State of the Beach/State Reports/NH/Beach Access
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New Hampshire is one of five ocean coastal states (Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Virginia) that do not own the intertidal zone.
In the State of New Hampshire, distinction is made for water access depending upon whether it is State owned or maintained.
- "Public" or State access sites are defined under RSA 270:20a as "...legal passage to any of the public waters of the state by way of designated contiguous land owned or controlled by a State agency, assuring that all members of the public shall have access to and use of the public waters for recreational purposes."
- "Other" access is defined in the Public Access Plan for New Hampshire's Lakes, Ponds and Rivers (OSP, 1991) as "...legal passage by way of designated land owned or controlled by a public entity (e.g. federal, municipal) or private entity (e.g. commercial, private nonprofit, individual landowner) for the purpose of providing active or passive recreational opportunities and/or use of the public waters of the state, and where such legal passage may or may not involve a fee."
In December 2014 Superior Court Marguerite Wageling ruled the public has a right to access the beach through Sanders Poynt property in Rye owned by Bill Binnie and the adjacent Wentworth by the Sea Country Club he owns because the public has accessed the beach that way for more than 20 years. In her ruling, Judge Wageling delayed defining how extensive the public access will be, while noting it "may extend not only to beach access, but to parking and boat-launching rights." The case was brought to the Superior Court by 24-year Rye resident Robert Jesurum, who said he's been using Sanders Poynt to access the beach since moving to Rye. Jesurum initially appealed a town building permit sought by Binnie and the club, who are referenced in the judge's order as the "Wentworth defendants." Jesurum objected to their permit for a fence, on the grounds that it blocks public access to the beach, while arguing the public has so-called prescriptive easement rights to the area by virtue of using that access to the beach for decades.
The judge's decision notes that the town granted the building permit for the fence on July 29, 2012, while noting the permit said it "does not constitute an admission by the town that there are no public prescriptive rights to use the area behind the fence." In addition to the fence, the Wentworth defendants added juniper shrubs and eight boulders which the town said were significant enough to require review by the Planning Board, according to the judge's order. The town then ordered the Wentworth parties to apply for a site plan review for the boulders and bushes, but they refused, according to the judge. The judge wrote that 20 years of uninterrupted use of land is required for a finding that prescriptive rights are in effect. The judge wrote that evidence proves the public has used the area to park and access the beach, without the Wentworth defendants' permission, for at least 20 years before the fence was erected. The judge's order notes that the town has also considered the land to be public space for decades. Read more here.
In December 2016 the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the public's right to access Little Harbor beach, from Sanders Poynt, by crossing land owned by the Wentworth by the Sea Country Club. In a 12-page decision, the Supreme Court agreed with Rye resident Robert Jesurum and his attorneys, Paul McEachern and associate Jake Marvelley, that there was "uncontradicted evidence" that the public accessed the beach area since at least 1976 and the town of Rye posted a sign and regulated the area since 1995. More.
78% of the shoreline in New Hampshire is publicly owned, according to Pogue P. and Lee V., 1999, "Providing Public Access to the Shore: The Role of Coastal Zone Management Programs," Coastal Management 27:219-237.
This same document identifies 157 public access sites. This corresponds to about one public access site for every 0.8 miles of tidal shoreline.
As mentioned above, nearly 78 percent of New Hampshire’s beaches along the Atlantic coast are publicly owned by the state or local communities. While more of Great Bay’s shoreline is privately owned, motorized and non-motorized access points as well as trails and wildlife viewing points are widely available. During recent years, NHCP supported the design and creation of new public access opportunities and the improvement of existing public access sites in the coastal area. For example, NHCP funded construction of a boardwalk at Odiorne State Park in Rye. The boardwalk provides public access from the parking lot to the park’s trails. Prior to construction of the boardwalk, people walked across the marsh to access the trails. The project also improved a parking area and a boat access site in conjunction with native salt marsh restoration.
NHCP funded construction of a finger pier at the Pierce Island boat launch in Portsmouth. The lack of a pier at the city’s only public boat launching facility coupled with the area’s water depths and currents made launching boats at the site a challenge. The addition of the pier improves the facility’s safety by allowing boaters to secure their watercraft. Additionally, the Pierce Island pier construction was undertaken in conjunction with two related recreational projects: (1) boat ramp improvements at the Pierce Island boat launch; and (2) development of the Portsmouth Canoe and Kayak Water Trail.
The New Hampshire Coastal Program spent 2006 updating the 1999 NH Coastal Access Map, and the revised map was released in the summer of 2007. Existing access sites were visited and the owners/operators of these sites were contacted to be sure that location and related information is accurate and up-to-date. The updated map, which is accessible in pdf format on the NH Coastal Program Website, includes information for boaters, kayakers, hikers, and bird watching enthusiasts. The map includes all coastal boat access points and also offers a guide to hiking trails, fishing and wildlife viewing locations and will help visitors plan a day of outdoor activities on the beautiful coast of New Hampshire. The guide includes points of interest such as museums and science and education centers offering a wide range of nature-based entertainment for families. Contact Mary Power at (603) 559-1500 or firstname.lastname@example.org for hardcopies.
