Cell towers, power lines steal the magic from our scenery

Published: 10/26/2017 10:08:01 AM

The state of New Hampshire has determined a need to replace a series of above-ground conduits that run power to the summit of Pack Monadnock. All agree there are safety issues that need fixing.

However, the state’s current solution is to cut a swath through the forest right along each side of the access road to the summit, and to install poles and overhead wires along the road, crossing it eight times.

Although the resulting visual impacts to the top half of this beloved local road will be severe, there has been no opportunity for public input in the decision. And, at a recent public information session with the state Public Utility Commission, two state agencies and Eversource, it was clear that none of these parties had any idea how profoundly important the scenic splendor of this road is to park visitors who come from near and far to drive or hike to the summit.

As one of the many passionate devotees of this unique local trail, I support a time-out in the process during which citizens can work with the state to devise an alternative plan that protects an irreplaceable natural resource in our community.

I walk up Pack Monadnock several times a week, all year long and in every kind of weather. Like so many other daily walkers, I return again and again for one reason: this road offers a profoundly satisfying hiking experience that can’t be replicated. Indeed, there is nothing quite like it in any other state park. At this moment, we have an opportunity – or rather, a responsibility – to preserve its pristine natural beauty now and for generations to come.

It’s important that all parties involved in the decision-making process understand that this particular “road” is in fact much more than a road. For walkers and hikers of all ages and abilities, it’s a beloved, even magical, local footpath that is unlike any other.

Consider: The pavement makes this a hike that’s accessible to those who are unable to navigate the rocky local trails. The very young, the elderly, the less hardy among us are therefore able to enjoy a challenging yet do-able climb of untrammeled natural beauty that would otherwise not be available to us.

For all of us, the fit and the less fit, the draw is this rare combination of easy footing and, at the same time, access to a spectacular summit. But the road itself, and the experience of walking up it – heart-thumping, physical efforts rewarded by the stunning vistas opening at ever turn – is what visitors, tourists, and locals alike all cherish most. The natural, unimpeded serenity of this trail is a central and crucial part of each hiker’s experience. With solid footing below, one can nevertheless have a sense of being completely “in the woods” and, just as important, of “climbing a mountain.”

There’s a reason so many of us are willing to pay money to take an hour-long hike to the top of Pack and walk back down again. This short, scenic route nourishes the soul in a way no urban stroll possibly could. To set out up that road on foot can be a solitary exercise in walking meditation, as one feels safe walking it alone. Or, it can be an opportunity to climb and chat with friends, as the solid footing and width makes it possible for two or more people to hike and carry on a conversation. But either way, alone or in company, the real attraction is the (mostly) untrammeled beauty of the wilderness.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of cell towers and power stations near the summit. Each of them, deemed necessary at the time, has also stolen a bit of the magic from the landscape. At this moment, we are truly at a tipping point. The visible encroachment of the proposed power lines would seriously degrade this still-stunning route once and for all, for both drivers and walkers.

So, does the road now become degraded by ugly infrastructure? Or do we figure out a way to both upgrade the power and also preserve the beauty of this quiet mountain trail, one of our finest local attractions?

Those of us who cherish Miller State Park and its special road are eager to find a way to resolve this issue. Creativity, compromise, good faith and good stewardship are needed on all sides.

As William Blake wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the streets.” At this moment, we have an opportunity to do something great. Let’s rise to the challenge!

Katrina Kenison Lewers lives in Peterborough.

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