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Hiking: The land of the pointed firs

I like to head north in the summer to do a few hikes in the land of the pointed firs. This Tuesday I did the 8.3 mile round trip hike to Rogers Ledge in the Kilkenny Region of the White Mountain Nation Forest.

There are a couple of reasons that got me thinking of the north country this week. One, was that I didn’t get up there with my hiking friend Carl who was here on vacation the two previous weeks. We did get to three nice wild areas, but not to the north country, as we usually do.

The second occurred one recent morning in Conway, when, to the amazement of many, a big truck went through town, heading north with one giant propeller blade for a wind farm project. At that point, I was unfamiliar with the Granite Reliable Wind Farm being built in Dummer, north of Berlin, where 33 giant wind towers will soon rise on a number of mountain ridges.

Anyway, I thought I’d head north. As Annie Dillard said in the days before computers, a blank sheet of paper on the desk in front of you has so much potential. The north country would be my blank sheet.

It was a grace period, the day before a day of rain. That added to the good feeling of getting in a hike. I drove north to Berlin, turned west on Route 110, and in 7.4 miles, turned left on the York Pond Road. Taking a right at the fork, in a few miles I passed the gate of the Berlin Fish Hatchery, then turned right up to the main building. I parked next to it, walked up a field behind it to the hatchery’s pump house on Cold Brook. The trail started behind the pond.

This was actually the 3.8 mile Mill Brook Trail. In the old days, it was part of a through route from Stark village to York Pond. Today, only the southern half still exists, as a hiking trail to access Roger’s Ledge. It is flat, and travels through attractive, wild country – the first half along Cold Brook. Then it continues along a hillside, and terminates at a junction with the Kilkenny Ridge Trail. Taking a right there, it is a steepening 0.6 miles top the top of Roger’s Ledge.

The AMC White Mountain Guide calls Rogers Ledge “a spectacular, remote and seldom visited viewpoint.” I certainly won’t disagree with that. The southward view is amazing, sweeping around from the Mahoosucs, east of Berlin, south to the Presidentials, then including much of the nearby forested Kilkenny Region, and ending in the handsome lower peaks of the Pilot Range to the west. The ledge itself is a fine pale granite, and the perfect place for lunch.

On the way back down the steep trail from the top of Rogers Ledge, I spied a much larger nearby ledge to the northeast. Looking on the map, I saw it was called Square Mountain. It looked like a likely place for rock climbers. Later, I looked it up, and found that two local climbers – one a professional guide from Madison, and another, a reporter for The Conway Daily Sun, had recently put up an impressive route on it, negotiating a big overhang along the way.

It was a small north country world.

And on Tuesday, heading home by early afternoon, it felt a little like my hike into a “remote and seldom visited viewpoint” hadn’t taken nearly long enough. The ease of hiking in and out the flat Mill Brook Trail was a good part of the reason.

Later I was driving south past Story Land, and alas, another giant section of a wind turbine went by the other way on a long trailer, with two police escorts. What was happening to the north country?

Again I fished a little in cyberspace for some answers. I found that looking at the Granite Reliable Wind Farm through the eyes of the Appalachian Mountain Club– the east’s primary conservation organization– was helpful, and likely the only way I could comprehend it.

Part of the AMC’s position on wind power, is to first realize that any large scale energy source is not totally environmentally benign. So, when they look at a specific development proposal, they look at not only the benefits, but the negative impact that might result. Unfortunately, in the northeast, the best wind is either found off the coast or on mountain peaks.

In 2008 or 9, the AMC approved of the location for 18 of the wind turbines on the Dummer (Granite Reliable) project. These were on two low ridges called Fishbrook and Owlhead. They did not approve, however, of develpment of a chain of 15 turbines on the ridges of Mounts Kelsey and Dixville, both higher peaks with “old growth sub-alpine spruce/fir forest, that provide high quality habitat for several of the state’s rarest and most vulnerable wildlife species.” These included the state threatened American martin, three toed woodpecker, and the Bicknell’s thrush. The AMC noted that these higher peaks would also serve as a refuge for spruce-fir forests during future climatic warming.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department joined the AMC in this assessment, and disapproved of the development on the Kelsey and Dixville ridges.

However, both the AMC and Fish and Game approved of the site after the developers agreed to mitigate by permanently conserving 1,700 acres of nearby ridge top forest, by contributing $750,000 for use in conserving additional conservation land outside the site, and $200,000 for studying threatened species.

Also, no clearing would be allowed on the peaks between April 1 and Aug. 1 during bird nesting and rearing. The developer would also have to do a survey of migratory birds on the site during construction, then on the first, third and fifth year after construction, to help determine the extent of the adverse effects of wind turbines on these species.

It all sounds good, and was an effort to lessen the environmental cost of large scale green energy. But in the end, it will contribute to the decline–not the increase–of endangered animals, birds and forests. It is a more subtle manifest destiny, rather than the more blatant form of the 1800s.

Many people agree that more effort should be put into small scale green energy on a personal and community level, whether in solar, wind or water. That way, the energy would also stay local, rather than being shipped to the highest bidder.