Where to cool off in the Nashua area

Spending some time in the water can be a welcome relief after a series of high 80 to low 90 degree days. And New Hampshire has plenty of bodies of water fit for swimming.

Merrimack is home to Wasserman Park Beach, which is for use by residents only.

The Merrimack River Watershed Council checks the river water quality in Nashua and Massachusetts. According to the council, the Merrimack River has shown improvement in its E. coli levels over the past four years. In New Hampshire, the limit for E. coli in freshwater swimming areas is 88 cfu/100mL, which is more strict than the EPA standards.

Caroly Shumway, the council’s executive director, said the Merrimack River site at Greeley Park in Nashua consistently comes up clean for pathogens.

“We partnered with the Souhegan Watershed Association and tested it weekly last summer. It was pretty clear,” Shumway said.

This summer, the Souhegan River Watershed Association, which monitors the environmental quality of the Souhegan River and its watershed, has taken over testing the Greeley Park site. George May of the SWA said because the site at Greeley Park is a boat ramp it’s not generally used for swimming, although biweekly tests show the water is clean.

“E. coli here on July first was good at 60.9,” he said.

A few miles north, Watson Park in Merrimack sits against the Souhegan River on Daniel Webster Highway. The free park has a sandy beach area, popular with waders and swimmers. Volunteers from the River Association check bacteria levels often and post results on site and online at www.souheganriver.org.

“Lots of kids swim here now,” May said. “We also post the results weekly at the park with red, yellow, and blue flags.”

The E. coli count fluctuates significantly based on the weather. According to the organization’s website, July 15 samples were “excellent,” but following the rain that evening, July 16 E. coli counts had risen 400 percent, from 58.6 to 272.3 cfu/100mL, which is too high for swimming. However, by July 22 bacteria levels were within safe range again at 28.5.

Beyond checking bacteria levels, long-time Merrimack residents may remember Watson Park as the site of the Harcros/Elementis Chemical Plant before Harcros moved to Nashua over a decade ago. The clean-up following the plant’s dismantling caused a stir in the community as well as a state supreme court case against Elementis Chemicals in 2005 and 2007. Dedication of Watson Park was delayed until 2006.

The site continues to be monitored for safety, according to Tim Drew of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

A groundwater management plan in the area requires yearly testing for volatile chemicals in the Souhegan River and Baboosic Brook. Both testing sites are downstream from swimming areas and the samples have met quality standards for the past decade, Drew said.

Other safe and natural areas to swim surround Nashua, but come at a price. Silver Lake in Hollis is open to residents and non-residents alike for an entrance fee. The same goes for Baboosic Lake in Amherst.

For those willing to pay and travel, Bear Brook in Allenstown, Clough Park in Weare and Pawtuckaway in Nottingham are all within an hour’s drive.

Then there’s New Hampshire’s small but celebrated seacoast. Ocean beaches such as North Hampton, North Beach, Hampton, Jenness and Wallis Sands State Beaches are all a little over an hour drive from Nashua.

Hampton Beach State Park, Wallis Sands and Wallis Sands State Park Beach were recognized as “superstar” beaches by the National Resources Defense Council in June. Nationwide, the NRDC chose 35 beaches including the 3 in New Hampshire as the best beaches in terms on consistent water cleanliness.

Tina Forbes can be reached at 594-6402 or tforbes@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Forbes on Twitter (@Telegraph_TinaF).