Committee will look at Baboosic Lake issues

AMHERST – On the stormy questions surrounding the rowing club’s use of Baboosic Lake, the Amherst Board of Selectmen and the Recreation Commission are off the hook for a few months at least.

The commission had been asked to make a recommendation to selectmen about a proposed rowing club boat house, but a huge turnout at the commission’s May 8 meeting made it clear that the idea needs more study.

“Don’t expect anyone to be leaping up in front of the Board of Selectmen” with a recommendation, said commission Vice Chairwoman Wendy Rannenberg, who proposed last week the creation of a citizens’ group that would look at lake usage. The commission voted yes to that plan.

Homeowners who live around the lake have been expressing concerns about the crew club, saying they seem to want to take over the lake.

Crew members, most of them Souhegan High School students, said their activities are healthy, harmless and pose no threat to homeowners.

Rannenberg said the new group would resemble the citizens’ committee for the Peabody Mill Environmental Center.

The commission’s May 20 meeting was the second commission meeting this month where lake homeowners and supporters of the Souhegan crew team spoke with passion about lake usage.

In anticipation of a crowd, the May 8 meeting was moved to the high school auditorium and about 200 people showed up, and for three hours, many dozens of them spoke on one side or other of the issue. Last week’s meeting limited the comment period to 30 minutes.

Rannenberg reminded everyone that the commission’s jurisdiction covers only the town beach and parking area, and the 226-acre lake is just one of the commission’s responsibilities, because of the acute shortage of field space and the current lack of a recreation director.

“We have a huge issue of trying to prioritize the work of the Recreation Commission,” she said.

“Baboosic Lake facilities really need to be improved,” she said, and the committee will not address lake issues outside the boundaries of the beach area.

As outlined by Rannenberg, the Baboosic Lake Working Group would report back to the commission after creating an inventory of beach facilities, reviewing the recreation master plan and current recreation activities. They will also look at the issue of public/private partnerships, the method the crew club said it will use to pay for a boat house.

Committee members would come from the homeowners’ association, the rowing club and crew team. There would also be four members who are other Amherst residents “from diverse backgrounds.” Although there are many Merrimack homes on the lake’s east side, Merrimack residents would not be allowed because that side of the lake does not come under Amherst’s jurisdiction. All meetings would be open to the public.

At the May 20 meeting, homeowners said they want more specific information about the rowing club’s proposal.

“What’s your plan? It keeps changing,” said one young woman, a Souhegan graduate, who also said, “We love to have a crew out there.”

Others expressed concerns about additional traffic on the narrow roads around the lake.

One man, who said his family has lived near the lake for four generations, said the issues will be worked out, but homeowners are resentful because they have been “treated like second-class citizens.” No one had been interested in the lake, he said, until efforts by the homeowners’ association over the years resulted in a nice body of water free from algae.

“The boathouse was the ultimate kick in the teeth,” he said.

Crew club members addressed worries about invasive milfoil, saying they wash their crafts every time they’ve been in other bodies of water. They also said the crew season is over, and their last practice was May 16.

The homeowners’ association’s attorney was the first to speak at the May 20 meeting, proposing a set of rules for lake usage, including no regattas, no bullhorns, no summer activities and time limits for boats to be on the lake.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@ or 673-3100, ext. 304.