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Conservation area dedicated in memory of Roger Blais

Town officials, family, friends and whitewater enthusiasts gathered around Gloria Blais last Saturday for the dedication of property she donated along the Winnipesaukee River in Northfield to honor her late husband Roger while ensuring outdoor enthusiasts a place to hike, bike, and safely launch their kayaks and canoes. (Photo by Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
June 27, 2018
NORTHFIELD – Northfield selectmen Glen Brown and Scott Haskins, Town Administrator Glenn Smith and members of the Conservation Commission were joined by whitewater enthusiasts on the banks of the Winnipesaukee River last Saturday to dedicate the Blais Riverview Conservation Area.

Special guest for the event was Gloria Blais, who donated seven tenths of an acre of land to the town in honor of her late husband Roger Blais. That donation will provide continuous access to the Winnipesaukee River for those who wish to kayak, fish and recreate on the waterway for years to come.

Gloria said her husband's family has owned approximately 80 acres of land along the river for many years, spanning Cross Mill Road where he was born and raised on their property known as Riverview Farm.

Roger was a retired police officer who served in not only Northfield, but Tilton and Franklin as well. When he passed away in 2014, leaving his wife the land and family home, Gloria and the family eventually decided to sell some of the property and that's when they first got a call from Ken Norton and the Merrimack Valley Paddlers.

Approximately 30 years ago, there were proposals to construct dams along the Winnipesaukee River that would channel all the river water through a penstock into Franklin. The river between Tilton and Northfield would be left dry. It was about that time, in the early 1980's, when the river was cleaned of past industrial waste and whitewater canoeing and kayaking activities had begun once again. In support of those renewed activities, proponents of outdoor recreation worked diligently to save the river and eventually succeeded.

A New Year's Day kayaking event was proposed during that time to draw people to the area where they would not only enjoy the river but the restaurants, businesses and other attractions. Key to that event's success however was the permanent establishment of a safe launch site and a take out point downriver.

Norton said the Grevior family of Franklin generously donated land that is now known as Trestle View Park in Franklin, which became the takeout spot for white water enthusiasts while paddlers could graciously find a place to park along Cross Mill Road to launch their vessels each year. A private sale of the Blais property, however, would have put an end to that launch access.

"The Winnipesaukee River has been the life blood of all civilization that has been here for centuries along its shores," Norton said. "We've been losing public access to the river through private development so this was important to us."

He and other groups began to work with Northfield Selectmen and Conservation Commission, and were most grateful when a parcel of the Blais property was generously donated to the town so access to the river could continue.

"I've been thinking about conservation for a long time," Gloria Blais said last weekend. "I like to see people being happy and enjoying themselves…This property will help give more to boaters, hikers and fisherman, and especially to parking on New Year's Day when they're all out here."

Bob Nasdor, director of Northeast Stewardship for the American Whitewater Association, was among those who attended the dedication. He said his organization was very grateful to the Blais family for their generosity in providing a parking lot and launch point for white water enthusiasts.

"With this access point we'll be able to continue boating on the Winnipesaukee. It's a wonderful river with challenging rapids and it's a real draw to the area from an economic standpoint," Nasdor said. "What impresses me though is how people came together in this community to make this all happen."

Northfield's chair of the Conservation Commission, Kevin Fife, took a moment to thank the Blais family, too. Fife said when they were approached about the land acquisition his commission very much supported the idea of taking it over for a parking lot, which not only borders the river, but is a key access point for the Winnipesaukee River Trail.

"From kayakers and fishermen to hikers and bikers, this land has a daily use for all types of people," said Fife. "It all came together and we very much appreciate it."

As a crowd of friends, town officials and kayakers gathered along the bank of the river, Gloria Blais uncovered a plaque that now proclaims the parking lot and river access point as the "Roger and Gloria Blais Riverview Conservation Area."

Speaking on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, Vice Chair Glen Brown told the gathering, "We really appreciate this. These trails have been really successful with a lot of people come down here, and now there's room for them to park, too. We're really excited, and thank the Blais family for their donation."

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