The Legend of Darrah Pond: True or False?

by Doug Robinson


Campbell High School student Greg Gilbert assembles his robot before submersing it in the pool.

As legends go, Darrah Pond in Litchfield is home to more than just bass, pickerel, perch, frogs, lily pads and bugs.  As historians and thrill seekers have over the years tried to prove and disprove the legend of Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster lying beneath the waters of Lake Ness, Scotland, so shall the students of Campbell High Schools Patrick Kaplos physics and engineering class try to prove or disprove the existence of a bus at the bottom of Lake Darrah.  Thanks to a Sea Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, students have been offered the opportunity to build remotely operated vehicles in their quest to solve the legend of the bus.

Administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Sea Grant is a network of 30 programs. The Northeast Region of Sea Grant includes programs in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  They are part of the National Sea Grant College Program provided in cooperation with MIT.  

We are competing with athletics such as baseball, football, music, and the arts.  There is a nationwide shortage in engineering.  This crisis is called the Silent Crisis.  We are trying to get kids involved and turned on and address this crisis Kaplo said.  The New Hampshire Sea Grant provides support, leadership and expertise for marine research, education and extension.  It promotes the understanding, development, wise use and conservation of ocean and coastal resources.

Students practice maneuvering their ROVs in the pool supplied by the Litchfield Fire Department.

To create passion and address the silent crisis, CHS embarked on designing an education program called Principles of Engineering.  The course was designed to energize the physical sciences through exciting project-oriented and student-centered experiences, states the course description.  The program will create a buzz among the students, Kaplo said.

Students were required to design, choose materials, observe budgets, and fabricate an ROV that could submerge in depths down to 40 feet in an attempt to find the bus.  

Students, working in teams, created boats from PVC tubing, steering wheels, wire and tape.  Students were challenged to create a boat that could float, hover, turn, back up and go forward.  Boats were equipped with video equipment connected to laptop computers, so that the proof of their discovery, or non-discovery could be recorded.

The boats also contain sensors to record water temperatures.  As the ROVs do not have depth gauges, the students will determine the depth of the pond by the water temperature.   Thanks to the Litchfield Fire Department, a special water tank was created on school grounds so that the students could test drive their equipment.

These types of project-based classes really motivate the kids, Kaplo said.  I am very appreciative for the support of both the school administration as well as the Litchfield school board with this project.

And as the students practiced stopping their boats on a dime, and as they said to each other, Im going under, one student could be heard remarking, I really love this class!

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Creative Book Reports at Griffin

Second-graders at Griffin Memorial School in Litchfield recently completed a book report project.  An interesting chapter was chosen by each student to be read at home.  Once the students completed reading the book, they needed to write a paragraph describing their favorite characters.  Lastly, the students were asked to design a puppet representing their book character.  The teachers are very proud of the wonderful job that the students did on this project.

Three of the second grade classes, Mrs. Cote, Mrs. Benoit and Mrs. Mic had an exhibition of the creative puppets and shared them with each other and some staff members. 

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Comment Sparks Controversy over Training

by R. Rodgers

A recent Thumbs down comment in the Hudson~Litchfield News set off a small firestorm at Litchfield Fire Department.  The past year has been a bumpy ride for the firefighters and their leader, targeted repeatedly in the popular anonymous column.  The comment suggested that Fire Chief Tom Schofield was taking several firefighters on vacation at the expense of the town.  Not true. 

The department has budgeted for approved training, including the plan to send 17 people to a September weekend of training at the National Fire Academy in Maryland.  The weekend is set aside for fire departments from New Hampshire to get hands-on intense training in a short time.

Because Litchfield has a predominately volunteer fire department, most of the attendees have chosen to take vacation days from their regular jobs to attend.  They will travel on Friday and return late Sunday night. 

Transportation expenses are the responsibility of the individual participants or the sponsoring towns.  Because of the low cost coupled with high quality and targeted training, this is considered one of the foremost training weekends for fire departments.  Course materials and lodging is provided at no cost to representatives of career or volunteer departments and state/local governments.

Hudson Fire Chief Shawn Murray said that although the weekend is offered to his men as well, no one has signed up so far.  I have sent five or six men to the two-week long officers training to the academy in Maryland, it is so beneficial.  The weekend that Chief Schofield is attending is perfect for a department of his size.  This is the premier place in the entire United States for this training, Murray said.  Murray has attended training at the National Academy for four years.

The Thumbs comment also suggested Litchfield would not have proper safety coverage during the vacation.  Schofield has worked diligently to ensure that Litchfield has the same level of fire protection during the training weekend as always.  Hudson dispatches for us and they will continue to do so.  Ive been talking to a number of departments so that they know about the training.  We have approximately 30 people on our volunteer fire force, plus two full-time employees and myself.  Even with 17 of us going, there will still be a large number of Litchfield Fire Department firefighters in town.

