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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Designated Rivers
Lamprey River

II. The Lamprey River Nomination

A. Description

The nomination of the Lamprey River is limited to the segment of the river that flows through the towns of Lee and Durham (see map). This segment is part of the larger Lamprey River system which flows for 60 miles through the southeastern corner of the state. Although this segment is located in an area of early settlement and recent population growth and development, the river itself shows remarkably little evidence of man's presence.

Land use along the river segment is primarily rural, with a dozen farms nestled among forestland and scattered single family residences. Although a majority of the riparian land is in private ownership and some residential development has occurred, a large percentage of the land in the river corridor remains in large, undeveloped tracts. Most of the man-made modifications and improvements are well screened from the river by a buffer of trees along the banks. Existing town ordinances support the continuation of appropriate land use in the river corridor by requiring minimum lot sizes of two and three acres and by allowing clustering of homes to provide common areas of open space along the river.

Beginning at the Lee-Epping border, the river flows north past forest, farms, homes, and a campground before turning east and dropping through a breached dam at Wadleigh Falls. Below the falls, the river meanders east and then north to the Lee Hook Road bridge and then turns east once again, flowing by forest, farms, and a large wildlife/marsh area before entering the town of Durham. In Durham, the river pours over the Wiswall Dam and then runs to the rapids at Packers Falls.

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. In the towns of Lee and Durham, the Lamprey River supports many of these natural, managed, cultural, and recreational resource values and characteristics at a level of either statewide or local significance. The resource values which qualify the Lamprey River for designation are: wildlife, plant, and fish resources; water quality; scenic values; historic and archaeological sites; community resources; and recreational resources.

1. Natural Resources

a. Wildlife and Plant Resources: The Lamprey River supports a diverse habitat of wetlands, forest, and open fields that is home to a variety of wildlife and plant species. As a major tributary to the Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve, the river plays an important role in maintaining the overall health of the protected bay's environment. A number of endangered and threatened bird species have been sighted along the river and are believed to rely on the river habitat for food and shelter, including the federally-endangered bald eagle who sometimes forages in the river while wintering at Great Bay. The first osprey nest on the seacoast region during this century was discovered within two miles of the river in 1989. The New Hampshire Natural Heritage Inventory lists 12 endangered or threatened plant species and the threatened spotted turtle as occurring along this segment of the Lamprey River.

b. Fish Resources: The Lamprey River supports a significant fishery. Shad, alewives, and salmon are found up to the impassable Wiswall Dam in Durham. Naturally-reproducing species sought by fisherman include small and largemouth bass, chain pickerel, sunfish, american eel, and brown bullhead. The Fish and Game Department regularly stocks the river with shad, rainbow, brown and brook trout.

c. Water Quality: The Lamprey River has been designated a Class B water by the General Court and is currently partially supporting the standards of this water quality goal. The significance of improving and maintaining a high level of water quality in the river is evidenced by the use of the river segment as a reserve water supply for the town of Durham, the river's critical link to the Great Bay National Estuarine Reserve, and the increasing use of the river for recreation.

d. Scenic Values: Tree-lined riverbanks, pastures, and gently-flowing waters, interrupted by short stretches of rapids, combine to make the Lamprey River an important scenic resource. From the river, few signs of human development or habitation are visable. Views of the river are beautiful from the bridge crossings, particularly at Wadleigh Falls Road, Lee Hook Road, and Packers Falls.

2. Cultural Resources

a. Historic and Archaeological Resources: This segment of the Lamprey River is rich in history. Early commercial and industrial growth centered around the use of the rivers falls for saw and grist mills. The Wiswall Falls Mill Site in Durham has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of the extensive 19th century mill complex located at this site. On an island below Wadleigh Falls, archaeologists have documented artifacts over 8,000 years old that are among the earliest dated archaeological artifacts in New Hampshire.

b. Community Resource: The importance of the Lamprey River to the towns of Lee and Durham is reflected in the planning efforts of both towns. The Durham Master Plan identifies the river as an important resource. In Lee, a shoreland protection ordinance prevents construction within 100 feet of the river and prohibits the removal of more than 50 percent of the basal area of trees along the river.

3. Recreational Resources

a. Boating: Canoeing is a popular activity on the Lamprey River. Although located within 15 miles of the populated seacoast and 60 miles from metropolitan Boston, the upper portion of the river segment in Lee is described in a river guidebook as "a quiet retreat into the woods... past densely forested banks of hemlock and hardwoods..." For the more adventurous, the guidebook recommends Packers Falls in Durham as providing "one of the most challenging rapids in the Piscataqua Watershed." Both public and informal launching areas provide canoe access to the river; no boat ramps have been developed on this segment of the Lamprey River.

b. Fishing: A 1985 survey by the Department of Fish and Game found that anglers from throughout New England spent 875 fishing hours on a 3/4 mile segment of the Lamprey River below Wiswall Falls in a single month. Fishing continues into the winter, with ice-fishing popular along the length of the segment. Salmon Unlimited has negotiated agreements with private landowners along key areas of the river segment to allow access for fishermen.

c. Other Recreation: Swimming, tubing, horseback riding, bird watching, and camping are other recreational activities that people enjoy on or next to the Lamprey River. The town of Durham owns two recreational areas in the river corridor: an 80 acre parcel at Doe Farm has trails for hiking, jogging, and skiing and the Packers Falls Recreation Area provides public access to the whitewater for canoeing, swimming and tubing. The privately-owned Durham Boat Company offers instruction, storage, and launching facilities for sculling shells below Moat Island. Three campgrounds located in the river segment have facilities for seasonal camping.

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