In June 2014, Okemo/Mount Sunapee Resort again proposed expansion into Goshen in its Five-Year Master Development Plan (2015-2019) for the Mount Sunapee ski area.
Considering a recent State study (released in January 2015) that confirms existence of exemplary forest in the proposed expansion area, the board of directors of Friends of Mount Sunapee wrote Governor Hassan and Commissioner Rose to express FOMS continued concern and strong opposition to this expansion plan.
Letter to Governor Hassan and Commissioner Rose, Dept. of Resources and Economic Development – February 9, 2015
On behalf of the Friends of Mount Sunapee, we urge you to end the State’s consideration of the expansion proposal at Mount Sunapee State Park and deny its approval.
This proposal is wrong for our state park and wrong for New Hampshire. The expansion will violate the public trust, destroy exemplary forest in the park, bisect and diminish an ecological landscape of statewide importance, and will severely impact other popular public uses of the park.
Public Trust – This plan runs counter to New Hampshire’s long tradition of protecting public lands, and goes far beyond enhancing the ski experience. It allows the ski area’s lessee and sub-lessee to use their exclusive management positions to facilitate resort-real estate development on their privately owned land adjacent to the state park. The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and many families either sold, lost by eminent domain, or donated property for the creation of Mount Sunapee State Park, to be held in trust for the public good. Approval of the plan will violate this public trust. Additionally, approval would set a dangerous precedent for other State lands.
The exemplary forest at Mount Sunapee State Park – The recent report by the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau (NHB) confirms the existence of “exemplary natural communities” on Mount Sunapee’s west flank. The study, conducted in the autumn of 2014, not only confirmed the findings of the 2004 study, it also enlarged the area formally designated as exemplary at Mount Sunapee State Park. These forests are directly in the path of the proposed expansion of the ski area. Exemplary natural communities are defined by their rarity, size, ecological condition, and landscape context. In addition to being rare, these forests on Mount Sunapee are found at the northern edge of the 30,000 acre Pillsbury-Sunapee Highlands Corridor, increasing their ecological value.
These exemplary forests are ecological communities, a complex interplay of plants (both living and dead), animals (ranging from moose to microbes), fungi, and soils that are not found in other, far more common forests that have been historically managed (ie. logged) by humans. These unmanaged areas are the last remnants of the primeval forests that once covered much of this area prior to European settlement.
These forests are living laboratories: valuable to forest scientists, for educational purposes, and for simple enjoyment by the public. And importantly, they occur in Mount Sunapee State Park, land conserved many years ago to protect these forests and held in the public trust.
Exemplary forests are protected under state law. The NHB report quotes from the Native Plant Protection Act (RSA 217-A:7) stating that “actions funded or carried out by state agencies shall not jeopardize the continued existence of any protected plant species or exemplary natural community.”
The first priority of the state park system, according to state law (RSA 216-A:1) is “To protect and preserve unusual scenic, scientific, historical, recreational, and natural areas in the state.”
Protect Balanced Use – Mount Sunapee State Park is not just for skiing. The western side of the park has long been enjoyed by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Well established use of the park already exists here and it is enjoyed year round, not just during ski season.
The Summit Hiking Trail is a deep forest trail that was expressly created to avoid the existing ski infrastructure. It is part of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway (SRKG), a 75 mile loop of trails that connects four State Parks, three State Forests, and NH Fish and Game protected lands. The trail also links with the 50 mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway and Pillsbury State Park. These hiking trails and the conserved lands that they cross are vital to the State’s recreational economy.
In conclusion, considering the harmful impacts and legal implications of expansion, the Friends of Mount Sunapee believes it is appropriate and advisable for the State to now direct Mount Sunapee Resort to bring forth to the public a revised Master Development Plan that stays within the existing ski area, leaves all identified exemplary forest untouched, and limits future projects to the areas of the park already disturbed.
Enc. – New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau reports (November 2004 and addendum, January 26, 2015)Friends of Mount Sunapee advocates for the protection of Mount Sunapee State Park and its essential public values; conservation of the Sunapee highlands and its watersheds; and preservation of the unique character and natural beauty of the rural communities in the mountain’s shadow.