The Litchfield fire station is staffed 6 days a week, but unlike larger fire departments with full-time staffing, it does not have round-the-clock station coverage.  To calls after hours, firefighters respond from their homes.  Schofield has budgeted to have staff in the station during the day on Sundays this year and plans to start in July.  Im excited about getting the money budget for this extension of service.

Schofield has arranged for Mark Lemay, who recently retired from Manchester Fire Department after more than 30 years on the job, but still works for the Goffstown Fire Department and the training division of the New Hampshire Fire Academy, to fill in for the weekend.  I asked Mark for many reasons, said Schofield. The biggest reason was because Mark has had just about every Litchfield firefighter in class at one time or another.  He has the respect and trust of each of them.  He also has worked as a substitute firefighter here in Litchfield for as long as I can remember.  This just provides additional coverage for the town, he said.  We have always used our on-call, volunteer force and know they arent always in town when a fire occurs.  So we have contingency plans in place.  The good thing about New Hampshire is the rich mutual aid program that we all participate in.  We help Hudson or Windham or Pelham or Nashua when they have an incident and they pitch in and help us.

To expand the knowledge base of the Litchfield Fire Department, Schofield works to ensure that all training seminars have a Litchfield firefighter in attendance.  That way we get the training materials from that seminar and can bring those back and share among all of us.  We each learn more that way.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Frank Byron agrees that the department will have adequate coverage during the proposed training weekend.  The chief has actively looked at what needed to be done to provide the same level of coverage that residents expect.   

Schofield asked Byron to attend the training with them.  Frank is my selectmens liaison.  Theres going to be a featured training session on dealing with large disaster events and multi-agency responses, such as weve seen in other national events.  I thought that Frank might like to attend with us.   

However, Byron asked the selectmen who would like to attend.  Selectmen Andrew Santom and Al Raccio wanted to go but because Andy could not commit to the day off work and Al could, Al will be going with them, Byron said.

Expenses routinely are discussed at selectmens televised meetings and residents questions can be asked during the meetings open forums.

In any town that follows New Hampshires Municipal Budget Act and has voted to establish a budget committee, budgets get endless scrutiny, but inevitably some items are not understood or some items hit a hot button while other items skate through the process, up to and including purchasing.  Sometimes it depends on whether you are watching a town department or not.

In Litchfield the operational budget passed, and now department heads are spending their approved budgets.  Some of those items are spent without selectmen approval, but others, especially one-time purchases are discussed with selectmen before purchasing.  When an item comes before selectmen, the first question you normally will hear is, Is this in the budget?  If the answer is yes, the expenditure is normally approved.  The line item in Schofields budget for training covers any costs to the town for this intense and sought-after weekend.

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Resident Accuses Board of Holding Illegal Discussion

A month later and the Hudson School Board continues to receive harsh criticism over the decision to restructure the elementary unit of the district.  Now the criticism has graduated into accusations from one resident that the board had conducted an illegal non-public discussion of the matter.

Hudson resident and chief critic Brian Lindsey furthered his crusade Monday to change the decision that will send all first and second graders to the Library Street School and third, fourth and fifth graders to Dr. H. O. Smith School.

Lindsey persisted with his argument that the change will do little in benefiting the students and later argued that the board’s claim that elementary school teachers were involved in the decision was false.

Lindsey alleged that he had spoken to a number of Library Street School teachers, all of who declared they were not involved in the decision as Superintendent Randy Bell had said in previous meetings.  Lindsey said that the decision should have at least included the teacher’s input as they would most likely reach the same conclusions as himself.

“I like to compare this mix like putting gasoline in two cars,” Lindsey said.  “One has water and doesn’t work, one has gas and works fine – you mix them together and neither one works.”

School Board Chair David Alukonis graciously reminded Lindsey that public input is not the forum for a debate but Lindsey continued suggesting illegal conduct and asking the board to wait another year before they make a decision.

Alukonis later reiterated that the law was followed to the letter and any decisions to go into non-public was a direct result of discussions concerning personnel, and therefore the board clearly had an obligation to hold those discussions in a non-public session.

Other residents voiced their approval of Lindsey’s criticisms and accusations but no other comments were forthcoming from the Board. 

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The Benson Property Issue: What You Said

by Gina M. Votour

The May 23 article on Hudson’s Benson property hit home for many.  All who responded had strong feelings on this issue, stemming from past memories, current land concerns, or both.

Not surprisingly, several people would like to see the land converted to a park. 