The Coastal Access Map provides the following information:
The New Hampshire coast includes:
- 18.57 miles of Atlantic shoreline
- 235.38 miles of estuarine shoreline
- Sand dunes
- Sandy beaches
- Rocky shorelines
- Salt marshes
Even better than the Coastal Access map is the Coastal Atlas, launched in June 2014, which is a new tool to show information on coastal public access, shellfish bed closures, and beach advisories in an easy-to-use format.
The New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation Website has information on State Parks and Beaches, including lists of all state parks by: alphabetized order, recreational activities offered (although surfing is not included), and region. This site also includes information on beach advisories, conditions, and boating access information. There are 5 state park beaches along the New Hampshire seacoast - Wallis Sands, Jenness Beach, North Beach, North Hampton Beach, and Hampton Beach State Park Beach.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFG), the lead agency for public water access, maintains an up-to date inventory and maps of their public, or State, boating and fishing access sites. Though this information does not provide a comprehensive look at all (e.g. private, municipal, federal) water access sites across the state, it does provide a solid base of information about sites guaranteed by the State.
Overall, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Public Access inventory lists 210 State-run public access sites on 151 different lakes, ponds and rivers. Merrimack County has the highest number of identified access sites, followed by Grafton County and Coos County. Merrimack County also had the highest number of trailer boat parking access sites. This data can also be examined by comparing the number of public access sites in a region/county to the miles of available shoreline. These figures again allow for some general comparisons to be made across different counties in the state. Again, this information provides a baseline of State-owned water access. There are many "other" access opportunities provided by other public or private entities not reported by this analysis.
Additional information about New Hampshire Coastal and Inland beaches can be found here and here.
On average, New Hampshire has one public (State) water access site per 28 miles of shoreline. Carroll County, by far, has the fewest number of public access sites available per mile of shoreline/riverfront. Merrimack and Sullivan counties have the highest density of State-run access sites.
Although not on the ocean coast, two new public access points in the coastal zone are in the process of being created: one for canoeing and kayaking in Greenland, New Hampshire associated with the Winnicut Dam removal and fishpass project; the second a trail system in Hampton at Ice Pond.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has announced that the NH Coastal Program at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services will receive $500,000 in stimulus funding for the Winnicut River Dam Removal Project in Greenland. The Winnicut Dam is owned by the NH Fish and Game Department. It’s situated at the head-of-tide on the Winnicut River in Greenland, and represents the only anthropogenic barrier to upstream fish movement along the main stem of the river. The Coastal Program is currently receiving bids for the installation of the fishpass under the Route 33 Bridge and the removal of the Winnicut River Dam immediately downstream of the bridge. There is current discussion between the Town of Greenland and NH Department Fish and Game for boat, canoeing and kayaking access to the Winnicut River. Work is slated to begin in August 2009 and should be completed in March 2010.
- The town of Hampton’s Conservation Commission was recently awarded a $25,000 grant. A portion of the funds will be used to construct two nature trails near and around the historic Lamprey Ice Pond off Woodland Road. Voters approved purchasing the 12 ½ acres of land off Woodland Road, which included the Ice Pond, back in 2005 in order to protect the land and wildlife habitats in the area from further development. The Ice Pond is listed as a prime wetland and is cited in the town’s Open Space Prioritization Study as one of the most important areas for water resources and wildlife habitat. The deal between the town and the parcel's owner was finalized in 2007. The Coastal Program funded a preliminary engineering study of the dam located at Ice Pond. The study is part of a larger project to protect the land around the pond and establish public access there. As part of the project, two nature trails near and around the historic Lamprey Ice Pond off Woodland Road will be constructed. The two new trails, which will be handicapped assessable, will lead down to the shore of the pond.
The New Hampshire Outdoors Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP 2008-2013), prepared by the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, is available online.
GRANIT, New Hampshire's statewide GIS clearinghouse, is a great technical/mapping resource.
Beach Attendance Records
Information on beach attendance in New Hampshire was not readily available.
The SCORP 2008-2013 report stated that estimated use of State Parks (inland and beach) was reported at 3.68 million in 1998 and 6.69 million in 2001.
Economic Evaluation of Beaches
No specific information on the economic contribution of beaches to the economy was found.
The Coastal Program is partnering with the Great Bay Siltation Commission to conduct a recreational use survey of Great Bay recreational users on their experiences in Great Bay. The results of the survey were scheduled to be released in 2010.
