River access proposal in Litchfield raises concerns
By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON Union Leader Correspondent
LITCHFIELD — Several residents say a proposed plan to build an accessway to the Merrimack River would disturb local farming efforts, while others believe the project is long overdue.
The River Access Subcommittee is recommending that a driveway be constructed on town-owned property at 296 Charles Bancroft Highway, which leads directly to the Merrimack River. It is also proposing a parking area to accommodate up to 10 vehicles.
Although the land is used by the McQuesten family farm, the 13.6-acre parcel was previously purchased by the Litchfield Conservation Commission for $610,000.
“When the land was purchased, it was purchased to conserve farmland … I would hate to see more of it disappear,” said Gene Berg of 294 Charles Bancroft Highway.
As more development takes place throughout Litchfield, Berg said he is concerned the town’s farmland — which he said makes the community special — will continue to erode.
Under the proposal, a gravel driveway about 20 feet wide and 500 feet long would be constructed on the property.
The access point could be used for kayaks, canoes and other hand-carried boats, and no trees will need to be demolished in order for the driveway to be built, say organizers.
The project would use up to 1.5 acres of the parcel, with the driveway extending from Route 3A to within about 250 feet of the river, according to the conceptual plan, which also includes a walking path that leads directly to the water.
A gate would be constructed near Route 3A that could be closed and locked at night to prevent entry, and a fence should also be considered as part of the project, along with security cameras and boulders to prevent individuals from accessing the nearby farmland, said Jayson Brennen of the River Access Subcommittee.
During a public hearing last week before the Litchfield Board of Selectmen, Jake McQuesten said the area being considered is currently used by the McQuesten family farm for irrigation purposes, adding expensive equipment is housed in that location.
“If we invite people to go into this area, we feel that it might be closed in a few years because of vandalism,” said McQuesten. “The fact is, we could lose severe amounts of income on that area.”
Others told town officials that river access should be a priority.
“Right now there is very little good access for this stretch of the river,” said Gene Porter, chairman of the Lower Merrimack River Local Advisory Committee.
Josh Lane of 375 Charles Bancroft Highway echoed his support, saying the Merrimack River is a pristine amenity that should be easily available to Litchfield’s youth.
“There is no reason why we should not have access to this river,” he said, stressing the town owns the property and can do with it what it wants.
Matt McQuesten said he is not opposed to providing river access, but does not believe the farmland is the ideal spot for the project.
“It is just going to invite drugs and alcohol,” he said, maintaining it will not be patrolled and could create trouble down the road.
Peter Ames of Moose Hollow Road disagreed. As a member of the town’s recreation commission, Ames said the project is a great opportunity to promote more activity on the river, an under-used an amenity in the town.