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Belknap Sportsmen’s Club faces uncertain future despite its growth


GILFORD — It was a full house Thursday evening as many of the members of the Belknap County Sportsman Club sat at long tables covered in white while waiting for the annual chicken dinner to begin.

Beginning in 1931, the club has moved once, from closer to the airport, to where they are now on Lily Pond Road, and has seen a steadily growing membership, and today boasts just over 400 members.

Dedicated to teaching proper hunting, fishing, archery and outdoor-survival techniques to the many youths and young adults in the area, for the first time in its existence, the club faces the real possibility that it may have to close.

For years, the Sportsmen's Club has been leasing the property from the Laconia Airport for $100 a year, which has allowed the club to give about $30,000 over its existence to local scholarship funds as well as teach all of the aforementioned skills and techniques to area youths.

With the lease ending in June of next year, it is the club members' desire to purchase the land from the airport, but that's going to take some money said Herb Ainsworth, who takes care of publicity for the club. They are currently awaiting an assessment of the land's value and purchase price.

The annual chicken barbecue is but one of the events held annual for members, that include the New Year's Game Supper, hosting two annual fishing derbies, and sponsoring a scholarship for students who want to study conservation or related studies like forestry and ecology. The club also keeps its members up to date on the latest state hunting and fishing laws.

Gilford's Bob Landry, a retired Laconia firefighter, has been a member in some form since he was a child in the 1960s.

"My father was a member," Landry recalled Thursday, saying he learned much about firearms safety and hunting skills from his dad and through the club.

After he and his wife, Karin, returned to New Hampshire from California, he rejoined and has been a member since then.

"It's important to preserve a way of life that New Hampshire people are historically used to," said Karin Landry, who said now that her husband is retired, she may take up shooting and archery again.

"It's encouraging to belong to a group that promotes firearm safety and stands strong for the Second Amendment," said Bob.

On the other hand, member Stan Rogers, who has a second home in Gilford, just joined the club this year.

Rogers, who likes pistol shooting, said he likes the idea of nice shooting ranges that are outdoors.

"There aren't many areas where people can go and shoot any more," he said.

Barry and Virginia Lehneman, also of Gilford, have been members for at least 20 years and are very proud of the contributions the sportsman club has made to "the kids."

"Especially the two fishing derbies," said Barry. "We also have hunter education and a nice bow-and-arrow course."

The Lehnermans are active in the Belknap Mountain Range and are very concerned with ecology and the conservation of the areas natural resources and beauty.

He said they also sent three women to the Barry Conservation Camp in Berlin for their Becoming an Outdoor Woman program.

Ainsworth said anyone who wants to join or who has any ideas about keeping the club alive and moving forward should contact him at 267-6185 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

09-24 Belknap Sportsmen

Club members and their guest gather at the Belknap County Sportsman Club Thursday night for their annual chicken dinner. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)

09-24 Belknap Sportsmens Club ranges

There are four separate shooting ranges at the Belknap County Sportsman Club as well as an archery course built through the woods. (Gail Ober/Laconia Daily Sun)

09-24 Belknap Sportsmens Club beach

 (Courtesy Frank Ross)

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Boat storage - With thousands of boats in the water, where do they all go for the winter?

DSC 1127 DS

Eric VanSteensburg, yard manager at Paugus Bay Marina,  removes a boat from the water so that it may be prepped for  winter storage. (Laconia  Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)


LACONIA — "It's a dance," remarked Michael Keegan of Irwin Marine, explaining that the pinch points of storing boats are in the spring, when everyone wants their boat in the water on Memorial Day, and in the fall, when everyone wants their boat stowed away for winter. "Our goal is to have 1,000 happy customers," he said, which requires not only sufficient but also qualified staff to manage it.

Marinas in the region store thousands of boats. Some, like Thurston's Marina, which operates on eight acres at The Weirs, have all their storage capacity on site. Others, like Lakeport Landing, which has two heated buildings and enough land for a third in Gilford, rely on remote locations. And still others follow the maxim of Kory Keenan at Paugus Bay Marina, who said simply "any little bit of heated space we can find, we rent it."

That is music to the ears of Michelle Dupont of the Opechee Inn and Spa, who has secure heated space for around 200 boats, along with recreational vehicles and automobiles, on her property off Elm, which is close to three marinas. Unlike the marinas, she said they only offer space, leaving the responsibility to winterize, service and transport the boats to her patrons, which include marinas. She said she rents for a minimum of six months and typically requires boats be trailered for between $5.50 and $7 per square foot.

