October 10, 2012WATERVILLE VALLEY — A number of the trails on the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) that were severely damaged a little over a year ago on Aug. 28, 2011, by Tropical Storm Irene will be the beneficiaries of a $1 million that the nonprofit National Forest Foundation (NFF) has pledged to raise as part of its multi-year $100 million "Treasured Landscapes: Unforgettable Experiences" capital campaign.
NFF president Bill Possiel of Missoula, Mont., made the official announcement during a pounding rainstorm on Wednesday morning in front of a crowd of some 50 enthusiastic partners inside a tent set up on the Livermore Parking Area off Route 49 near the Greeley Ponds Trail trailhead.
"The U. S. Forest Service has promised to match these private funds, dollar for dollar," Possiel explained, leveraging $1 million into $2 million. The three focus areas in the WMNF include: rehabilitating trails and roads; mitigating the spread of invasive species due to flooding; and restoring aquatic habitats.
This forest was once known as "the lands that nobody wanted because they had been heavily logged and heavily devastated," Possiel said. In the years 1901 to 1910, 40 bills were introduced in Congress in an attempt to establish federal forest reserves, he reminded, but Speaker of the House Joe Cannon opposed them all, saying: "Not one cent for scenery!"
Possiel marveled that Cannon had only zeroed in on scenery and not all the other values that National Forests are now known to protect: clean water; native fish and wildlife; sustainable forestry; carbon sequestration; and recreation, including the bonding and life-altering experiences that take place among family and friends on hiking trails and ski areas.
He praised the collaborative work of Massachusetts Congressman John W. Weeks, a native of Lancaster, whose efforts resulted in President William Howard Taft signing the Weeks Act of 1911 to allow the federal government "to purchase forested, cut-over, or denuded lands within the watersheds of navigable streams." Possiel also cited the work of U. S. Senator Jacob H. Gallinger of New Hampshire.
"In July of 2011, we gathered at the foot of Mt. Washington and the Auto Road to celebrate a 100-year legacy of restoration and conservation that was made possible by the signing of the Weeks Act in 1911," WMNF Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner said. "Once again it will take a collective effort that is consistent with our history in these mountains to address a new challenge and sustain this beautiful landscape for the future."
Just as citizens in such organizations as the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (SPNHF) stood up for the forests in the early years of the 20th century, Possiel pointed out, so they did when Irene caused $10 million in damage to the WMNF by dumping three to 10 inches of rain in an hour. He cited a number of organizations, including the USFS; Appalachian Mountain Club, represented by Susan Arnold; Trout Unlimited, represented by Colin Lawson; Plymouth State University, represented by Steve Barba; Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire, represented by Frumie Selchen; Student Conservation Association NH, represented by Mike Vecchiarelli; state Division of Forests and Lands, represented by state forester Brad Simpkins; Mount Washington Auto Road, represented by Howie Wemyss; Randolph Mountain Club; Wonalancet Outdoor Club, and SPNHF.
"By working to restore 14 iconic sites across the nation, the NFF is dedicated to perpetuating the natural heritage that unites and defines America," Possiel explained. The WMNF is the only one of in the Northeast; and only one other — Ocala National Forest in Fla. — is east of the Mississippi River.
"The NFF will work closely with the USFS and community partners to not only restore the rivers and trails of the WMNF, but also to ensure the Forest overall is better prepared to handle future natural events," he said.
The Waterville Valley Foundation stepped up at the announcement ceremony with the first major gift for the NFF's project plan and presented a $20,000 check toward restoring the Greeley Ponds Trail. "Waterville Valley Foundation is proud to kick off the restoration of Greeley Ponds Trail, which was damaged by Irene," stated Foundation treasurer Mike Furgal who was introduced by Foundation spokesman Bob Fries, president of the Waterville Valley Ski Resort.
"This will be leveraged into $60,000," Possiel pointed out. "It will be twice matched: $20,000 from NFF; and $20,000 match by USFS." The trail's restoration is now in the planning and engineering stage, and work should be completed on this very popular trail along the Mad River by the end of 2013, Wagner said.
Director Lori Harnois of the state Division of Travel and Tourism recalled the successful efforts mounted last year in order to save the 2011 fall foliage season, including opening up the Kanc, involving both Governor John Lynch and DRED Commissioner George Bald, WMNF, NHDOT, other state agencies, campground concessionaires, and local officials and businesses. "The three-month fall season is our second busiest period in the travel and tourist industry," Harnois said.
A lot of good restoration work was accomplished this summer on the WMNF.
The Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, the most popular route to the AMC Lakes of the Clouds hut, was restored in technical spots, including construction of two large rock crib walls, where relocation was not an option.
The Sawyer River Road, a popular snowmobile route, was stabilized and open before snowfall in 2011, and more permanent repairs were done this summer.
The Carter Dome Trail was restored this summer, including re-establishment of drainage ditches, rock steps, re-routes and waterbars.
Significant work was done on the Trestle and Sugarloaf Trails.
A new 360-foot-plus long boardwalk 1.7 miles up the Zealand Trail was installed, designed to foil even the most determined beavers.
The summer Forest Service crews with the help of an SCA NH Corps crew, plus an Irene Volunteer work day, restored the UNH Trail off the Kanc. About three-tenths of a mile of trail was built and about seven-tenths decommissioned.
Nonetheless, much work remains to be done. The Dry River Trail has been closed since Irene swept through. There are some areas where the trail leads to an abrupt 10- to 20-foot drop.
Rainfall at Wild River in Maine exceeded 14 inches in some areas of the drainage, and it rose to a 17-foot level at the height of the storm. With such a high flow came heavy debris flows and massive erosion. The Wild River Trail, now a four-foot trench in some places, has been closed since Irene buzzed through.
Newly appointed WMNF Heritage Program Manager Sarah Jordan said that the flooding of Tropical Storm Irene had exposed remnants of log corduroy road surfaces and timbers from a series of splash dams on the Mad River along the Greeley Ponds Trail. No logging railroad was ever built along the Mad River; logs were driven downstream to Campton Pond.