Let’s Save the Islands of Meredith’s Beautiful Lake Wicwas
By DEAN DEXTER
An August Dawn on Lake Wicwas from Dexter Cottage -- Marie Dexter Photo, copyright, all rights reserved
A proposal before the Meredith Planning Commission* to allow a two lot subdivision on a small island on Lake Wicwas – down from an original request for three house lots -- will forever alter the beauty and quality of life on this Lakes Region treasure.
Variously known as Brandt or Bryant Island, or Chase Island, named after the late Meredith restaurateur Carl Chase who once owned it, this little spot is just under four acres and situated several hundred feet from a delicate loon habitat. It is also within ear-shot of the Hamlin natural sanctuary and the visual centerpiece for the Route 104 side of the water. Actually it is one of a total of five or six islands altogether on what is a very small body of water (some 322 acres and 1.2 miles long). In fact, it was not long ago, certainly within my lifetime, that most locals referred to Wicwas not as a lake, but as a pond.
Of course, growing up on Wicwas us kids were insistent about it being known as a lake as many of our friends lived on lakes. Lake Winnipesaukee, Lake Opechee, Lake Wakewan, Lake Whatever. In our minds only frogs, turtles and beavers lived on ponds.
A lot has changed since those days. Now the little seasonal cottages are disappearing, and handsome year ‘round homes are popping up along the shoreline. Interestingly, this building has tastefully blended well with nature. Wicwas so far has been able to maintain a delicate balance of both human development and scenic, natural beauty.
Part of the reason is that realistically except for only one island, the others are too small to build upon, thus the view from shore has remained untainted. Another reason is philanthropy. Some landowners as in the Hamlin Area have donated property for preservation. Other present and former owners, like my late father and grandparents restrained development under their ownership.
Current owners of Sheep Island, the lake’s largest island, have graciously preserved its natural state, despite area enough to develop many homes. As a youth I helped my grandfather’s hired men from Wicwas Lodge load sheep – kicking and bleating – into wooden row boats down the hill from the present Lakeland School to ferry them across for a summer of grazing on open fields. The fields are gone, filled now with beautiful woods and wild-life. Meredith artist Heidi Edgar has painted wonderful scenes there.
The Island’s present stewards have withstood the temptation to install pricey buildings and driveways and boat docks. How long that will last is anyone’s guess. When my grandmother sold Sheep Island, she stipulated that there would be no building there until her death. She was in her early-seventies then and died at one hundred in 1992, so at least that gem was saved for another generation.
But what of tiny Brandt-Chase Island? There is already a variance there for a modest house. One house too many, perhaps, but certainly no more for such a small place.
A couple of falls ago I rowed my canoe near a doe that was swimming across from the side of the island by the loon haven. She was a little nervous as I drew close, but soon she was bounding up the embankment into the woods where as children we picked blueberries. Blueberries still grow there.
And that’s the story. People have been generous and restrained in how they’ve treated Wicwas, which is an Indian name. My grandfather, Joe Smith, late County Commissioner, town Selectman and state legislator, said it meant “White Birches,” others say, “Head of the Bay.” The present spelling is debatable. Locals spell it Wicwas. State highway signs spell it Wickwas. Despite it’s name Wicwas has always been a beauty for both man and beast. People at the Meredith Historical Society will tell you about a number of black families that settled around the lake after stopping on their way to Canada 30 or 40 years before the Civil War, so it’s not just the Indians who have a claim to this lake’s history.
Wicwas is worth saving for this and future generations. Building septic systems, foundations, driveways, boat launches, wood, brick and mortar on tiny Brandt-Chase Island, or Sheep Island, will destroy a precious balance on Lake Wicwas. We have a duty to take care of treasures like this for present and future generations. Let’s stop something bad from happening before it’s too late. Let’s save the islands of Lake Wicwas, and thus save the lake itself.
Dean Dexter of Meredith and Concord serves on the Board of the Lake Wicwas Association. He has lived on Lake Wicwas since 1953. A former state representative, he has authored successful legislation to preserve state natural areas, including the establishment of the present Ahern Park on Lake Winnisquam. This guest opinion piece appeared in editions of the Laconia Citizen, The Laconia Daily Sun, and The Meredith News, in June of 2005.
*Current update: After many hearings and much litigation before various boards and in the New Hampshire courts, construction has been delayed on Brandt Island as of the current posting date.
Access Dean Dexter's blog here.
Posted, July 15, 2008
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