) will be setting traps called “rock baskets” from Franklin to Bow to catch the bugs that will tell the tale of the river’s health.

Catching those bugs and other invertebrates such as clams, snails, water mites, and crawfish and getting a sense of how many of them are in the river is one of the surest ways to determine the water’s ability to maintain life and it’s one of the tasks UMMP volunteers happily tackle every year.

UMRLAC was created in 1990 by the New Hampshire Legislature to provide the six communities – Boscawen, Bow, Canterbury, Concord, Franklin, and Northfield – the Upper Merrimack flows through assistance in developing policy regarding the river.

If a town wants to know the effects of development on the river’s banks, UMRLAC’s Program can help answer those questions. UMRLAC also keeps track of activities, such as planning and zoning efforts in each town along the river, and lets the state know what’s happening on the banks of the Merrimack, which for decades was an industrial workhorse powering mills and feeding industry.

The river’s industrial days are long gone, though, and it now features fantastic habitat for an array of wildlife while also serving as a resource for boating, swimming, and fishing as well as providing clean and plentiful water to the communities that line its banks – a situation UMRLAC hopes will continue.

The Committee, currently at fourteen members, manages the inverebrate collection effort and the subsequent bug identification program that takes place during the cold, dark winter months.

Over time, the collection and identification efforts will give environmental scientists enough information to understand the river’s health and the direction in which its heading and will help policy makers decide how to both protect and use the Merrimack. The rock baskets may mean that some fish have to search a little harder for their next meal, but that may just mean better luck for the angler on the bank.

This month’s River Ramblings column was written by Dave Kirkpatrick, Representative from Bow to the Upper Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee. Please visit www.MerrimackRiver.org 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 UMRLAC@MerrimackRiver.org.