Protect Mount Washington – 2017 Year in Review

Update on the Protect Mount Washington campaign, the Mount Washington Cog Railway’s proposed hotel, and the recent unpermitted snowcat road.
A year ago, on December 6, 2016 at a Coos County Planning Board meeting, Wayne Presby, owner of the Cog Railway, presented the concept of building a luxury hotel (called Skyline Lodge) in the alpine tundra zone on Mount Washington. Realizing the threat of this harmful development, the Protect Mount Washington campaign was launched by the newly formed non-profit Keep the Whites Wild. Numerous conservation groups, small and large, have also expressed opposition to the hotel.
The Cog Railway's proposed Skyline Lodge would significantly harm the alpine tundra zone on Mount Washington.
The Cog Railway's proposed Skyline Lodge would significantly harm the alpine tundra zone on Mount Washington.
Keep the Whites Wild and the Protect Mount Washington campaign have remained active, both publicly and behind the scenes.  The following is a selection of our key activities and accomplishments throughout 2017:
  • Retained legal support with BCM Environmental & Land Law, PLLC.
  • Established a formal relationship with The Waterman Fund as the fiscal sponsor for Keep the Whites Wild.
  • Collaborated with other conservation organizations, including the March 2017 release of a letter to the Coos County Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment opposing the Cog Railway hotel.
  • Promoted and managed a 17,000+ person petition on opposing the Cog Railway hotel along with our  2200+ follower Facebook page and website.
  • Networked with scientists, outdoor companies, and the general public.
  • Attended a variety of Coos County and State of New Hampshire meetings related to the proposed hotel.
  • Held public outreach and fundraising events throughout New England: Flatbread in North Conway, NH; Salt Pump Climbing Company in Scarborough, Maine; Area 23 in Concord, NH; and Arc’Teryx in Boston, MA.
  • Received a Patagonia Retail Grant in October 2017. The Patagonia Retail Grants Program supports small grassroots activist organizations with provocative direct-action agendas, working strategically on multipronged campaigns to preserve and protect our environment.  We are excited to have the support of Patagonia and thank everyone at the Patagonia Freeport Store!

When will the Mount Washington Cog Railway formally propose the hotel and apply for a building permit with the Coos County Planning Board?  The short is answer is, we don’t know.  We do know that Cog Railway owner, Wayne Presby, has continued to reiterate, in various interviews, that he intends to move forward with the development plans targeted at a 2019 opening.  Recently, surveyors have been witnessed working in the area of the proposed hotel. Numerous factors have likely caused a delay including modification of the Coos County Unincorporated Places Master Plan and widespread public opposition to the Cog Railway’s proposed hotel.

In a recent development, the Cog Railway has constructed an unpermitted snowcat road along the 3 miles of tracks from base to summit.  This snowcat road foreshadows further harmful development on Mount Washington. Heavy excavation equipment was used to modify the existing electrical line trenching scar so that it will accommodate a passenger snowcat.  The alpine tundra habitat is sensitive to this type of disturbance. The University of Connecticut performed an ecological study in 2014on the trenching scar and research indicates that the alpine vegetation is slow to heal, that recovery could take decades or longer.  The heavy equipment use and snowcat operation will collectively worsen the scar and stunt healing, further damaging the fragile alpine tundra zone.  This construction should have, by County definition, required similar permitting to Skyline Lodge on the local level, and a state level Department of Environmental Services (DES) Alteration of Terrain Permit.  Protect Mount Washington has taken a firm stance against this unpermitted road.  We’ve mailed a letter to the Coos County Commission, which the Commission will review in a public meeting starting at 9am on December 13, 2017. This meeting will be held at the Coos County Nursing Home in Berlin, NH.

View of the west side of Mount Washington on December 4, 2017. The Cog Railway's new snowcat road is visible to the left of the tracks in the alpine tundra zone.

Keep the Whites Wild and the Protect Mount Washington campaign will continue to actively oppose and challenge the Cog Railway’s proposed and existing harmful development in the alpine tundra zone on Mount Washington. Thank you to everyone who has supported the campaign.  Your voice is vital and only a cohesive local and regional effort will preserve the unique and valuable environment on Mount Washington.