In the early 1900s, Herbert Welsh, a summer resident of Sunapee, worked with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests to protect Mount Sunapee when extensive logging threatened the mountain and its ancient forest. The State took over in 1948, creating Mount Sunapee State Park. The ski area opened that year.
Now, our state park and its ancient forest face a new threat from resort-driven private development.
The ski area at Mount Sunapee is now leased to a subsidiary of CNL Lifestyle Properties, a Florida-based real estate investment trust. CNL and the operator, Okemo/Mount Sunapee Resort, want to expand the ski area on the west flank of the mountain.
The resort says the “West Bowl” is an “enhancement,” and proponents insist no real estate development is involved. Yet, the current plan appendices describe 175 to 250 housing units to be built on the lease operator’s land abutting the park. And the resort’s economic analysis in two prior master plans states residential development is “an integral part of the expansion plan.”
Additionally, as recently as May 2014, Okemo/MSR claimed in a legal brief a loss of millions of dollars in potential real estate value from not being able to expand in Goshen. Okemo/MSR sued the people of New Hampshire and former Governor Lynch in 2007 when the governor refused to move expansion forward based on the feeling that it was at odds with purpose of a state park. In July 2014, a Superior Court ruling gave the resort something it wanted: a larger lease area that extends to the western and northern boundary of the park.
The 2014 master plan now seeks what is needed for slope side development: access across the park border onto the resort’s private land in Goshen.
Resort-real estate development IS the growth model for big operators, such as CNL. CNL’s portfolio of mountain resorts includes Loon (NH) and Okemo (VT). Yet, the plan does not comprehensively address the commercial and residential build out associated with expansion. The regional planning commission that evaluated the proposal says that this information is needed for local, regional and State planning.
Yes, the in-flow of skiers to the region offers benefits. But, let’s put this in perspective. The regional economy depends on sustainable development—smart growth, not sprawl. Area workers need year-round employment and a living wage, not part-time seasonal low wage service jobs.
What are the impacts?
This expansion will bisect the Pillsbury-Sunapee Highlands, New Hampshire’s largest unfragmented forest block south of the White Mountains. This area provides important habitat and travel corridors for wildlife, including black bear, moose and bobcat. State wildlife agencies have identified this as “Priority Landscape.” It is the largest remaining area of intact, interconnected and ecologically significant forest in central New England.
Proposed ski trails and infrastructure will cut through exemplary forest and extremely rare old-growth identified by the N.H. Natural Heritage Bureau. It is important to remember that these forests are on public land, and accessible for scientific study, public enjoyment and educational use. They are part of the park’s remarkable legacy and natural heritage, and protected under N.H. RSA 217-A. To cut these forests to enable private gain for the ski resort operators would be a tragedy.
The expansion will also cut through the Summit Trail, the only four-season hiking trail in the park on the west side of the mountain. The Summit Trail is part of the Greenway, a 75-mile loop of interconnected trails in Central New Hampshire.
How do we respond to public concerns?
The resort’s 2014 master plan is now under consideration at the Department of Resources and Economic Development. The next step is a draft response from Commissioner Rose. We ask the Commissioner to address our concerns.
Additionally, we ask the Commissioner to request and make public vital missing information, such as the resort’s future private development plans and impact studies. Some of the studies in the plan are 10-years old, and therefore are inaccurate, incomplete and misleading. A transparent review process that includes public forums and additional hearings is essential when considering Mount Sunapee’s future.
Mount Sunapee State Park was created by land purchased, gifted, or taken by eminent domain for public good, not for private gain. The Friends of Mount Sunapee believe that cross border development that enables private resort-real estate development will set a dangerous precedent for state lands across New Hampshire.
Do we really want our parks to become hubs for private real estate development on and around land intended for public benefit and protection?
Jolyon Johnson, President
Friends of Mount Sunapee
PO Box 199, Georges Mills, NH 03752
The Friends of Mount Sunapee is a grassroots organization that seeks to preserve the essential public values at Mount Sunapee State Park and advocates for protection of the Sunapee highlands, its watersheds and the unique rural character of the communities in the mountain’s shadow. On-line at www.FriendsofMountSunapee.org.