Information in the 2008-2013 SCORP report indicates that direct spending in New Hampshire by visitors in 2005 reached $4.136 billion and paid $112.5 million in rooms and meals taxes. Traveler spending supported 66,700 direct full-time and part-time jobs.
NOAA's Office for Coastal Management (OCM) has written a discussion of the recreational value of beaches, in the context of beach fill projects. In 2009 OCM released Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, a basic introduction to economic ideas and methods that can be applied to coastal resource management. The economic concepts provided in this introduction are illustrated through several case studies. Other OCM/Digital Coast publications can be found here.
The following two websites provide information on the economic value of coasts and the ocean throughout the country.
The National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP) provides a full range of the most current economic and socio-economic information available on changes and trends along the U.S. coast and in coastal waters. You can download data on jobs and GDP associated with specific types of coastal activities for each coastal state. You also can download data on commercial fishing and landings. The NOEP made public their fully updated Non-Market Valuation website in September 2008. The largest database in the world of studies documenting the environmental and recreational values of ocean resources, the website now includes 1) an updated methodologies section, 2) frequently asked questions, 3) examples of how Non-Market valuation influences public policy, and 4) an expanded table summarizing valuation estimates from across the United States. In 2014 NOEP released an updated State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2014, which points out that there is an imbalance between the economic importance of coasts and coastal oceans and the federal support for stewardship of these resources. According to the report, coastal states supply over 81 percent of American jobs and contribute $13 trillion to the economy, or 84 percent of GDP. More on this here. The National Ocean Economics Program previously released State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2009, which presents time-series data compiled over the past 10 years that track economic activities, demographics, natural resource production, non-market values, and federal expenditures in the U.S. coastal zone on land and water. The report states that coastal states account for more than 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The most recent report released by NOEP is the State of the U.S. Ocean and Coastal Economies - 2016. The Center for the Blue Economy (CBE) at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey now houses the National Ocean Economics Program (NOEP).
The website of Restore America's Estuaries has a report The Economic and Market Value of Coasts and Estuaries: What's At Stake?. According to the report, U.S. coasts and estuaries that have been protected and managed in a sustainable way are worth billions. Beaches, coastal communities, ports, and fragile bays are economic engines that drive and support large sectors of the national economy. The report focuses on aspects of coasts and estuaries that are most dependent on ecologically healthy conditions. The authors also examined a growing body of research that reveals the economic consequences of environmental change in coastal and estuary ecosystems.
A report A Review and Summary of Human Use Mapping in the Marine and Coastal Zone was published in December 2010. This report was prepared by ERG for NOAA's Coastal Services Center. The report evaluated different methods and approaches to measure human uses of the coastal and marine environment. The uses were divided into 1) military and industrial uses, 2) consumptive uses (e.g., fishing) and 3) non-consumptive activities (e.g., swimming, surfing, kayaking).
The economic value of beaches can increase or decrease due to a number of factors, including beach width; the presence or absence of amenities such as parking, restrooms or lifeguard services; the suitability of the beach for activities such as surfing or swimming; and the presence or absence of pollution and beach litter. In June 2014 NOAA published an infographic on the high cost of marine debris based on the report Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California, which was prepared by Industrial Economics, Inc. for NOAA's Marine Debris Division. It found that having debris on the beach and good water quality are the leading factors in deciding which beach residents visit. Reducing marine debris by even 25 percent at beaches in and near Orange County, California, could save residents approximately $32 million during the summer by not having to travel long distances to other beaches. Beach characteristics were collected for 31 popular Southern California public beaches from San Onofre Beach to Zuma Beach. Orange County residents were also surveyed on their recreation habits, including how many day trips they took to the beach from June - August 2013, where they went, how much it cost them, and which beach characteristics are important to them. The results provided in an estimate if how much Orange County residents would potentially benefit, including how often they visit beaches and how much they would save in travel costs, over a summer season by reducing marine debris at some or all of these 31 beaches. The study focused on Orange County because of the number and variety of beaches, their importance to permanent residents, ease of access, and likelihood that marine debris would be present. Researchers believe that, given the results, the study could be modified for assessing similar coastal communities in the United States.
For additional general discussion of the economic impacts of beaches, please see the article Economic Impact of Beaches.
Perception of Supply and Demand
In 1997, the University of New Hampshire completed a statewide assessment for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to examine the need and demand for public access to lakes, ponds and rivers in the state. Respondents were asked if New Hampshire needs additional access to lakes, ponds, and rivers. About 44 percent of respondents indicated that New Hampshire needed additional access.
