On the Mouth of the Piscataqua: Unearthing the Rich History of Odiorne Point, Part 9
This is the last installment of the On the Mouth of the Piscataqua series. Please visit our blog and filter using the hashtag “OPSP History” to access the full series.
Hunter Stetz | History Naturalist, Seacoast Science Center
For all the unpredictable changes that have affected Odiorne Point over the past four centuries, its future has never been clearer. It has been 52 years since this portion of the Town of Rye became a state park, a designation that conserves the land in perpetuity. It took some time for stakeholders to collectively fine-tune the objectives regarding the use of the park, but the opening of Seacoast Science Center in 1992 cemented the educational and recreational mission of Odiorne Point State Park (OPSP) and its relationship with the public. Seacoast Science Center (SSC) operates within Odiorne Point State Park under a service agreement with the NH Division of Parks and Recreation to “provide interpretive services” in the Park. This relationship has proven to be a remarkable partnership that has resulted in OPSP and SSC being a tremendous asset for the State of New Hampshire and a destination for visitors from throughout the region, across the country, and around the globe.
The dual stewardship efforts advanced by the Seacoast Science Center and the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation allow for focus on different aspects of maintaining the park while offering expanded, low-impact visitor experiences. Their respective goals are dynamic and will continue to adapt to the needs of both the community and natural environment it fits within. For example, as the direct effects of climate change along our coastline and in the Gulf of Maine came into focus, Seacoast Science Center made it a priority to represent the causes, consequences, and mitigation efforts to visitors so that they are better equipped to plan for the future and take restorative action to preserve the coastal character of the region.
NH Parks and Recreation and Seacoast Science Center have prioritized accessibility. This includes paved paths and well-maintained trails throughout the Park. While self-guided exploration of the park is encouraged, the Center maintains exhibits and offers both indoor and outdoor educational programs so that visitors can learn from expert naturalists about the beauty before them. This year, in partnership with the Indigenous NH Collaborative Collective, SSC participated in the release an augmented reality app, Homelands, highlighting the history of Native Peoples at what is now known as Odiorne Point (check it out if you haven’t yet!).
In recent years, you may have periodically noticed small pockets of the park entirely cleared of brush. This work is part of a long-term project led by the Rockingham County Conservation District to combat invasive plants in the Park. Invasive and nuisance plants tend to inhibit native species from thriving by out-competing for sunlight and space, so their removal — often driven by hardworking Seacoast Science Center volunteers — improves the health of the natural ecosystems both within the park and beyond the park. Common invasive plants identified within the park include purple loosestrife, common reed, perennial pepperweed, bittersweet, Norway maple, honeysuckle, glossy buckthorn, and burning bush. Several other nuisance species of concern include staghorn, poison ivy, and beach rose. Managing the ecological composition of the Odiorne Point State Park is one of many ways that Seacoast Science Center and NH State Parks combine their efforts to advance the visitor experience and ecological resilience within the park.
One of my favorite things about Odiorne Point State Park is that there are visible signs of all periods of human history when you explore the landscape. More so than most places around the Seacoast, you can envision what things were like in the 20th century, the 19th century, the 18th century, and so on. Especially for this reason, this park is very different from other state parks. While most are landscapes minimally disturbed by humans, Odiorne Point has been extensively altered by humans for centuries. If anything, it demonstrates that natural settings are not a finite resource. Nature has returned in full force at this park.
What will Odiorne Point State Park be like in 2123 for Rye’s 500th anniversary? It is hard to say, but we know that we will be here, working collectively to preserve and protect these important and beloved resources. In 2022, Seacoast Science was granted a 20-year service agreement with NH State Parks with an additional 20 years option, effectively extending its contract to 2062. The Park will continue to be a relevant resource, adapting to environmental trends and comprising multiple habitats with a diverse palette of native flora and fauna because of the work being done currently. In addition, Seacoast Science Center will continue to be a space for anyone and everyone to gather, learn, enjoy, and hopefully be inspired in some way to make a difference in the world. Here’s to the next 100 years!