Select Board votes to rewrite Dublin Lake ‘no swimming’ sign

The Dublin Select Board voted on Monday evening to rewrite the “no swimming in launch area” sign at the Dublin Lake boat launch. Select Board Chairman Charlie Champagne and Selectman Sterling Abrams voted yes, while Selectman Sturdy Thomas abstained. The new sign will read: “swim at your own risk.”

The decision follows the Selectmen’s review of an Oct. 21 letter sent by the New Hampshire Public Water Access Advisory Board, which recommended that the town remove or rewrite the sign.

After visiting the launch off Lake Road on Sept. 16 and reviewing the 1961 deed in which Fanny Dwight Clark granted the Town of Dublin the lake access site, the Advisory Board felt that the sign was not in accordance with the deed’s intended purpose. In the letter, Advisory Board Chairman and Manchester attorney Thomas Quarles wrote:

“The deed clearly states that the public access site was given to the town for all legitimate public access purposes including ‘bathing’ and even describes the site as including a ‘small beach.’”

These phrases, Quarles continued, indicated swimming from the Dublin Lake access site as an intended use by Clark. “Discouraging or restricting swimming is inconsistent with the deed which treats all legitimate public water uses equally,” Quarles wrote.

The letter also mentioned that the shallow waters, sandy bottom, and 10 mph speed restriction at the access site ensure that the boats launching there “are either non-motorized or small fishing boats,” minimizing the possibility of swimmer and motor-boat contact. The Advisory Board suggested that the town change the sign to something like “swim at own risk” or “swimmers stay clear of launching boats.”

This public water access case felt important enough for Quarles and the Advisory Board to take on, all of whom are volunteers operating with scarce resources. Quarles spoke in a phone interview before the Monday meeting about the issue of swimmers thinking they can’t swim at a site granted for that purpose. “It’s important because there’s a deed,” Quarles said.

The question of the Dublin Lake sign first arose during the summer, when resident and long-time Dublin Lake swimmer Steve Baldwin brought the Fanny Dwight Clark’s deed to the Select Board’s attention at a meeting on June 10, pointing out that swimming should be allowed at the boat launch. Though the Select Board initially considered re-wording the sign, they wanted some outside input first. The Board requested a recommendation from Dublin’s Attorney Matt Serge in June. Serge sent a letter to the Board that pointed out RSA 41:11-a, which authorizes a board to regulate the use of publicly owned land. Town Administrator Sherry Miller said on the phone on Monday that the town approached Serge to review the deed and boat launch location in order to help the Board come to the best decision about the sign. The town spent $126 on Serge’s services.

The town also held a public forum on the matter, where they received mixed responses from town residents. Some thought the sign should be changed to allow swimming to keep with the spirit of the 1961 deed, and others thought safety and keeping the lake pristine called for leaving the sign the way it was. The Board voted unanimously on June 24 to keep the sign as-is, citing liability concerns about swimmers and motorized boats being in the same area.

For some, what the sign says doesn’t make much difference.

Tom Vanderbilt, Dublin Fire Chief, Safety Committee Chair, and Dublin resident, had spoke during the summer discussions of his concerns about swimmers and boats colliding. Though Vanderbilt voiced similar sentiments over the phone on Monday before the Select Board vote took place, Vanderbilt said that he didn’t think the issue was a big one. He pointed out that people swam at the boat launch despite the sign, and he also said that there other places to access Dublin Lake for swimming, including along Route 101 and at the Dublin Women’s Club beach for a fee of $100 per summer.

“It’s going to be fine either way,” he said.

For Baldwin, however, the decision to change the sign’s wording comes at the end of five months hard work. After finding the 1961 deed and bringing to the Select Board during the summer, Baldwin felt sure the change to the sign would be without issue. “It’s so black and white that this [access site] is a beach,” he said over the phone on Monday. When the Select Board decided against changing the sign in June, however, Baldwin asked the state to review the board’s decision.

After hearing the outcome of Monday’s vote, Baldwin was happy with the results. “I’m very pleased that everyone is welcome to swim freely in Dublin Lake and to follow the respectful wishes of Fanny Dwight Clark,” he said.

Baldwin offered to pay for the changes to the sign, though the Board later agreed that though they appreciated the gesture, the town should cover those costs.

Champagne said in Monday’s meeting that the sign will be changed before the spring. For those of you who plan on taking the polar plunge, still assume you should “swim at your own risk.”

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

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