Volunteers clean-up Winnipesaukee River bank

LACONIA — In the past, the small clearing on city-owned property that runs along the Winnipesaukee River off Davis Place has been called a lot of things.

In the 1960s and 1970s it was Shoe Shop Beach — a place where shift workers from the Laconia Shoe Company would come to after their shift and drink. Their pastimes included throwing their beer bottles against a cement abutment.

From the 1980s until recently, some have referred to it as Hobo Beach and Ghetto Beach — a barb directed at users.

Today, and thanks to a crew of residents from the Normandin Square Apartments at 22 Stafford Street led by Shelly Saunders, Jim Michaud, and Bill Sterner — its called the Clean and Sober Beach.

Saunders said she met Sterner this spring while the two of them were walking their dogs. Both complained about how filthy the area was and that's when they came up with the idea of cleaning it.

Saunders used a rake to recover the glass close to the shoreline, Sterner raked the cigarette butts and debris from the area and together with a few of their friends they cleaned the garbage from the area.

"There's 50 years of drinking and breaking bottles down here and we've cleaned up most of it," she said.

In the interim, a small flower garden has been planted with donated flowers, Ann Saltmarsh of the Department of Public Works has given them some recycling containers, and Michaud built a little table that some of the residents use at night for fishing and cutting bait.

"You wouldn't believe the horn pout they catch down here," said Steiner.

The crew even cleaned the path so some of the wheelchair bound residents can go down and get some fresh air.

Saunders and Sterner were there yesterday morning drinking coffee and giving their dogs a little exercise. Saunders and Sterner sat in two of the several donated lawn chairs that stay there neatly stacked in the corner until someone wants to use one.

A kayaker named Nate paddled by and stopped briefly to visit and to get his little dog a treat from Saunders. "I'm so glad they cleaned this area up," Nate said. "It's beautiful."

To date, Saunders said only one chair has been stolen from the area. She noted yesterday that even the people who go down there late at night to drink have started to use the recycling bins.

"I just wish they'd use the ashtrays we put down here," she said, as Steiner walked around and picked up a few stray cigarette butts.

She said that during the day they occasionally have some problems with people going down there to drink and expecting the others to keep and eye on their children.

"We don't come down her to to be babysitters," she said.

She said there have been complaints of trespassing by one of the neighbors but as long as everyone stays off his property, there's not much he can do. As for the local police, she said they occasionally stop down to make sure no one is drinking but as long as there's no alcohol or drugs, she said they are "cool."

"We don't want alcohol or drugs down here," Saunders said. "We just want a nice area that local people can come and enjoy a little bit of nature."

CUTLINE: (beach) Shelly Saunders and Bill Steiner and their dogs "Tobey Omara" and "Sandy" enjoy a little early morning quiet along the Winnipesaukee River in a spot they recently rehabilitated. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

(beach) Shelly Saunders, gives a treat to a kayaker's dog while two other dogs in the foreground look on. Saunders and Bill Sterner spearheaded a group of residents at 22 Strafford Street that cleaned up the small area next to the Winnipesaukee River. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)