A few weekends ago, I (Sarah) headed for the hills and went hiking, swimming, and camping up in New Hampshire in the White Mountains with some fellow coordinators. I think I’m addicted to the White Mountains, I definitely have a new favorite National Forest. Being above the treeline on a mountain is one of the most exhilarating experiences.
Fysoppers who are new to New England- get yourself up there! The BU Outing Club has trips for all sorts of hiking and camping adventures almost every weekend, and if you are willing to shell out a small fee for gear/food/gas (and it’s SO worth it) you can get out of the city to get some fresh air and meet other people who are into the outdoors. Check out their website: http://buoutingclub.com
Our hiking and river-trekking took us into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. From the top of Mount Lafayette, looking across the Wilderness, it’s just trees, mountains, rock faces, rivers, and small lakes in the valleys. There is no sign of development, and the wilderness looks untouched, pristine, and, well, wild. The trail is heavily used as far as wilderness trails go, but all the same you could hike for miles and see nothing but moose, black bear, coyote, fox, and other New Hampshire wildlife.
Between 1890 and 1940, many different logging camps placed throughout the region and connected by railroads removed almost ALL of the forest cover. Fires burned out of control, uninhibited by natural ecosystem cycles and regulation.
It’s hard to wrap my mind around that when I think of the term “wilderness.” But, it’s the same place, and a really powerful story of restoration. The Pemigewasset was designated a Wilderness in 1984, and since then the regeneration is astounding.
Seeing images of environmental degradation and devastation, or doom-and-gloom statistics can be overwhelming.
Through FYSOP, we want to raise of awareness of the need to save the environment. There is a place for scary facts and depressing images- they are a reality check, a wake-up call. It makes us aware. But by themselves, they can be crippling. Whenever I see images like this, I feel pretty powerless. Raising awareness can be pretty useless if we don’t find an outlet for action or figure out how we are connected to the issue. But we are empowered when we realize how we are in a position to do something about the injustice we are witnessing, or seeing that something so lost was restored.
When it comes down to it we believe that change happens through building relationships and connections — through community. (I mean, hey, we are at the Community Service Center).
For the Pemigewasset, restoration came through community activism. Local New Hampshire residents saw what was happening to the forests, witnessed the Pemigewasset river polluted from soil erosion and logging, and they became angry and demanded change. So they did what they could, and rallied for change. Support expanded to Boston, New York City, Washington D.C., and around the country.
The Weeks Act of 1911 enabled the government to buy private land and turn into public land, and White Mountains National Forest was established in 1918 through this process. These processes set the stage for the The Pemigewasset Wilderness to be formally designated a Wilderness Area by the federal government in 1984. Today, the Pemigewasset is managed by four different government agencies, but the restoration wouldn’t have occurred or reached the federal level without the activism that began at the grassroots level.
How could massive deforestation have been acceptable and even encouraged? In the mindset of 19th century Manifest Destiny, of a wild, new, “uninhabited,” continent with unlimited resources, it was the norm. But, it seems obvious in hindsight that cutting down an entire virgin forest is a bad idea.
Seeing the story of the Pemigewasset Wilderness destruction and then restoration makes me think of the question, what injustices are occurring today that we are not aware of simply because we are surrounded by it all the time and can’t imagine things any differently? What systems are we a part of that we accept as normal but are actually completely illogical and destructive? The restoration points out that things can be different if we choose to shift our perspective, get inspired, and be engaged in our communities. That’s what FYSOP is all about.
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” – Aldo Leopold
“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.”
-Ancient Chinese Proverb
Article about the 100th anniversary of the Weeks Act and the Pemigewasset:
Learn more about White Mountain history: