Stamp Act Island, in the middle of Lake Wentworth, is a special place, unique in its own right at the same time that it contributes significantly to the lake’s tranquility and charm. The following dialog offers some answers to common questions about the island and its place in the lake community.
Who owns Stamp Act Island?
Title to the island is held by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a national conservation organization that also manages some 119,000 acres of property in New Hampshire. The TNC office with jurisdiction over the island is located in North Conway.
Why was Stamp Act Island purchased?
Hundreds of residents and visitors donated money to The Nature Conservancy in order to protect Stamp Act Island from development and exploitation. At the time of the purchase, in the mid-70s, the lake community made a commitment to forever maintain the island as a natural environment where the various species of birds and animals that are native to the Lake Wentworth watershed could find a refuge and protected habitat.
Who manages the island today?
Stamp Act Island is managed by the Stamp Act Island Management Committee, a group whose membership is divided between appointees of The Nature Conservancy and the Lake Wentworth Association.
The committee’s charter is ensure that the island remains a refuge for the plants, animals, and birds that inhabit the Lake Wentworth watershed.
How large is the island?
Stamp Act Island comprises about 100 acres of land. The island is some 4,000 feet long and about 1,200 feet wide at its broadest point. It has some 12,000 feet of shoreline.
Why is the main beach closed until July 1?
The opening of the public beach on the northeast side of the island is timed to allow for birds and other animals to rear their young to the point where the disturbance of human activity on the beach does not interfere with their development. The beach is closed after Columbus Day.
Why can’t the public use all the island’s shoreline?
Stamp Act Island was always intended to serve as a wildlife refuge for Lake Wentworth. Human activity, even when limited to the shoreline, disturbs the island’s natural environment, damaging plant life, making erosion more likely, and threatening the habitat that the island was intended to provide to wildlife.
Allowing unfettered access to the shore would also almost inevitably result in some visitors going inland, with potential for trash, fire, and vandalism, in addition to the obvious disturbance of the natural environment.
Lake Wentworth, Crescent Lake, and their environs offer a variety of opportunities and resources for recreational activity. Natural refuges like Stamp Act Island are much more rare, and, if they are to survive and serve the purposes for which the lake community purchased them, they need to be respected and protected.
It takes very little intrusion by humans to disturb, disrupt, and even destroy habitats that have taken years to develop.
How did TNC come to own this island?
The story goes back to 1975, when the island had two owners. Mrs. Virginia Davenport owned most of the island, with her holdings divided in the middle of the island by a strip owned by Mrs. Maude Cate.
At the time of her husband’s death, Mrs. Davenport gave the Lake Wentworth Association first refusal on purchase of her holdings; her price was $250,000. If the association was unwilling or unable to carry out the purchase, it was understood that a significant number of private homes would be developed on the island.
The prospect of having the island transformed from a wooded sanctuary to a large-scale residential development galvanized the LWA and the lake community. In order to raise the money needed for a purchase, the association turned to The Nature Conservancy for assistance; the presence of a significant blue heron rookery on the island provided the incentive for TNC to become involved.
The arrangement called for TNC to purchase the island, with the lake community pledging the money needed to reimburse the Conservancy. In 1977, the Conservancy purchased all parcels on the island from Mrs. Davenport and the trust holding Mrs. Cate’s portion, while the Lake Wentworth Association continued to gather the money needed to pay for the purchase.
Three years later, the final count was 337 donations received, representing 475 donors. The largest donation was $30,000, while the smallest (proceeds from a children’s lemonade stand) was $4.00.
At the time, TNC noted that this was the first acquisition for the organization in which every pledge was paid in full.
Have any homes ever been built on Stamp Act?
At the time that the island was purchased in the 1970s, there were the remains of a small camp at the northern tip of the island. The cottage was torn down shortly after the island was purchased by The Nature Conservancy. There is no record of anyone ever establishing a permanent residence on the island.