Celebrating the White Mountain National Forest Centennial

May 29, 2018
conservation funding
Ryan SmithOn the White Mountain National Forest centennial, John Judge reflects on AMC’s longstanding ties to the forest.

Among the 20 million acres of forestland protected in the United States since Congress passed the Weeks Act, in 1911, those known collectively as the White Mountain National Forest stand alone. There’s no other alpine zone on the continent as accessible as this one. What you find on the West Coast at 12,000 feet can be had here for 3 or 4,000. Only a moderate hike from its many trailheads, a land steeped in clouds is as much a hotbed for leading-edge environmental research as it is for backpacking and skiing. And at last count, it’s all within a day’s drive for some 70 million people.

This year we celebrate the 100th birthday of the White Mountains’ federal designation as a national forest. As we raise a glass to a century of success, we acknowledge the initial leap of faith that saved the White Mountains—and much of the Eastern Seaboard—from a fate as bleak and barren as a moonscape. AMC was founded in 1876 with the mission of studying the mountain landscape after New Hampshire Governor Walter Harriman sold all of the state’s land holdings to timber speculators. It was only through the creation of powerful new private-public partnerships that groups such as AMC, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and American Forests were able to gain ground against generations of industrial and agricultural damage. Then as now, it’s a hardwearing notion of partnership that makes the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) the people’s forest. We’ve all got to keep working for it to keep working.

We’re fortunate to have a clearheaded and capable leader like Clare Mendelsohn in the role of WMNF Supervisor. What she and her team are doing today with AMC and other organizations is held up as one of the strongest examples of public-private partnership in the country. So whenever I can, I try to point out that, with one exception (Madison Spring), AMC doesn’t own a speck of soil beneath our White Mountain huts. It’s all on loan from the U.S. Forest Service, and it always has been. Our 100-year legacy of living and exploring in the region, learning about nature, history, and astronomy, seeking to better understand each other and our place in the universe, is also a 100-year legacy of good stewardship. That ought to be a point of pride for every AMC member.

As partners and stewards, we’ve weathered some tough conditions lately. The rejection of the highly controversial Northern Pass project this spring, which would have cut a 192-mile transmission corridor through scenic and ecologically important New Hampshire landscapes, including the White Mountain National Forest, came only after AMC banded with dozens of partner organizations, 30 impacted towns, and thousands of individual citizens to oppose the project over the course of an eight-year-long saga. This was a harrowing ordeal for everyone, but a great testament to the power and importance of grassroots coalition building. That’s exactly what it took to build the White Mountain National Forest in the first place—and to make it the shining example it remains today.


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John Judge

Chief Executive Officer, Appalachian Mountain Club