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Joyce Endee

Mt. Clay will not be renamed Mt. Reagan

May 26, 2010
THOMPSON AND MERSERVE'S PURCHASE — The U.S. Board of Geographic Names (BGN) voted, 11 to 0, with one abstention, on Thursday, May 13, to continue to use the historic name Mount Clay and rejected an effort to rename the 5,533-foot peak for the nation's 40th president.

Mount Clay was named in 1848 for Henry Clay, 19th-century senator and U.S. Secretary of State from Kentucky who ran unsuccessfully for president several times.

On June 17, 2003, HB82 was signed into New Hampshire law stating that Mt. Clay "shall hereafter be called and known as Mount Reagan." The bill was introduced in 2002 in response to the Reagan Legacy project that sought to name one public landmark in each state after President Ronald Reagan.

Mount Clay, one of the summits in the Presidential Range lies north-northwest of Mount Washington, within the White Mountain National Forest, along the boundary of the Great Gulf Wilderness.

Under its own rules, the BGN could not, however, consider taking action on a federal level until five years after the former president's death in June 2004.

In the intervening years, however, the management team at the Mount Washington Hotel apparently assumed that the name change would go forward and named one of its three new permanent meeting rooms in the Presidential Conference Center, opened in 2009, the Reagan Room.

Both the Reagan Room and the Washington Room are set up as elegant 1,024-square-foot boardrooms, bookending the smaller 840-square-foot Jefferson Room. All boast commanding views of the Presidential Range.

The enormous windowless Presidential Ballroom can be subdivided using moveable walls into three large meeting rooms, each named after three other Presidential Range peaks: Monroe, Madison, and Adams.

There is, as yet, no indication on the Omni Mount Washington website that the Reagan Room will be renamed for Henry Clay.

Local opinion on the proposed change in nomenclature was mixed. The Coös County Commissioners and the boards of selectmen of Carroll and Jefferson voted to support the name change.

Neither the U.S. Forest Service nor the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) took positions on the proposal, although the AMC "urge[d] the BGN to consider the impact of such a change… and to weigh the possible costs, primarily in safety, but also more prosaically in the costs of signage and other changes that would need to occur to implement such a name change."

The Jefferson Conservation Commission opposed the change, "based on the grounds that historical names should not be changed."

Letters of opposition were written by Howie Wemyss of Randolph, general manager of the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, and also reportedly by the Randolph Mountain Club and Rep. Evalyn Merrick, a Democrat of Lancaster.

The BGN received approximately 160 e-mails opposing the change, with most citing a reluctance to change a longstanding name with historical significance. Some naysayers, however, said they thought that renaming the peak for the popular Republican president would not be appropriate because he had not been "green" and had tried to roll back some environmental initiatives.

Several Granite State legislators supported the change, noting that Henry Clay had never served as president, thus making his name in the Presidential Range not fitting. One state representative opposed retaining the historic name because Clay had played too great a role in expanding and continuing slavery.

Although it did not comment one way or another, the N. H. State Names Authority pointed out that state agencies had made no detectable use of the name "Mount Reagan" in the years since the 2003 name-change legislation had passed.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Varney Smith
Garnett HIll
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