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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Designated Rivers

II. The Cold River Nomination

A. Description

The Cold River begins at Crescent Lake which straddles the Unity/Acworth town line. From there the River flows for 22.4 miles through the communities of Lempster, Acworth, Alstead, Langdon, and Walpole before reaching its confluence with the Connecticut River. The Cold River Watershed drains an area encompassing 101.6 square miles. From its headwaters at Crescent Lake, at an elevation of 1,211 feet above sea level, the Cold River drops steeply at an average slope of about 44 feet per mile to its confluence with the Connecticut River where the elevation is 236 feet above sea level. Along the way, the River drops over numerous cascades and rapids, and passes through several gorges.

Land use along the Cold River is primarily rural. In the upper reaches of the River, from the outlet of Crescent Lake to South Acworth, most of the river corridor is forested. Downstream of South Acworth, through the towns of Langdon, Alstead and Langdon again, land use along the River is a mixture of forest, agriculture and scattered residential housing, interrupted only by the small villages of Alstead and Drewsville, the latter of which is part of the Town of Walpole. Below Drewsville, there are sizable sand and gravel excavations located near the River. Near the confluence with the Connecticut, agriculture again dominates the landscape.

B. River Values and Characteristics

The Rivers Management and Protection Program identifies a number of river-related values and characteristics which may qualify a river for designation. The Cold River supports many of these including a variety of natural, managed, cultural, recreational and other resource values. Some are significant at the local level; others are significant at either the state or national level. The resource values which qualify the Cold River for designation include geology, wildlife, vegetation and natural communities, fish, water quality, natural flow, open space, impoundments, water withdrawal, historic and archeological, community river resources, boating, other recreation, public access, scenery, land use, land use controls, and water quantity.

1. Natural Resources

a. Geologic Resources: The Cold River Valley contains numerous exposures of its rich geologic past. These include the Ammonoosuc Volcanics at Osgood Ledge, the juncture of the Partridge and Littleton formations at Beryl Mountain, the Alstead Dome, and the exposure of the Bellows Falls Pluton at Drewsville Gorge. The Valley is also rich in pegmatites which are coarse-grained granites that contain large mineral crystals. Feldspar crystals fourteen feet long and beryl crystals four feet long were found at Beryl Mountain, located just south of South Acworth. These and other deposits make the Cold River Valley a geologist's and rock hound's delight. The Valley is also rich in glacial sand and gravel deposits. The most notable of these occurs in Walpole and Langdon near the confluence with the Connecticut River where a commercial sand and gravel operation known as Cold River Materials has been established.

b. Wildlife Resources: The Cold River supports a diverse habitat comprised of wetlands, forest and agricultural open space that is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Especially important are the large wetland systems located in the upper reaches of the Cold River which, along with other wetlands located elsewhere in the watershed, provide important habitat for migrating waterfowl and other birds. The steep topography of the Cold River Valley and its location remote from the more populated parts of Cheshire and Sullivan Counties have benefited wildlife in the river corridor. According to the NH Fish and Game Department, Acworth has more deer yards and wintering deer than any other community in Sullivan County, with most occurring along the Cold River and its tributaries.

The River supports a number of rare and endangered bird species including the nationally-endangered bald eagle and peregrine falcon which have been sighted at the mouth of the Cold River. The River also supports two state-threatened raptors, the Cooper's hawk and osprey. In addition, the state-endangered sedge wren is known to breed in Lempster, and although not documented, there is a good possibility that it may inhabit some of the marshes in the upper reaches of the Cold River. Historical records indicate that the timber rattlesnake may also be found in the river corridor in the vicinity of Fall Mountain in Walpole.

c. Vegetation and Natural Communities: There is a great diversity of plant species found in the Cold River corridor. Forest type changes several times due to variation in elevation and the widening of the river valley as one moves downstream. In the upper reaches of the river, the forest has a boreal feel to it with balsam fir and red spruce being common. Below Honey Brook, sugar maple, white pine, hemlock, yellow birch, black birch, and beech dominate the forest. In the Alstead area, vegetation changes to a southern hardwood type forest. Below Drewsville, the forest contains many riparian and other species that thrive in wet conditions. Silver maple, cottonwood, and sycamore are common in the floodplain.

