IV. Summary and Recommendations
As it flows through the towns of Washington/Lempster, Marlow, Gilsum/Sullivan, Keene, Swanzey, Winchester, and Hinsdale, the Ashuelot River supports a variety of significant state and local resources. To better protect and manage these resources, the Department of Environmental Services recommends the following actions:
Recommendation 1: The General Court should adopt legislation which designates the Ashuelot River into the Rivers Management and Protection Program and classifies the Ashuelot River as follows:
a. NATURAL: from the dam at Butterfield Pond to and including the falls above Ashuelot Pond;
b. RURAL: from the falls above Ashuelot Pond to Symondsville Road in Marlow;
c. COMMUNITY: from Symondsville Road in Marlow to the dam at Village Pond owned by Audio Accessories;
d. RURAL: from below the Audio Accessories dam in Marlow up to the breached dam, owned by James Blackstock, located above the Village of Gilsum;
e. COMMUNITY: from the breached dam owned by James Blackstock to above the stone arch bridge in Gilsum;
f. RURAL: from the stone arch bridge in Gilsum to the Court Street bridge in Keene;
g. COMMUNITY: from the Court Street bridge in Keene to the Branch River;
h. RURAL: from the Branch River in Keene to the unnamed brook entering on the west bank near the intersection of Winchester Street and Route 10 in West Swanzey;
i. COMMUNITY: from the unnamed brook on the west bank near the intersection of Winchester Street - and Route 10 in West Swanzey to the Denman Thompson bridge;
j. RURAL: from the Denman Thompson bridge in West Swanzey to and including the oxbow on the west bank before the A.C. Lawrence building in Winchester;
k. COMMUNITY: from the oxbow on the west bank before the A.C. Lawrence building in Winchester to the Route 119 bridge;
l. RURAL: from the Route 119 bridge in Winchester to the dam owned by G. E. Robertson & Company in Hinsdale;
m. COMMUNITY: from the dam owned by G. E. Robertson & Company in Hinsdale to the Route 63 bridge; and
n. RURAL: from the Route 63 bridge in Hinsdale to the mouth of the Ashuelot River at the Connecticut River.
Under the provisions of the protection amendments to RSA Chapter 483, a designation will provide increased protection for the river against new dam construction, damaging channel alterations, water quality impairment, and siting of hazardous and solid waste facilities in the river corridor. A designation will also require the establishment of protected instream flow levels to maintain the minimum amount of water in the river that is necessary to safeguard public trust resources, including fisheries, water quality, recreation, and scenic values. A local River Management Advisory Committee will be established to coordinate local issues related to the protection and management of the river and will provide local residents with a direct avenue for formal input to state decisions that affect the river. Finally, a designation will result in the development of a long-range management plan for the river that coordinates state planning and management of fisheries, water quality and quantity, and recreation.
The headwaters of the Ashuelot River in the towns of Washington and Lempster, from the dam at Butterfield Pond to and including the falls above Ashuelot Pond, is being recommended for a "natural river" classification. Under the protection measure amendments to RSA Chapter 483, natural rivers are defined as "free-flowing rivers or segments characterized by the high quality of natural and scenic resources. River shorelines are in primarily natural vegetation and river corridors are generally undeveloped. Development, if any, is limited to forest management and scattered housing." The dam at Butterfield Pond maintains the level of Butterfield Pond and does not affect the natural flow characteristics of the river. The location of the headwaters within the 9,000-acre Pillsbury State Park ensures the continued presence of a high quality natural and scenic resource and a generally undeveloped river corridor on the upper Ashuelot River. The Department of Environmental Services has determined that the outstanding public resources of the upper Ashuelot River warrant a natural river classification.
As listed above, several sections of the river are recommended for a "rural river" classification. Under the protection measure amendments to RSA Chapter 483, rural rivers are "those rivers or segments adjacent to lands which are partially or predominantly used for agriculture, forest management, and dispersed or clustered residential housing. Some instream structures may exist, including low dams, diversion works, or other minor modifications." As the Ashuelot River flows through towns and farmland of the countryside, the river clearly meets the definition of a rural river.
Other segments of the Ashuelot River are further classified as a "community river." Under the protection measure amendments to RSA Chapter 483, community rivers are "those rivers or segments which flow through developed or populated areas of the state and which possess existing or potential community resource values, such as those identified in official municipal plans or land use controls. Such rivers have mixed land uses in the corridor reflecting some combination of open space, agriculture, residential, commercial and industrial land uses. Such rivers are readily accessible by road or railroad, may include existing impoundments or diversions, or potential sites for new impoundments or diversions for hydropower, flood control or water supply purposes, and may include the urban centers of municipalities." The Ashuelot River, in certain sections such as Keene and Winchester, clearly meets this classification.
Recommendation 2: The communities of Washington/Lempster, Marlow, Gilsum/Sullivan, Keene, Winchester, Swanzey, and Hinsdale should continue to work toward protection of the Ashuelot River through the adoption of local river corridor management plans, including comprehensive shoreland protection ordinances.
While a state designation will improve the protection and management of the river itself, continuing local effort will be needed to address the use and conservation of the river corridor. A growing recognition by local citizens of the Ashuelot River's valuable contribution to the overall quality of life in their communities is reflected in their desire to see the river designated into the state program. Citizen appreciation and concern for the river should be reflected in the decisions and actions of local government officials. Upon request, the Department of Environmental Services will provide technical assistance to any of the communities along the Ashuelot River on the development of local river corridor management plans, including comprehensive shoreland protection ordinances.
In summary, the establishment of a clear policy and specific instream protection measures by the General Court, and a continuing commitment on the part of local governments and residents to protect and manage the river corridor through sound land use decisions will ensure that the outstanding resources of the Ashuelot River will endure as part of the river uses to be enjoyed by New Hampshire people.