‘Peo­ple’s for­est’ marks 100 years

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Classifieds - By StephanieMo­rales

CON­CORD, N.H. » NewHampshire’s most iconic attraction had been dec­i­mated by for­est fires and log­ging when Pres­i­dent Woodrow Wilson es­tab­lished it as a na­tional for­est a cen­tury ago.

Now, the WhiteMoun­tain Na­tional For­est stretches over 800,000 acres in the north­ern part of the state and part of Maine.

It at­tracts mil­lions of vis­i­tors each year and has be­come part of the state’s eco­nomic en­gine, con­tribut­ing to the nearly $9 bil­lion out­door recre­ation in­dus­try that sup­ports al­most 80,000 jobs. Be­yond that, it is a source of pride among New Eng­lan­ders.

“There’s a rea­son why it’s called ‘the peo­ple’s for­est’, it be­longs to us all,” said Cyn­thia Robin­son, di­rec­tor of the Mu­seum of the White Moun­tains.

The U.S. For­est Ser­vice is kick­ing off the cen­ten­nial celebration with an exhibition Wed­nes­day that il­lus­trates the for­est’s his­tory through art, ar­ti­facts and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. Vis­i­tors will be im­mersed in sounds from different parts of the for­est and will also be able to com­ment on what they en­vi­sion the next 100 years to be for the fed­er­ally pro­tected land. The ex­hibit will run through mid-Septem­ber.

“I hope peo­ple who come to the ex­hibit learn things about the for­est they had no idea ex­isted,” Robin­son said. “The goal is to get peo­ple ex­cited enough to par­tic­i­pate and show good stew­ard­ship.”

Good stew­ard­ship was mostly a dream more than 100 years ago in the for­est. Mostly in pri­vate hands, 10 per­cent of the re­gion had burned in a se­ries of for­est fires, ac­cord­ing to his­to­rian David Go­vatski. Hill­sides were de­nuded by log­ging and streams and creeks had be­come pol­luted. It was those dirty wa­ter­ways that prompted the Weeks Act of 1911, which led to the cre­ation of na­tional forests in the east­ern U.S.

When the for­est ser­vice took charge of preser­va­tion ef­forts in the early 20th cen­tury, its orig­i­nal in­tent was to re­grow those forests and re­store pol­luted streams. Go­vatski, a re­tired U.S. For­est Ser­vice worker, said much has been done to re­turn­the for­est to its nat­u­ral state — though it re­mains a work in progress.

“It took a long time to get to where the for­est is now, but restor­ing wildlife and fish­eries is still a con­tin­ued ef­fort to this day,” Go­vatski said. “My im­pres­sion is that they want to take a look back and re­flect on its suc­cesses, but also look for­ward on how we’re go­ing to pre­serve th­ese re­sources for future gen­er­a­tions.”

The for­est ser­vice hopes the events planned this sum­mer re­new the call to ac­tion fro­mover a cen­tury ago that set the en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion in mo­tion.

“Look­ing at the his­tory of it, it’s an in­cred­i­ble con­ser­va­tion suc­cess story,” said Evan Burks, pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer for the White Moun­tain Na­tional For­est. “We have this di­verse forested land­scape that pro­vides clean wa­ter and un­sur­passed recre­ation ac­tiv­i­ties, and it’s be­come this sym­bol for not just New Hamp­shire, but all of New Eng­land.”

JIM COLE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this file photo, leaves be­gin to change color along the Pres­i­den­tial Range in the White Moun­tain Na­tional For­est, vis­i­ble from Hart’s Lo­ca­tion, N.H. Of­fi­cials are not­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the fed­eral ac­qui­si­tion of the for­est with an art...

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