The Laker

Squam Lakes Association: Conserving the Squam Lakes Watershed Region

Jun. 09, 2020

There is no doubt the ambiguous pandemic situation continues to cause turmoil in every aspect of people’s lives right now. This is especially difficult as summer is upon us; a season when most of us anticipate being in the great outdoors and are set to enjoy innumerable recreational choices.

The Squam Lakes Association (SLA) in Holderness has been an integral part of offering outdoor choices year-round, but especially in the spring through fall, and though they have had to alter some activities to comply with state guidelines due to the COVID-19 virus, they still have a variety of activities on tap, such as hiking their extensive trail system. At the SLA, constant endeavors to maintain and secure the quality of lake water, life on and around the lake and conservation efforts remain ‘business as usual’.

The SLA’s mission statement says, ‘The SLA is dedicated to conserving, for public benefit, the natural beauty, peaceful character and resources of the watershed. In collaboration with local and state partners, the SLA promotes the protection, careful use and shared enjoyment of the lakes, mountains, forests, open spaces and wildlife of the Squam Lakes region. The watershed area is a model for living in harmony with unique natural resources and cultural heritage.’ (The watershed area includes, besides the Big and Little Lakes, Barville, Jackson, Kesumpe, White Oak and Sky Ponds and Owl Brook and the Squam River. Towns in the watershed are Holderness, Ashland, Center Harbor, Sandwich, Moultonborough, Campton, Meredith and New Hampton.)

Boating on Squam

Boating on Squam

Big Squam is six miles long, 6,791 acres, four miles wide, has 61 miles of shoreline and is 98 feet deep. Little Squam is two miles long, half a mile wide, has 408 acres and is 84 feet deep. Big Squam boasts 67 islands. It is the second largest lake in the state, second only to Winnipesaukee.

Adel Barnes, Communications and Outreach Coordinator relates that the SLA was originally known as the Squam Lake Improvement Association. “It was founded in 1904 by community members concerned about the impacts of the logging industry and pollutants on the Squam Lakes. Some of the organization’s first actions in the early 1900s were to address the Ashland Dam’s impact on water levels, initiate measures to control the then-booming population of harmful gypsy moths in the area, and begin regular ‘sanitary inspections,’” Barnes said, adding “the internal organization of the SLA began to resemble what it is today.”

Besides Executive Director EB James, the SLA now has eight full-time staffers who direct/coordinate their respective departments, and 16 board members. Says James, “The staff is continually seeking out and applying for grants that will help us fund our continued efforts in the Squam Watershed.”

To this end, a steering committee was established in 2016 to update the watershed management plan and it involved diverse stakeholders from each town in the watershed area. The plan was completed just four months ago and included future goals and decision making concerning the watershed area, quality of lake water and possible build-outs in the surrounding towns. Responsibility of those towns and their planning/zoning boards was emphasized as were such things as continual water quality testing around both lakes and following contaminant/pollutant and invasive species reports. “It is a daunting task that will take time and will require community support,” noted Director of Conservation Tyson Morrill. “A conclusion of the report, though, is good news. Overall, the current water quality in the Squam Lakes remains ‘near excellent’ per state standards.”

The SLA headquarters/campus and public boat launch is located in Holderness on Rte. 3 and on Piper Cove. James explains it is a relatively recent development. The Old Colonial Eagle motel was purchased by the SLA in 1996 as a location for offices and a public access point to the lake. “It is from this location today we continue to serve our community and over 1,000 SLA members through our efforts in education, conservation, and access to both lakes and 50-plus miles of SLA trails throughout the Squam Watershed. Through cooperative relationships with local and state governments and the dedication of four generations of people who loved Squam, the watershed has been uniquely conserved.”

The SLA has had to cancel, postpone, or limit some programs for the summer. One they have had to suspend is the ever-popular Summer Youth programs. Leigh Ann Reynolds, Director of Education explains, “It is with sadness we are announcing that our Summer Youth Programs have been canceled this year due to the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19. We will continue to offer virtual programs like the upcoming Science Pub and Share Learn Adventure program.” (June 9; at www.squamlakes,org).

Another program, unfortunately cancelled, is their sailing program. “Sailing is a sport many experienced sailors can safely practice while staying physically distanced but the majority who attend our programs are beginners. This makes it harder to teach and assist while maintaining the appropriate distance so we made the tough decision to cancel all sailing programs this summer,” said Reynolds. “Canoe and kayaking rentals also are closed to the public but we are considering solutions to enable rentals later this summer. It depends on our ability to ensure the health and safety of our staff, community and renters.”

Folks who already have reservations for the SLA’s many campsites around the Big Lake and on the islands, will be able to use those sites but no new reservations are being accepted. “This enables us to limit the number of people on the sites, phasing in procedures based on the Governor’s guidance. Depending on that success we’ll decide whether to open reservations up later in the season. However, we will continue to provide people with access to the natural resources of Squam but are prioritizing, again, the health and safety of everyone.” A limited number of docks are provided for the campers only, on Moon and Bowman Islands and Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest.

There are over 50 miles of trails managed by the SLA which are open to the public. CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidelines require social distancing on the trails and no restrooms are provided at trail heads. If the trail parking lots are full, the SLA and police departments are asking hikers to refrain from hiking that particular trail and find an alternative trail.

A beautiful day at the Squam Lakes Association

A beautiful day at the Squam Lakes Association

The 169-acre Chamberlain-Reynolds Memorial Forest on College Rd. in Center Harbor is owned by the New England Forestry Foundation. It is 3.5 miles and is managed by the SLA. It is described as ‘easy recreational hiking’ with trails connecting and leading to the Big Lake. There are many other trails around the lake the SLA maintains as well, including the extremely popular Rattlesnake Mtn. Trail which has breathtaking views of Big Squam at its peak. The trail website says Rattlesnake is ‘well known and gets overwhelmed quickly but there are many other trail options where hikers can find space, a little seclusion and solitude.’

While the headquarter offices, deck and public restrooms are closed to the public, the campus and boat launch for paddle boats, sailboats, and powerboats with 25 HP or less are still open. CDC guidelines must be followed and, again, those using the area are reminded no restrooms are available and there will be limited sanitization of the picnic tables.

Please refer to for all trail information and clearly designated maps.

By Leigh Sharps
Photos courtesy Squam Lakes Association