The New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory lists five state-threatened plant species as occurring along the Cold River. They are the Black Maple, Ciliated Willow-Herb, Four-Leaved Milkweed, Goldie's Fern, and Meadow Horsetail. Another ten threatened or endangered plant species which are listed at the state or federal level occur elsewhere in the Cold River Watershed. These are the Bur Sedge, Downy False-Foxglove, Narrow-Leaved Spleenwort, Northeastern Bulrush, Northern Waterleaf, Philadelphia Panic-Grass, Sweet Goldenrod, Three-Leaved Black Snakeroot, Virginian Mountain Mint, and Woodland Hound's Tongue. Three exemplary natural ecological communities are associated with the Cold River corridor: Southern New England Acidic Rocky Summit/Rock Outcrop, Central New England Dry Transitional Forest, and Southern New England Floodplain Forest.

d. Fish Resources: The Cold River is primarily a cold water fishery that provides habitat for approximately 13 resident species as recorded by the NH Fish and Game Department during a 1988 survey. Naturally-reproducing cold water species include blacknose dace, longnose dace, common shiner, longnose sucker, common white sucker, creek chub, slimy sculpin. Naturally-reproducing warm water species found in the Cold River include brown bullhead, golden shiner and spottail shiner. Introduced game species include brown, brook and rainbow trout. The River is stocked annually with these species as well as with Atlantic salmon as part of an ongoing anadromous fish restoration effort. The importance of the Cold River for fishery habitat is highlighted by its designation as a special focus area under the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge for the presence of nursery and rearing habitat for juvenile Atlantic salmon, as well as for potential spawning habitat for adults. Walleye are reported to be present in the River below Drewsville gorge, and Fish and Game biologists also suspect that sea lamprey may be found in the River during spawning time, although the latter is not documented.

e. Water Quality: The Cold River has been designated a Class B water by the General Court. The River is currently fully supporting the standards of this water quality goal. The Department of Environmental Services monitors the water quality of the Cold River at two locations, the Route 123A bridge crossing in Alstead and the Route 123 bridge crossing in Walpole. The significance of maintaining a high level of water quality in the Cold River is evidenced by the use of the River for recreational purposes and by the presence of a high quality cold water fishery.

f. Natural Flow Characteristics: From its headwaters at Crescent Lake, the Cold River is 99.3% percent free-flowing, the one exception being the impoundment at Vilas Pool in Alstead. Except for periodic maintenance, the dam at Vilas Pool is operated in a "run-of-river" manner that does not impact flow. There are no diversions, channel alterations, or interbasin transfers.

g. Open Space: The Cold River corridor is predominantly undeveloped. Most of the land in the upper portion of the river corridor is either forested or wetland. Downstream from South Acworth, the corridor is dominated by a mixture of forest and agricultural land, but also includes the small villages of Alstead and Drewsville. Agricultural open space dominates the landscape near the confluence of the Cold and Connecticut Rivers. Protected open space within the river corridor includes a 10.1-acre parcel owned by the NH Fish and Game Department at the confluence of the Cold and Connecticut Rivers, a 63.1-acre town-owned wetland along both sides of the Cold River in East Acworth, and portions of the Honey Brook State Forest where Honey Brook meets the Cold River in Acworth.

2. Managed Resources

a. Impoundments: There are 13 active or historic dams on the Cold River. Of these, eleven have been breached. The two remaining dams are located at Crescent Lake and Vilas Pool. The Crescent Lake Association dam is 3 feet high and 40 feet long, and creates a 116-acre impoundment. The Vilas Pool dam is 31 feet high and 135 feet long, and creates a 6-acre impoundment that is used for recreational purposes and also functions as an important source of water for fire-fighting.

b. Water Withdrawals and Discharges: The only water withdrawal from the Cold River that is registered with the Department of Environmental Services is that of Lane Construction Corporation (formerly F. W. Whitcomb Construction). The water is used for their gravel operation known as Cold River Materials. In 1998, Lane Construction's seasonally adjusted average daily water withdrawal from the Cold River was 13,200 gallons per day. The company also used a seasonally adjusted average of 161,900 gallons per day from a nearby pond. There are no permitted direct discharges of wastewater to the Cold River.

c. Hydroelectric Resources: There are no existing hydroelectric power production facilities on the Cold River. Several comprehensive studies of potential hydroelectric power sites were conducted in the early 1980s, each with different priorities and criteria. None of the studies identified any potentially feasible sites on the Cold River or its tributaries.

