Published Date Written by Roger Amsden
LACONIA — The New Hampshire Lakes Association wants to put Weirs Beach in the Guinness Book of World Records come September when the association hosts ''Hands Across the Water'', an event at which it hopes to see more than 2,000 canoes and kayaks assemble and paddle together to form the world's largest raft.
Tom O'Brien, president of the association, told the City Council last night that the event is scheduled for Saturday, September 7, and will see the canoes and kayaks paddle out from the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in late morning to a designated area, 1,000 feet by 1,000 feet, just off from Weirs Beach and surrounded by support boats.
He said that the canoes and kayaks will be launched from a number of shoreline access points, public and private, roughly between Awka Marina to the west and Pendleton Beach to the east. Once all of the boats are assembled the 3,000 to 4,000 participants will raise their paddles, and then join hands and raft together for at least 30 seconds.
He said the event will break the current world record, set in upstate New York last summer, when 1,925 canoes and kayaks gathered at 4th Lake at Inlet, New York in a ''One Square Mile of Hope'' fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
''We're hoping to have Captain Jim Morash of the Mount Washington sound the horn to start the rafting event,'' O'Brien told the council as he sought approval for the event, plans for which have already been presented to the city's Parks and Recreation Department.
He said that the designated rafting area would be located away from travel lanes associated with the Weirs channel, marinas and the M/S Mt. Washington cruise route.
''We're working with volunteers from paddling groups and from lakes all over the state,'' said O'Brien, who said that the goal of the event is to raise awareness of the spread of invasive aquatic weeds such as water milfoil, which he said is already costing more than $1 million a year statewide to combat.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the association's efforts to combat invasive species, something that the organization, which administers the statewide Lake Host program, which coordinates the voluntary inspection of boats in lakes all over the state for invasive aquatic species, is very familiar with.
Now in its 12th year, the Lake Host program awards payroll grants to local groups which carry out its educational programs at boat ramps open to the public on lakes, ponds, and rivers throughout New Hampshire.
O'Brien said the rafting event will be followed by an on-land celebration featuring music, food and booths with information on lake ecology which would be set up at Endicott Park at Weirs Beach and would draw between 1,000 and 2,000 people.
''It's a shoulder season event which would be a great opportunity for local businesses,'' said O'Brien, who said that the association would work with the city on all of the details of the event and was hoping for quick action by the council so that it could start promoting and advertising the event as soon as possible.
Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer asked if the city would realize any revenue as a result of the event and O'Brien said that the association would cover all police, fire and other expenses but that it didn't know at this point whether or not it would even realize a profit.
''It's as much friend building as it is fund building. It will put us in touch with 2,000 or more people who could be members,'' said O'Brien, who said that many who help sponsor the event will be providing in-kind donations for ''Hands Across the Water.''
Ward 6 Councilor Eva Doyle moved that the council approve the concept of the event and the council voted unanimously in support of her motion.