“My hat is off to [Benson’s Committee Chairperson] Esther McGraw for her continued fight to convert the old Benson’s into a walking park,” said Hudson’s Tony Campos.  Campos outlined the following scenario.  “Picture a beautiful walking path around the park; leave the existing buildings or convert one for a small gift shop filled with things specific to Hudson.”  

Campos further stated, “We have a major piece of land to highlight Hudson’s special features and help drive a revenue source in for the taxpayers.  Bring a sense of tradition and home values with a park that can be enjoyed by everyone.  Can you think of a better way to bring diverse families together given today’s tense times?  Our politicians have to be held more accountable and creative with our money,” declared Campos.

Tom Benson, grand-nephew of founder John T. Benson, added, “What a shame this beautiful property has been batted around by the state and Hudson for such a long time, letting the place go to ruin when it could have brought so much enjoyment for the public as a park.”  Tom Benson feels strongly that if the area does eventually become a park, it should be named the John T. Benson Memorial Park.

Former Hudson resident Kathleen Meighan agreed with Tom Benson.  “I don’t think names like ‘The Verizon Park’ or ‘The Tweeter Trails’ would work here,” she joked.  Meighan described her vision of an “old fashioned park” including trails, natural landscaping, a petting zoo, a fountain or waterfall, gardens, etc.”  A park is much needed she said, since the “9-5, beat-the-clock, disposable type of lifestyle we’ve all gotten roped into does not leave room for making any lasting memories.”   

Others take a slightly different approach.  

“I credit the park with developing my interest and subsequent respect for animals,” said Hudson resident Moira Tracey.  “What I think would be more feasible is a day camp for kids to learn about the wildlife that are natural to this area.”  Tracey explained that several forms of wildlife including badgers, Eastern coyotes and a variety of wild birds inhabited the area before the development of new roadways and residential areas.

Tracey suggested that the area could contain a mix of both living and representational wildlife exhibits “that teach about the importance of the forest and the wetlands in supporting these animals.”

Elaborating on this idea, Tracey hypothesized that middle school, high school, and college students could also become involved with the park’s revitalization.  “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to make the restoration of this land an educational endeavor?  Look at the impact that an experience like this could have on these students,” concluded Tracey.

Others feel differently about the concept of the Benson’s property opening to a larger public, citing noise, vandalism, and traffic as major concerns. 

“As far as making it a ‘Town Park’ I say no way,” said Barbie Clark, a lifelong Hudson resident who lives close to the property.  “Just take a look at Merrifield Park or Greeley Park.  On any sunny day you can’t get in there because of the [heavy amount of] people who move in for the day.  If the town makes it a park, it will only be destroyed and personally, we who abut it don’t want our backyards to become public property,” said Clark.

 “I think due to the loss of so much wetland and animal habitat, the town/state owes us the land as a preserved/dedicated animal/bird sanctuary and leave it ‘as is,’ of course after all that contaminated soil that was dumped there is hauled away,” said Clark.

Unfortunately, none of these scenarios are likely until the current land owner, the NH Department of Transportation (NHDOT), sells the property to Hudson.  The state has decided to conduct a re-appraisal of the land by September, which could potentially raise the originally agreed upon $188,000 purchase price from 2002.

Should the state retain ownership, it plans to sell the property, according to previous statements by NHDOT representatives.  NHDOT Commissioner George Campbell was unavailable for comment at press time.  However, Assistant Commissioner Jeff Brillhart said that he was “not aware of any new developments” regarding the property since his last interview a few weeks ago.  

Governor John Lynch is well informed of the Benson’s situation.  Earlier this week, his Press Secretary Colin Manning stated that the Governor has asked NHDOT to work with Hudson to come to an agreement on the purchase of the land. 

“The Governor is hopeful that the land can be returned to the town,” said Manning.

Until these decisions are made, there are ways for those interested to learn more about Benson’s, past and present.   

Back in 1998, Bob Goldsack wrote Remembering Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, a detailed account of Benson’s history accompanied by numerous pictures.

A Benson’s website, www.bensonsanimalfarm.com, was set up by Steve Klein in February 2006. 

“It is a gentle focal point where people can share their memories of the park and the animals,” said Klein of the site’s active message board.  Through this message board, former Benson’s employees, their relatives, and several generations of Benson’s visitors have re-connected through shared recollections of the landmark.  

Also, the Nashua Audubon Society annually surveys the Benson’s property, seeking out birds and other wildlife in the area.  This year, they will meet on Sunday, June 8.  Folks interested in joining them are more than welcome to meet at the back entrance of the Benson’s property at approximately 6:30 a.m.  

Those following the Benson’s story as it plays out may continue to send comments to gina@areanewsgroup.com or leave a message at 880-1516.  Stay tuned…

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