NORTH CONWAY — A family enjoying the beach Saturday on the northwest side of First Bridge on River Road watched as a group of young people pulled brightly colored kayaks onto the sand.
If a plan to change the location of the boat launch area to a spot slightly upriver continues to look good to selectmen, local and visiting grandparents will get the small bit of sandy beach on the Saco River back to themselves again. At the board's May 23 meeting, Conway selectmen voted to go ahead with a plan presented by Peter Gagne, owner of Saco Canoe Rentals Company.
The plan calls for the creation of a drive-through access on the northern side of the road, where commercial liveries and private boaters could off-load their watercraft without tying up traffic, and without blocking the North Conway Water Precinct's pump house and property on the southern side of the road.
There would be no parking along the turn-around, which would be one-way, with the exit at the present access gate to the town-owned Hussey Field. Though final details still need to be worked out, Gagne said grass pavers could be used to protect the ground, and some barrier or markers put in place to discourage drivers from going farther out into the field.
The plot where the old pump house sat is 150 by 150. There is still a spigot there that the public is allowed to use. The turn-around would circumvent the raised portion of the property, and a path would lead boaters to a spot up river from the bathing beach.
Last summer, the precinct allowed boaters, including the water recreation businesses that shuttle customers to and from the river, to put in by First Bridge on the southwest shore, after initially shutting off the access that had been used for decades.
The precinct, which had had a pump house on River Road in front of Hussey Field, upgraded the well and put a new building on the opposite side of the road. In order to protect the municipal water supply and keep vehicles from blocking employee access to the property, the precinct blocked it off last summer, though later agreed to let people use the path to the river as a short-term solution.
To address the issue, the town established the Saco River Advisory Committee, on which Gagne serves.
It's probably the busiest canoe launch in the state of New Hampshire, Gagne said. He said that about 10,000 canoers or kayakers launch from that site every year.
There was discussion on a permit process for the commercial users, that would provide funds for maintenance and pay for a detail officer for traffic control during the busiest times. Gagne said that on weekends there are about 60 or 70 cars parked along the road, and that the peak time for the liveries is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Gagne said there is a grant available to offset the expected $10,000 initial cost, adding the grant application is due June 5.
Though selectmen gave him the OK to move forward, they wanted him to come back on the 5th with more details.
Town manager Earl Sires said that the committee had met about six times since convening last fall, and that members included representatives of the North Conway Water Precinct, the liveries and town officials. The committee, he said, gained a thorough understanding of the situation and the options. Besides the precinct's original concerns, he said, the bank on the southwest side is now too steep.