Monday, October 13, 2008

"Closed to Entry" sign to keep hikers away from fragile alpine plant communities near the Crawford Path on Mt. Washington, July 1984

This sign was put up when the Crawford Path was relocated in 1984 to protect a nearby, extremely fragile plant community. Moving the trail a number of yards away from the site was a preventive measure with the hope that the plants would begin to thrive again away from the tread of hikers' lug-soled boots. The measure, it turned out, looking back 24 years later, was extraordinarily successful. The once threatened plant community is now thriving. Preventing damage to the fragile upland 'environment' of the White Mountains is a full time job for a number of people. The three photos that follow, taken in the late 1960s, show the kinds of human activities that have the potential to cause damage with long term consequences to vulnerable habitats. I took these photos at the apex of an enormous upsurge in the number of people coming to the Whites. The increase was caused by a number of factors. One that had the impact of a minor earthquake was the publication of a story titled "The Friendly Huts of the White Mountains" by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas published in the July 1961 issue of National Geographic. The magazine mailed in early June just in time to allow for summer plans to change and the mountains and huts were inundated with the curious and the zealous. Innovations in hiking equipment, footwear and clothing also helped motivate people to head for the mountains and so did increased efficiency, safety and ease in transportation. Interstate 93, principally, and I-95 had made driving to the mountains by private automobile much easier and faster. In 1967 it was estimated that the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) was within a four hour drive or 20 million people!

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