WINDHAM — Alongside Canobie Lake in Windham is a 50-foot-wide path for boats. Signs say “Windham residents only,” but there is no lock on the gate to enforce it, so many people use the only public boat access for the lake shared by Windham and Salem.

A year ago Police Chief Gerald Lewis approached the Board of Selectmen with the idea of enforcing the Windham residents only use of the boat launch. Neighbors had been complaining about the noise at the launch, and police officers had observed many people with Massachusetts license plates launching their boats from the Windham ramp.

The restriction goes back to the 1951 deed that gave the town the land to access the lake.

“The deed is the initiator of the action we are taking,” Lewis said.

Currently police patrol and ticket cars parked in the area, Lewis said, adding that will not change. However, the Board of Selectmen tasked Lewis with looking into how to enforce the Windham residents only stipulation.

“That said strip of land and the way over the same shall forever be held by the Town of Windham and perpetually kept open for the benefit only of residents of said Town who may desire to use said way for access to said lake, said way to be called the Willard E. Dow Right of Way,” the 1951 deed states.

“Folks who have been using it (who are not residents of Windham) have been using it illegally based on the deed restrictions,” Town Administrator David Sullivan said.

Possibly changing the wording

The Canobie Lake Protective Association petitioned to ask the town to look into the wording so that they could enforce the rules and allow Salem residents with lakefront properties to still use the boat access seasonally — to launch their boats in the spring and pull them out in the fall.

Don Priccirillo, president of the association, is a Salem resident who uses the launch, he said, citing it as the only public access for Salem residents.

“We had high hopes for a sensible solution,” he said, acknowledging that neighbors of the launch had complained about noise from people using the ramp.

“I would like to talk to the people that filed the petition against our petition,” Priccirillo said. “I hope to think collectively to get to a sensible solution that can help Salem residents, as well as secure (Windham residents') property.”

However, that hope was dashed Monday night when the Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 to not pursue the petition to change the words, instead they opted to ask Lewis to look into options of better enforcing the words of the deed.

“I believe we have an obligation (to our residents) to abide by the deed restrictions,” Lewis said.

Ten residents of Hayes Hart Road sent a letter reiterating that the boat launch is deeded to Windham residents to use in perpetuity.

During the meeting residents also asked how the change could affect neighborly relationships, how this could impact people’s donations to the town, and how it could affect trout stocking in the lake.

Still able to fish?

Currently the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department stocks Canobie Lake. One potential concern fishers have for the lake is will the department continue to stock it with trout if public access is impacted?

The department only stocks waterways where “reasonable public access is provided.”

In a letter the department states it could reconsider the “‘rate’ of trout stocking” if “public access to a waterbody were to change.”

However, in the same letter the department says that “public access is not specific to ‘boat’ access. The Department stocks many water bodies within the State of New Hampshire that do not have ‘boat ramps’ or ‘boat access facilities.’”

It’s not yet known how, or if, the department’s stocking practice at Canobie would change if the access to the boat ramp was more strictly enforced.

Rainbow trout, which is what the department uses to stocks waterways, are not indigenous to New Hampshire. The fish are for recreation purposes, not ecological ones, a spokesperson for the department said.

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