A Treasure Rescued

May 16, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

May 16th is the anniversary of a noteworthy event involving one of my favorite places on earth. 

The area that is known today as the White Mountain National Forest has a roller-coaster history: a tale of damage, destruction and devastation followed by reclamation, recovery and revival.

When surveying New Hampshire's lush, heavily wooded north country today, you might find it hard to believe that little more than a century ago the landscape was nearly barren.

GoldenADIEUThe last light of the day touches the clouds above Crawford Notch State Park, dotted with October color.

White Mountains, New Hampshire

Trees were removed initially to accommodate agriculture and grazing, then logging followed. With no restrictions on the amount of timber that could be harvested, vast swaths of acreage were completely stripped, disfiguring the landscape and decimating wildlife habitat. 

Debris left behind by loggers became a dangerous firetrap; ravaging fires inevitably followed. Ash rained down on surrounding towns, blocking streams with silt and threatening watersheds. Erosion caused further damage.

A sizeable portion of the state was close to being completely ruined.

Though voices rose in opposition to what was occurring, it took a few decades before an organized effort to save the area gained traction.

Acquisition of land that would eventually become part of New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest began in 1914 with the purchase of 7,000 acres in Benton. The price tag of $13.25 an acre (roughly $415 in 2024 dollars) seems modest even by the standards of that time, and might as well be pocket change now. Try finding an acre of land anywhere in the Granite State for 400 bucks. That ship sailed a long time ago.

By 1918, with more than 360,000 acres in reserve, the area qualified for designation as a National Forest. On May 16th, 106 years ago today, the proclamation formally establishing it was signed, sealed and delivered. 

A red letter day for a priceless treasure.

It's hard to overstate the impact of the Weeks Act, which made possible the creation not just of the White Mountain National Forest, but many others as well. One wonders whether any of the Eastern forests would have survived without that legislation.

[Side note: One might think people would have learned from mistakes such as those made with the forests of 19th century New Hampshire, but that's not the case. Exhibit A would have to be Germany, where government-sponsored deforestation is stripping the famous old-growth woodland featured in some of Grimm's fairy tales to make way for wind turbines. This is a tragedy on many levels. As the land is scarred, wildlife has been fleeing - most notably lynx, which were already endangered there. Environmentalists have remained silent while the forest is destroyed.]   

I fell in love with the Granite State on my first visit to the White Mountains, and it's there that I became a photographer. While I had a camera before moving to New Hampshire, it was in the forests of the north country where I got serious about shooting.

If you've never visited, I highly recommend it. Experiencing the area in autumn is a bucket list item to be sure, but it's beautiful year-round. 

A great starting place is the Kancamagus Scenic Byway (Hwy 112) which cuts through 34.5 miles of the White Mountain National Forest and will give you stunning views of both the mountains and the Swift River. Start either on the west side at Lincoln or in the east at North Conway.

Another spectacular drive is Route 302 from Carroll to Bartlett: my personal favorite. Along the way you'll pass through Bretton Woods and Crawford Notch State Park. Combine the Kanc with Route 302 to create a loop which will take you through some of the most stunning scenery in the Northeast. Check that: forget the Northeast. For my money it's some of the most beautiful scenery you'll find anywhere.

Drop me a line if you're planning an itinerary and have questions. I'd be happy to help you make the most of your time in the White Mountains. 

Rocky Gorge White Mountains New HampshireRED IN THE ROCKSThe first rays of morning sunlight set the autumn foliage ablaze along the banks of the Swift River at Rocky Gorge.

White Mountains, New Hampshire


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