NHCP’s Enhancement Grants Program Assessment and Strategy has cited the lack of maintenance of and upgrades to existing facilities as the primary impediment to coastal public access in New Hampshire. Most of New Hampshire’s beach access facilities were built in the early 1960s and were not designed to accommodate current visitor levels. The Department of Resources and Economic Development’s Division of Parks and Recreation is self-funded and relies on user fees; it does not have a capital improvement fund or long-term maintenance plan for its facilities. New Hampshire’s beaches experience erosion from coastal storms, and yearly beach nourishment is required to ensure public beach access. However, each town has its own resources, and there is no consistent, cooperative effort to understand and to address coastal erosion processes on a regional basis. NHCP has identified a need for local communities and the Division of Parks and Recreation to collaborate regionally on beach erosion.
Another complicating factor is that no single agency is responsible for tracking all coastal access information and providing it to the public. Instead, several agencies track different types of access. For example, the Office of Energy and Planning maintains a draft database of public access points to the water. However, the list does not include other types of coastal access such as trails, boardwalks or interpretive centers. The Department of Fish and Game maintains a list of boat launches and fishing access points. These tracking systems overlap in some ways but not in others, making it difficult to track the overall availability of coastal public access in New Hampshire.
NHCP has ranked public access issues such as facilities maintenance and beach erosion as a medium priority for the program. NHCP plans to continue working on public access and will assess whether future program changes will be required. Specifically, NHCP will focus on: (1) developing and conducting a survey of New Hampshire residents’ perceptions of coastal access; (2) working with the Department of Resources and Economic Development to develop a long-term beach facilities maintenance plan; and (3) exploring ways to fund research on coastal sediment transport processes.
The Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) 2008-2013 identified the following statewide outdoor recreation facts and trends:
- A majority of recreation leaders (recreation directors), surveyed by UNH in 2007, felt that local recreational demand exceeds supply for a range of recreation resources, including athletic fields, bike lanes/paths, pet/dog parks, skateboard parks, public campsites, and greenway corridors.
- State parks have seen an increase in attendance. Current estimates indicate New Hampshire State Parks saw around 6.69 million visitors in 2001.
- Many of the most popular activities in New Hampshire are similar to those identified in nationwide studies. Wildlife observation, driving for pleasure, sightseeing, and jogging/running/walking are extremely popular activities. Additionally, these activities show a high frequency of participation. Day hiking tends to be more popular in New Hampshire than the national average.
- New Hampshire residents born in the state have higher participation rates than those born elsewhere for several different outdoor recreational activities including hunting, fishing, motor sports, activities that require developed settings, and active pursuits (e.g. swimming, jogging, hiking, rock climbing, etc.).
- Boating registrations doubled between 1980 and 1990 and increased over 19 percent between 1990 and 2000, reaching a peak of almost 13 percent growth in 2001. Since then, the annual rate of increase is just shy of one percent.
- Between 1990 and 2000, the state’s population increased by over 11 percent. The rate of increase from 2000 to 2005 slowed to 6 percent. Even with the slowed growth, the increase in population means the demand for outdoor recreation opportunities (as measured by participation level) is also likely to increase.
- According to US statistics, New England, as a region, has higher income levels than the U.S. average. New Hampshire is the sixth highest and Connecticut, the first. People with middle incomes tend to show higher participation rates in outdoor recreation than those with low incomes.
- Available LWCF grants in 2005 and 2006 fell far below the demand for funding. In those two years, there were 37 local proposals totaling almost $740,000 in requests. A total of 10 grants equaling $200,000 were awarded.
- The impact of global warming on outdoor recreation is a critical consideration that has not been fully understood. One study, “Winter Recreation and Climate Variability in New Hampshire” indicates that global warming is already having a direct impact on winter recreation.
- State Parks has begun to implement the “Leave No Child Inside” initiative with a sixweek program, “The Great Park Pursuit,” to address the nature-deficit trend in New Hampshire.
Public Education Program
NHCP's Coastal Access Map is widely distributed at public events, including waterfront festivals that happen throughout the spring and summer as well as at the annual WILD New Hampshire Day, which attracts thousands of visitors. In addition, information on public access points is available at the New Hampshire State Parks Website and office.
Other sources of coastal information and education include:
- Fort Constitution
- New Castle NH 03854
- Located at the Fort Constitution site in New Castle at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, this facility focuses on marine fisheries research. Call for tour information.
- 570 Ocean Blvd.
- Rye, NH 03870
- This center offers schools, organizations and the general public a variety of exploratory programs, which include the rocky shore, tidal marshes, Gulf of Maine, and upland habitats. The Center is located at Odiorne State Park, which has 300 acres of parkland located along the Atlantic shoreline.
- 143 Pleasant Street
- Portsmouth, NH 03801
- The Society is a non-profit organization that promotes awareness and conservation of the marine environment through education and research in New England. This organization has several educational programs available on marine life and conservation, including a touch tank and inflatable whale presentation. Call to schedule a classroom visit or for beach clean-up information.
NH Coastal Programs
NH Department of Environmental Service
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