Countryside Exchange – Mount Washington Valley, New Hampshire
INTERNATIONAL COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP EXCHANGE
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE 1987 NEW ENGLAND EXCHANGE
A dominant feature in the Mount Washington Valley region of New Hampshire is the 763,000-acre White Mountain National Forest.
Tourism and recreation development have historically been operated under special permit on portions of the forest. While this relationship has provided an effective means for opening the forest to broad public use and enjoyment, in recent years it has contributed to a wave of development and secondary impacts on the outskirts of the forest. The rate and scale at which this development has occurred during the last decade is substantial and unprecedented.
The region is equipped to accommodate thousand of overnight visitors, and can be reached, via interstate highways, by day visitors from rapidly urbanizing southern New Hampshire and the Boston metropolitan area. This vast population has created an attractive setting for “factory discount” merchandisers. A significant number of the visitors to the Mount Washington Valley come to shop.
Development to accommodate these visitors is producing profound change in the region. The exchange team noted adverse impacts in the areas of traffic safety and efficiency, fire fighting, school capacity, water quality, fisheries habitat, scenic beauty, and availability and access to farmland and timber resources. Regrettably, most communities have moved slowly in assessing these issues and in developing strategies to mitigate these trends.
Three topics were currently under discussion in the Mount Washington Valley at the time of the exchange: the North Conway Bypass, the White Mountain National Forest Management Plan, and the proposed designation of the Wildcat Brook as a National Wild and Scenic River.
- Identification and evaluation of growth management and resource protection needs on a regional basis.
- Exploration of alternative solutions to the complex land use and resource allocation issues facing the Mount Washington Valley.
- Set of policies to guide the future of the valley.
On both the town and regional levels, a community sense of a shared future is needed. In considering the construction of a bypass, the exchange team observed that Any bypass must serve the community of North Conway. Yet, the town does not know what sort of future it wants, or which (if any) bypass would serve that future. Currently, despite extensive public consultation, residents are responding as isolated individuals trying to avoid a fate they feel is inevitable. The team recommends that North Conway consider what aspects of its community character it wishes to retain or enhance before deciding on a bypass.
Similarly, the regional implications of a bypass are not being considered. A bypass decision is being made in a policy vacuum, without regard to how the bypass will fit into the pattern of other development in the area. Adjoining interests – other towns, the US Forest Service and landowners are directly affected by this decision and need to be brought into the debate.
There must be better integration of the management of public land and the development of private land. Actions taken in either area have an impact on the other.
The exchange participants were generally impressed with the intensive planning carried out within the forest boundary. Knowledgeable professionals balance the competing demands of special interest groups in managing the forest resource. However the US. Forest Service appeared to be taking a “hands-off” approach to development in bordering communities, although many local issues directly affected the forest, and vice versa. If the White Mountain National Forest is to be managed responsibly, the US Forest Service must take an active interest in the future of surrounding communities.
The parties involved must work together. When local residents act individually, their isolation leaves them powerless. A meeting should be called to establish an extended partnership which would identify a common future for the Mount Washington Valley. The meeting must recognize that the opportunity exists to shape the valley’s future for everyone’s benefit, but also that time is short. The meeting should set up mechanisms to consider the broader problems of the region, to pool knowledge and experience, and to establish mutually agreed upon policies for the future of the area.
©2002 Glynwood Center