3. Cultural Resources

a. Historic and Archaeological Resources: There are a number of sites of historic interest along the Cold River. Many buildings in the area were constructed during the early to mid 1800s. Two of these buildings are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: the Hutton House in Alstead and the Drewsville Mansion in Walpole. Already listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the McDermott Covered Bridge in Langdon. Built in 1869, this is the third bridge to have crossed the Cold River at this location. Although there are no documented archaeological sites in the river corridor, Native Americans are known to have used the floodplain area at the confluence of the Cold and Connecticut Rivers for years, and Bellows Falls which is located just one mile to the north of the confluence was an important gathering site for many tribes during the salmon and shad runs.

b. Community River Resources: The importance of the Cold River as a community resource is reflected in the local planning and protection efforts of the communities along the River. Town master plans in Lempster and Acworth discuss the importance of the Cold River to these communities. Walpole is updating its master plan and adding a new section dealing with natural features that emphasizes the areas adjacent to the Cold and Connecticut Rivers. In Alstead, the community recognized the importance of its water resources - including the Cold River - by developing and adopting a Water Resources Management Plan.

4. Recreational Resources

a. Fishery: The Cold River is a very popular trout fishery. The River is stocked annually with brook, brown and rainbow trout and most stretches are heavily fished. Some of the tributary streams provide recreational fishing for native brook trout. Anglers are also reported to catch walleye below the Drewsville Gorge each spring.

b. Boating: The generally free-flowing nature of the Cold River provides challenging whitewater boating opportunities for canoes and kayaks. The fairly-continuous rapids are best run in the spring time at medium to high water. Various published river guides rate the River as Class II; one gives it a Class III rating when the water is very high. Whitewater boaters can put in below the gorge in South Acworth and paddle all the way to the Connecticut River, with portages at Vilas Pool and Drewsville Gorge. Vilas Pool also provides an opportunity for row boating during the summer months.

c. Other Recreation: Swimming, hiking, birdwatching and hunting are other recreational activities that people enjoy in or near to the Cold River. The Town of Alstead owns a multiple use recreation area at Vilas Pool. Built and donated to the Town in 1926, the facility provides swimming, boat rentals, picnic areas, swings, pavilions and a refreshment stand. Elsewhere, numerous swimming holes dot the Cold River. During the winter, the frozen river is sometimes used by cross country skiers who take advantage of its relatively flat course. Nearby rock faces provide challenging ice climbs and snowmobile trails span the Cold River at various places.

d. Public Access: There is a variety of access to the Cold River, some publicly-owned and some private. Publicly-owned access sites include Vilas Pool in Alstead which provides a boat launch, canoe take-out, swimming and fishing; Millot Green in Alstead Village which provides a canoe put-in and fishing; and the NH Fish and Game Department access at the mouth of the Cold River in Walpole which provides parking and a paved boat launch to the Connecticut River. There is also informal, publicly-owned access for fishing and canoeing at various bridge crossings in Acworth, Alstead, Langdon, and Walpole.

5. Other Resources

a. Scenery: The Cold River corridor provides scenes of a traditional New England landscape with its fields, forests, quaint villages and rushing river. It also offers the spectacular scenery of a river hard at work as seen in the falls and gorges at Deep Hole in South Acworth, Vilas Pool in Alstead, and Drewsville Gorge in Walpole. The broad wetlands in the upper reaches of the River, the fertile agricultural fields farther downstream, and the gently-flowing rapids interrupted by falls and gorges, combine to make the Cold River an important scenic resource. Scenic views of the River can be appreciated along much of Routes 123 and 123A, as well as from various bridge crossings.

b. Land Use: From the outlet of Crescent Lake to South Acworth, undeveloped forest and wetlands dominate the landscape. Human influence becomes more apparent as one moves downstream from South Acworth, most noticeably at the small villages at South Acworth, Alstead, and Drewsville. A variety of land uses are present between Drewsville and the confluence of the Cold River with the Connecticut River. Land use along this part of the River includes a mixture of forest and agriculture in Langdon followed by a large sand and gravel operation in Walpole. Downstream of the gravel excavation, there is a mixture of farm, forest, residential, and commercial use.

c. Land Use Controls: Many of the towns along the Cold River have established land use or other regulatory controls which afford some protection to the Cold River. Lempster's Subdivision Regulations provide protection for water resources through standards for sewage disposal, and erosion and sedimentation. The Town of Acworth's Zoning Ordinance establishes a 100-foot setback from all streambanks, including the Cold River. Alstead's Floodplain Development Ordinance requires a special permit for development in the 100-year floodplain. Walpole's Land Subdivision Control Regulations and Site Plan Review Regulations restrict the subdivision of floodplains and poorly-drained soils, and also address stormwater management.

d. Water Quantity: From July 1940 to September 1978, the US Geological Survey maintained a stream gauge at the Drewsville Gorge. The gauge is now privately owned by a geology professor at Boston University. There are no publicly-maintained operating stream gauges on the Cold River.

e. Riparian Interests/Flowage Rights: Flowage rights exist historically for the impoundments associated with the Crescent Lake dam and Vilas Pool dam, but are not documented.

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