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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Designated Rivers
Pemigewasset River

II. The Pemigewasset River Nomination

A. Description

The Pemigewasset River begins at Profile Lake in Franconia Notch and flows for 70 miles through the communities of Lincoln, Woodstock, Thornton, Campton, Plymouth, Holderness, Ashland, Bridgewater, New Hampton, Bristol, Hill, Sanbornton, and Franklin where it enters into the Merrimack River (see map). The Pemigewasset River Council has nominated 60 miles of the river. Ten miles through Lincoln and Woodstock are not nominated for designation. The Pemigewasset River watershed drains 1,000 square miles and has seven major tributaries, including the East Branch, Baker, Beebe, Mad, Smith, Squam and Newfound rivers.

Through the northern section of the river in Franconia Notch State Park the river corridor is generally undeveloped and natural in character. A few natural feature tourist attractions such as the Flume and the Basin are located near the river in this area. The river through Thornton and Campton include several falls, elevation drops and rocky bottoms. The largest falls, a drop of 50 feet, is located at Livermore Falls in Campton. The corridor through Thornton and Campton consists of scattered houses, and wooded areas. A broader river begins in Plymouth and meanders through a vast flood plain until it reaches Ashland where it drops slightly at the Sawhegenit Falls and then somewhat straightens. The corridor through Plymouth represents community use with businesses, houses, Plymouth State College and the town center all within one-quarter of a mile of the river. South of Plymouth the river quickly becomes rural in character with scattered housing, rock cliffs, fields, and forested areas. The river then supports community use again as it flows through the town of Franklin and enters into the Merrimack River.

B. River Values and Characteristics

The Rivers Management and Protection Program Act (RSA Ch. 483) lists nine river values and characteristics which may qualify a river for designation into the program. The resource values which qualify the Pemigewasset River for designation are: geologic resources; wildlife, plant and fish resources; water quality; scenic values; historic and archaeological resources; community resources; and recreational resources. The Pemigewasset River supports many of these natural, cultural, and recreational resource values and characteristics at a level of either statewide or local significance.

1 . Natural Resources

a. Geologic Resources: The southern Pemigewasset River valley was once part of a glacial lake extending north from Manchester. Much of the remains of that glacial lake can be found today along the Pemigewasset River. Dunes, deltas and terraces from the glacier have left sand deposits, sometimes reaching 100 feet deep, in the Pemigewasset Valley. The glacier left large outcroppings, basins, erratics, and gorges throughout the northern Pemigewasset River. One specific metamorphosed section of rock through Livermore Falls was first discovered in 1879. This rock, Camptonite, is unique and of unusual chemical composition. Geologist from around the world have since discovered this rock type in other regions and it continues to be called Camptonite throughout the world. Sections of the river have many rapids and no floodplains, indicating that even today it is actively cutting downward.

b. Wildlife & Plant Resources: The Pemigewasset River supports diverse habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and plant species, including several endangered species. A 1987 US Forest Service report listed 19 amphibians and reptiles living in the Pemigewasset corridor. Endangered birds using the corridor for nesting and feeding are the bald eagle, golden eagle, upland sandpiper, peregrine falcon and the sedge wren. Threatened wildlife which use the river and its corridor are the osprey, northern harrier, common loon, common nighthawk, cooper's hawk and the purple martin. Of considerable interest is the bat hibernaculum which lives in a cave in Campton. This bat is on the state critically endangered list. A list of other fauna has been compiled for the Pemigewasset River Council which includes numerous counts of other wildlife using the corridor and the river for shelter and feeding. The New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory has identified eleven state endangered plant species and 26 threatened species to be found in the river corridor.

c. Fish Resources: The Pemigewasset River supports at least ten species of fish, including the Atlantic salmon. The restoration of the Atlantic salmon to the Pemigewasset River has been a joint project of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the States of New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It is the goal of this project to restore Atlantic salmon to spawning grounds throughout the Northeast.

d. Water Quality: The Pemigewasset River has been designated a Class B water by the NH General Court and is currently supporting the standards of this water quality designation. The maintenance of a high level of water quality in this river is critical to its future use for water supply and recreational purposes, as well as the river's ability to support high quality wildlife and plant habitat.

e. Scenic Values: The River provides scenic vistas for residents and tourists throughout the valley. Of considerable scenic value are the Flume and the Basin in the northern reaches of the Pemigewasset River. In its headwaters stands the Old Man of the Mountain, the NH State Symbol, that attracts people from across the country. One of the most outstanding scenic values on the river is Livermore Falls Gorge located in Campton. The NH Department of Transportation purchased a riverfront scenic easement in New Hampton to ensure a vista upstream. There are several picturesque scenic vistas from road crossings on the Pemigewasset River. These include scenic views of rapids, floodplains, cliffs and gorges. In the northern reaches surrounding the beauty of the river are the White Mountains in all their grandeur.

2. Cultural Resources

a. Historic & Archaeological Resources: Numerous Native American tribes passed along the Pemigewasset River, most of them from the Algonquin group. Many Native American trails and campsites are known to have existed along the river and the potential for further archaeological discoveries exists. In later years as settlers came north into the valley logging and paper mills flourished. The Pemigewasset River has a great history of transporting logs down the river to various mills. The Pumpkin Seed Bridge at Livermore Falls was originally built in 1885. It is the only bridge of its type in New Hampshire. There are several sites within the Pemigewasset River corridor that are listed on the National Historic Register.

b. Community Resources: The Pemigewasset River is a valued resource to the communities along the river as demonstrated through several communities' adoption of an overlay zone for shoreland protection and mention of river protection in their master plans. Plymouth State College uses the river for field classes in Biology, Anthropology, Geology, and History. The Pemigewasset River is one of the major natural resources that attracts visitors to the area, providing opportunities for canoeing, swimming, sightseeing, fishing and camping. The management and protection of the Pemigewasset River is of major importance to the quality of life of river communities and the health of the regional economy.

3. Recreational Resources

a. Boating: Canoeing and kayaking are popular boating activities on the Pemigewasset River. The river offers both quickwater and flatwater experiences for boaters.

b. Fishing: There are 15 to 20 Bass Clubs in the state who use the southern segments of the Pemigewasset River for their annual tournaments. Trout fishing flourishes in the river above Livermore Falls. The anadromous fish restoration program has returned Atlantic salmon to the Pemigewasset River for more sport fishing potential.

c. Other Recreation: Golf, tennis, horseback riding, hiking, tubing, birding, swimming and camping are other recreational activities that people enjoy on or next to the Pemigewasset River. Campgrounds are located along the river from Franconia State Park to Franklin providing a full spectrum of camping experiences.

d. Public Access: The only designated public boat launch on the river is located in Bristol at the Route 104 bridge. Several canoeists and fishermen frequently use bridge crossings over the river as access points.

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