By Peggy Rosen
Land, air, water, flora and fauna - Since 1876 the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has promoted the protection, enjoyment and wise use of the Appalachian region. Its conservation concerns range from large to small, from seemingly obscure projects to those in the forefront of the community consciousness.
Ever heard of Potentilla robbinsiana (a.k.a. dwarf mountain cinquefoil)? If you want to find this tiny, rosette-shaped plant with its hairy, tooth-like leaves and showy yellow flowers, you have to trek to the heights of New Hampshire. This particular variety of cinquefoil is extremely rare. It only grows in several locations in New Hampshire’s Alpine Zone, above elevations of 4,500 feet. Discovered by scientists in 1824, this rare jewel of the Granite State was placed on the endangered species list in 1980. Its population had precipitously declined due to over-collection, hiker trampling, and its difficulty in adapting to certain challenges of the harsh alpine environment. Concerned about possible extinction, the AMC, in partners
hip with the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife Service and the
New England Wildflower Society (NEWFS), put together a rescue and recovery
plan. The AMC studied the plant’s
biology and collected seeds, which the NEWFS grew and replanted to establish
new colonies. The AMC relocated
hiking trails and conducted ongoing educational programs for visitors who might
travel in cinquefoil-populated areas. The species recovered and was removed from the list in 2002.
If you take a walk in Piscataquog River Park west of Manchester along the railroad spur up to Goffstown, you will encounter an area of pine barren. Very little pine barren habitat is left in New Hampshire, most of it having been cleared or paved. New Hampshire’s official state butterfly, the Karner blue butterfly (also on the federal endangered species list), relies on pine barren habitat, as the caterpillar feeds only on wild lupine, which grows only in pine barren areas. Once thought to be extirpated from New Hampshire, the Karner blues are making a comeback. However, invasive plant species such as Norway maple, bittersweet and garlic mustard threaten to overrun the native plants of Piscataquog Park and make it potentially inhospitable to Karner blue butterflies. AMC members from the New Hampshire Chapter have volunteered their time to clear away some of the invaders, in hopes of restoring the natural balance of this small, but important, piece of the state.
If you gaze out from one of New Hampshire’s many vistas, you may see for miles across peaks, forests, lakes and rivers. But you may just as easily have to squint through a soupy haze shrouding the summits and blanketing the valleys. Decreasing visibility and evidence of Northeast pollution from mid-Western power plants and vehicle emissions has prompted the AMC to take action. AMC members called Visibility Volunteers, or Viz Vols, carry a simple kit on hikes which measures ozone levels and records visibility levels. Viz Vol data collection is part of the Mountain Watch Program, finishing its second season in the autumn of 2005. More than 200 volunteers have submitted reports from around the region. Volunteers can also observe and report seasonal changes in wildflowers and leaf colors. These hikers tracking trends contribute to a large AMC database, which is used in Club air quality advocacy work. The AMC makes recommendations to government agencies and partners with other clean air advocacy groups. Together they are creating a collective voice calling for clean air legislation, policies and procedures.
As a non-profit organization with almost 90,000 members (nearly 10,000 in the New Hampshire Chapter), 130 staff and a dozen chapters throughout mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, the AMC is well-positioned to make the most of the influence of a large group and the commitment of its individual members to fulfill its mission. The founding members, many of whom were Boston academics who enjoyed the superb recreational opportunities of New Hampshire’s wild areas, recognized the need to protect wilderness. In addition to organizing recreational Club outings, they developed an attitude of stewardship of the land.
As far back as the early 1900’s, AMC members were vitally involved in fulfilling a mission of preservation, addressing lawmakers and policy-makers on the issues of land conservation. At that time there were no National Forests in the Northeast. Working determinedly for almost ten years, pushing for public access to large tracts of wilderness, the group’s efforts were finally rewarded by passage of the Weeks Act of 1911, which allowed the government to purchase private land for the establishment of National Forests. The creation of the White Mountain National Forest followed soon after.
Working with government representatives on conservation continues to be a focus of the AMC. Members are encouraged to seek natural resource protection through the legislature by contacting their representatives and voicing their views, concerns and suggestions. Since 1998, members have been able to keep up-to-date on current conservation issues through the AMC Conservation Action Network.
The recent release of the U.S. Forest Service’s White Mountain National Forest Management Plan provides an example of AMC involvement in policy-making. The new plan, which describes how the WMNF will be managed for the next ten to fifteen years, required the Forest Service to spend years studying data, holding public hearings, sifting through thousands of public comments and drafting many revisions. Throughout this process the AMC submitted written and verbal comments, scientific data, proposals, suggestions and general input. The AMC vision for collaboration, balanced approach to wise use and decades of outdoor expertise provided a solid platform for its recommendations, many of which were adopted as part of the final management plan
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Early conservation efforts were also focused on the creation and maintenance of well-thought-out trails for hikers and skiers. Well-routed and maintained trails preserve plant life and minimize the detrimental effects of erosion. In-the-field trail work is still central to AMC conservation. With 325 miles of New Hampshire trails maintained by the group, trail work days are a common activity and are attended by all ages and all abilities. It’s not unusual to encounter a grinning, clipper-wielding seven-year-old on a trail crew, or dirt-smudged teenagers sweating alongside a senior AMC member. The NH Chapter has specific responsibility for maintaining the OLD Bridle Path in Franconia Notch, the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway and the hiking and ski trails around Cardigan Lodge. The Adopt-A-Trail program, begun in 1980, allows individuals or groups to assume responsibility for specific sections of trail, committing at least two weekends per year to caring for that section. In New Hampshire, 35,000 hours of trail work is provided by staff and volunteers annually.
Roll-up-your-shirtsleeves work sessions, whether involving paperwork or trail work, isn't the only place you'll find AMC-ers. Simply enjoying nature is still an integral part of the AMC experience. Hundreds of all types of activities are available throughout the four seasons for every level of outdoor enthusiast. Trips range from easy family hikes to arduous mountaineering rock and ice climbs, backcountry ski expeditions, multi-day summer backpacking excursions, cycling, paddling, birding, map and compass workshops and wilderness first aid courses.
In addition to the fun of getting together with like-minded folks, the AMC philosophy sees every activity as an opportunity for learning. Trip leaders often impart important ecological knowledge. AMC huts and facilities offer seminars, workshops, displays, and self-directed learning activities that present the natural world, man’s impact on it and our responsibility in trying to protect it. Signs in the restrooms of AMC facilities instruct on water conservation. Wall displays in the halls of The Highland Center in Crawford Notch describe weather patterns, growing seasons, the development and path of acid rain, the inter-dependence of the animals and plants of the forest, and the fragility of the organisms of the Alpine Zone. Families join a naturalist for a walk along a woodland path and stop to study the tiny water life in an adjacent pond. A Mountain Classroom tailors outdoor experiences to middle school and high school students. Some AMC members have received official training in the “Leave No Trace” program, instructing backcountry travelers in low-impact principles. The educational component of AMC activities and facilities attempts to foster a sense of individual responsibility and the realization of what we can all accomplish together.
Striving for a strong and healthy future for New Hampshire’s natural resources, the AMC has “walked the talk,“ in many cases literally, for many decades and countless miles. As one member put it, "the AMC does a lot of good!"
Ed's note: The AMC was produced for Heart of New Hampshire Magazine and HeartofNH.com and transferred to this website to assure that the stories and articles written for the magazine would never be lost to the public.
Clouds Over Mount Crawford by Wayne D. King