By DAN SEUFERT
Union Leader Correspondent
WOLFEBORO — When a five-alarm brush fire broke out in Laconia on May 4, something happened that firefighters on both sides of the lake say was a first in recent history: Wolfeboro firefighters were called to Laconia.
Once they got to the city, the firefighters promptly got lost, and had to radio fire dispatch for directions.
Laconia and Wolfeboro are less than 15 miles apart as the crow flies. But fire departments can’t go over Lake Winnipesaukee, and it’s about an hour’s drive around the lake between the two communities.
“None of us can ever remember going to a fire in Laconia,” said Wolfeboro Deputy Fire Chief Tom Zotti, who said he rarely has to travel to the lake’s only city.
“I guess if they built a bridge, we’d go over there more,” he said with a chuckle.
Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said he doesn’t get to Wolfeboro much personally, “and I can’t remember (Laconia firefighters) ever being called to Wolfeboro,” he said.
Year-round residents don’t travel across the lake much, either.
The MS Mount Washington cruise ship does make a trip between Wolfeboro and Weirs Beach — as well as at the docks of several other towns — but it’s mostly used by tourists who want to see both places, said ship Capt. Jim Morash.
“If you ask someone on the west side of the lake where the Wolfeboro Congregational Church is, they will have no clue, even though it’s right there on South Main Street,” said Dr. Bruce Heald, a Lakes Region historian from Meredith. “It’s because we don’t socialize with each other on the lake much at all.”
“People in these towns around the lake tend to keep to themselves, and they don’t cross the lake much because there’s so much traffic on it now,” he said.
Communities on the east side of the lake, especially Wolfeboro, tend to draw a “higher wealth tourism” than their counterparts on the west side. Laconia, Gilford and other towns to the east were once industrial centers, whereas Wolfeboro bills itself as “The Oldest Summer Resort in America.”
“They serve a different clientele in Wolfeboro than other towns on the lake, though Meredith may be giving them a contest of late,” Heald said.
Dr. Patrick May, an assistant professor of geography at Plymouth State University and a teacher of cultural geography, said the lake is an obvious physical barrier, but there are cultural barriers as well.
Beyond those differences, though, is New Hampshire’s north-south alignment of travel patterns, May said, which has some correlation to its highway system. Year-round and summer residents of Tuftonboro, Wolfeboro and Alton tend to travel more often to Rochester, Concord and the Seacoast, while towns to the west side are within minutes of Interstate 93, which takes them to Concord, Manchester and beyond.
“The skiers from eastern Massachusetts towns like Gloucester and Lynn tend to go to Cranmore Mountain (in Conway), but people in Worcester and Lowell tend to ski at Waterville Valley,” May said.
In any case, the Wolfeboro town firefighters were welcome help in Laconia in May, Erickson said. And Wolfeboro residents would gladly welcome people from any town, east or west, on the lake to visit, said Mary DeVries, executive director of Wolfeboro’s chamber of commerce.
“We’d be happy to get to know each other,” she said.