Don Thurston said the marina began racking boats in three-sided, roofed buildings 45 years ago. He said the marina never liked shrink wrap and prefers cold to heated storage, believing that boats dry out and escape damp in the cold. But, boats are serviced in a 100,000-square-foot building with a radiant-heated floor where the temperature is a steady 65 degrees. "Boats are ready to go in the water in January, February and March," he said, "and our employees are working year round."

Keegan said Irwin Marine stores more than 1,000 boats, some shrink-wrapped on site and two-thirds to three-quarters in heated buildings at remote locations. Once the boats are stowed, he said, they are assessed, and every customer is sent a form with recommendations for servicing and maintenance specific to their boat and they are asked to choose a date when they wish to launch. "We do our best," said Keegan, acknowledging that while between 30 and 40 boats can be launched on a given date, not all preferences can be granted.

Everyone agreed space is at premium. "There has been a shortage of space for years now," Dupont said, "and the demand is growing." Likewise, they all said they were considering adding storage space to existing facilities or seeking to acquire land to expand. Recently the Laconia Airport Authority agreed to sell a three-acre parcel on Lily Pond Road to Fay's Boatyard in Gilford for boat storage, pending the approval of the Federal Aviation Authority.

However, Keegan cautioned that a successful storage operation requires manpower as well as space. He said that while additional space may be filled with boats, without the qualified personnel to get them in and out of the water, the result may be dissatisfied customers. Marinas, it appears, like other businesses in the Lakes Region, are challenged by the tight market for labor.

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Winnisquam marine to expand storage on Route 106


BELMONT — Now that the economy is turning around and boat sales are starting to climb, Ed Crawford, the owner of Winnisquam Marine is building more boat storage along Route 106 and working to recycle the tons of shrink wrap used for boat storage.

Crawford said he has cleared most of the land and will be ready to present his site plan review to the Planning Board in October.

"People spend a lot of money on their boats," said Crawford. "They want to keep them inside."

Crawford said he has four storage facilities in Belmont, Franklin, Sanbornton and Gilford that can hold a total of about 600 boats. He expect to add 140 spots at his new site in Belmont. He has no boat storage at the marina itself, which sits on the Belmont side of the Mosquito Bridge on Lake Winnisquam.

He said that in this latest uptick in the economy, he has sold a large number of pontoon boats, which are stored differently that typical "V-hulled" crafts. He said much of his new storage will be designed for pontoon boats that are stored on racks with long pads.

"We're trying to minimize our use of shrink wrap," he said.

Along with being the owner of the marina, Crawford is also the Chairman of the New Hampshire Marine Trades Association Shrink Wrap Committee. He said that all of the marinas and boats sales companies in the association are working to reduce the amount of shrink wrap they use and to recycle as much of what they do use as possible.

"Right now we're recycling 98 percent of it," he said.

Crawford said that as a marina owner, he considers himself a "shepherd of the water" and has tried to make the environment and the health of the lakes one of his company's priorities.

When he rebuilt his showroom, he said he used some special rain gutters designed to take all storm water runoff and direct it into some water gardens planted in front of the building.

As for shrink wrap recycling, he said the biggest buyer of shrink wrap is Trex Company Inc., which specializes in wood/plastics building products including materials for decks.

Crawford handles all of the recycling of shrink wrap for the Central New Hampshire marinas and said he gathers it three times a year and arranges for it to be stored in Rochester. This past spring, he said, 47 tons of recycled plastics, mostly shrink wrap, were purchased by Trex.

He said he is getting ready for another gathering and the last one this year is usually done in December.

"Marinas usually store it in one bay and just before Christmas, when we are wrapping up for the season, it gets taken away and that last bay is used for storage," he said. "Everyone needs to get the most out of his or her storage space as possible."

Crawford also said that the color of shrink wrap is gradually going from blue to white because, once recycled, blue can only be used to make brown boards, whereas white shrink wrap can be used to make decking of any color.

The new storage lot along Route 106 will be next to First Student properties.

Belmont Town Planner Candace Daigle said Crawford has already come before the Application Review Committee with a tentative site plan. She said that, for the town, working with Crawford and Winnisquam Marine is great because his contractors "do excellent work."

Crawford said he expects the first building to be up by November and the second one to be up by early spring.

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