GILFORD — Joyce Endee has been boating on Winnipesaukee for more than 20 years, and ever since, she has thought that the notorious collection of rocks known as “The Witches” — off Timber Island on Lake Winnipesaukee — ought to have a lighthouse on it. And she’s tired of waiting for somebody to do something about it.
“I’m at the point in my life where I’m trying to do important things, and this is important,” Endee said.
Endee, with the assistance of the New Hampshire Marine Patrol, is holding a meeting on Monday, Aug. 26, to discuss the idea and gauge public opinion and support of the proposal. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Gilford Town Hall.
Public opinion and support will be critical, because the proposal would have to be approved by the state, and because Endee wants the lighthouse, which could carry a cost well into seven figures, to be funded through private donations.
“Since we’ve been boating I realized that this is a glacial lake and it’s loaded with rocks,” she said. There are many places where boaters can get themselves into trouble on Winnipesaukee, but what makes The Witches, comprising 32 acres of the lake, so troublesome is that they’re in an area that often appears to be clear sailing, although the area is marked by navigational buoys. “I always wanted to improve the perimeter markings, I thought the addition of a lighthouse would be a better aid.”
It wouldn’t be the first lighthouse on a lake in New Hampshire. There are three on Lake Sunapee. Endee said she would like to create an entity that could be an asset to the Marine Patrol, to better mark other hazardous areas of Winnipesaukee.
“I would like to volunteer my time, energy, to forming an organization to improve the safety of the lake, and to deal with The Witches, in particular, first,” she said.
Endee said she was spurred to action, in part, by her grandson’s entry into the rolls of Winnipesaukee boaters. Yes, if he studies his navigational chart and scans the waters for buoys, he will steer clear of the dangers, she acknowledged.
“Not everybody’s a good chart reader,” she continued. “There are boaters who won’t need this, that’s a given. But I think that’s not a good enough reason – there are a lot of people who need help, and this will help a lot of people.”
First, she will have to see if there are enough people who agree with her. That’s what the meeting on Monday night is about. If there’s enough of a show of support, she will look to form a nonprofit organization to raise the necessary money to make a lighthouse a reality.
That organization will need to raise a lot of money, because Endee is hoping that the lighthouse will be as attractive as it is functional.
“If we could have a beautiful lighthouse, it could become a New Hampshire icon," Endee said. "I want something you and I and New Hampshire boaters can be proud of. Something traditional, something first-class.”
She hopes her vision will gain momentum at the meeting on Monday.
“I’m hoping that the boating community comes out to it. I’m hoping that people who have a home on Lake Winnipesaukee will come out to it. I’m hoping that they support the idea, that they are behind it, and that they will fund it,” she said.
“I realize that there are people who don’t like change. I want them to look at this as an improvement, it will improve the visibility and the safety in that area of us, our children and our grandchildren.”
Tim Dunleavy, a captain with Marine Patrol, said what makes The Witches dangerous is that there is a portion of rocks at the northern end of the shoal that protrudes above the water, and is visible to boaters, often because of the waterfowl that perch atop them.
“The southern end, however, which is a good 300, 400 yards south, are just below the surface," he said. "Some of it is sand and ledge, some of it is rock, just below the surface.”
The Witches is hardly the only dangerous part of the lake, Dunleavy said, adding that its notoriety is likely due to its colorful name.
“We have many areas of the lake where we have wide open water, and right smack dab in the middle of it is a navigational hazard,” he said.
The process for installing a lighthouse, he said, would require a permit from the Department of Environmental Safety, which would want to determine if there would be broad public benefit. DES would look to the Department of Safety for such an analysis, which is why Endee was encouraged to gauge public sentiment.
“It was suggested to Mrs. Endee to conduct an informational meeting to establish some sort of barometer to see what the public thinks about such a structure,” Dunleavy said. “Trying to get a sense of where the public is at and what they think about this project.”
Dunleavy said he offered for his agency to host the meeting as a means to measure that support. However, he stopped short of saying whether he would cast his vote in support of the proposal.
“If I want to vote on something, I want to be informed and I’m not there yet,” he said.
The best way for boaters to protect themselves is to be aware of where they are and how to interpret navigational markers, he said.
“Whether you’re renting a boat, whether you’re a lifetime boater on Lake Winnipesaukee, a chart – next to your life jacket – should be your number one piece of safety equipment.” Without it, it’s too easy to end up on the rocks, whether at The Witches or somewhere else.
“They don’t call us the Granite State for nothing,” Dunleavy said. “There is granite not only on our shores, but also in the middle of our lakes.”
Janis Nazarenko is in the business of making pursuits like boating less intimidating. Her company, Sweet Velocity, offers workshops and one-on-one training to people who might not feel comfortable or confident operating their powerboat.
She said she can see both sides of the issue. "At the end of the day, though, there's a lot of people that have a hard time seeing The Witches, even though it's marked and it's on the chart. When the water's rough, you can have a hard time seeing where those markers are. I think it would absolutely be helpful if there was something that more clearly marked the area as dangerous," she said.
On the other hand, she noted, the lighthouse might end up costing the state more money. Even if private donations pay for construction, public tax dollars might be called on, at some point, for maintenance. Then there's the chance that an attractive lighthouse might be more like a siren than a warning.
"There are some people new to the area that are going to think that it's something really cool to ride up and see," she said.
"I can agree with both sides. Yeah, it would be great to have, but on the other hand, why do we need it?" Nazarenko added, "it is definitely going to be interesting to see how it plays out one way or another."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the meeting will be held at the Gilford Town Hall – not Marine Patrol headquarters.