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Opponents of Cog Railway’s hotel speak out at planning board meeting

  • Around 40 people showed up to hear the Cog Railway's presentation on a proposed 35-room hotel that would sit on Mount Washington's summit if approved. There's no site designs at this point, but locals and mountain lovers are already speaking out against the hotel. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Paul McCoy and Nickie Sekera both work in the White Mountains region, and are concerned about the potential impact the Cog Railway's proposed hotel could have on Mount Washington. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 12/8/2016 11:40:17 PM

There isn’t even a site plan for the Cog Railway’s proposed 35-room hotel, but the White Mountains region’s locals and lovers already feel the proposal is atrocious, outrageous, and environmentally unsafe.

Around 40 people attended a Coos County Planning Board meeting Thursday night, and while there was no public input session, attendees had no problem voicing their feelings about the hotel.

“I feel like it’s atrocious,” said Chris Magnes of Conway, who works as a guide in the White Mountains region. “It’s greatly transparent and profit driven. The only people who would benefit from this is the Cog Railway.”

In addition to the rooms, a restaurant would be built within the 99-foot-wide strip of land the company owns straddling the railway line, about a mile below the summit near the Jewell Trail, according to Cog Railway owner Wayne Presby.

This location, called the Skyline, once housed a siding where trains could pass each other. Presby said the faster uphill trip allowed by the biodiesel engines that replaced the old steam engines meant the siding was no longer necessary.

Presby has said the hotel would relieve the overcrowding issues the summit experiences every summer, noting the facilities are not equipped to handle the 300,000 people who visit the mountain each year. Under the proposal, the firm would build a sewer line running down the mountain to new leachfields at the base, near the Cog Railway station, similar to a system used at Cannon Mountain to take waste from the mountaintop terminal for the aerial tramway.

But Magnes was skeptical of that claim.

“A good way to address capacity usage issues would be to eliminate the Cog Railway,” Magnes said. “The issues of overcrowding are related to access because it’s a very accessible summit from the railway and the road.”

The hotel would be open only during the Cog Railway’s season, usually May to November, something that made Paul McCoy, a rock and ice-climbing guide of Conway, question how impactful the hotel would be to the economy.

“I’m not sure how many jobs it would provide in terms of contracting, even if it’s locals, and all those jobs would be seasonal and probably not pay well,” he said. “I know the economy is hurting, but I don’t see this offsetting the damage.”

He later added: “I respect the auto road and the train, and the history that surrounds it, but we don’t need anymore buildings or people on that mountain.”

Nickie Sekera of Fryeburg, Maine, teaches wilderness medicine to guides in the White Mountains region and is particularly concerned about the impact the building could have on the mountain’s alpine zones, which are rare in New England. She said protecting the delicate area should be prioritized over nostalgia of former hotels.

“I was born in 1970, and since then the world’s population has doubled,” she said. “As we continue to encroach on the wilderness, we need to start looking at it and valuing it differently.”

Both Sekera and McCoy felt travelers have become less aware of how dangerous the mountain can be, something they thought the hotel would encourage.

“I think there’s already a false sense of security, and this wouldn’t help,” Sekera said. “Mount Washington is home to the world’s worst weather, supposedly, and that’s what attracts people. But the weather can be challenging even in the summer; you see search and rescue pulling people off the mountain all year round, and that’s something to consider.”

Mount Washington has had a number of hotels at its peak over the years, the most recent of which was torn down in 1980. David Govatski of Jefferson said he would be open to a hotel coming to the summit, or at the base of the mountain. But right in the alpine zone?

“It’s an outrageous proposal,” he said. “The impact on the public alone would be immense; if you put too many facilities in the region, you’re going to ruin the aesthetics.”

The only overnight rooms on the mountain today is the Appalachian Mountain Club hut called Lakes of the Clouds, which offers accommodations for 90 hikers but is closed in the winter. The Mount Washington Observatory holds a small number of overnight guests in the winter.

White Mountain enthusiasts have not been shy in the past when a building threatens to enter the area: AMC recently withdrew its proposal to build another overnight hut in Crawford Notch after a year-long consideration process. Public reaction was decidedly mixed, with supporters saying the hut could attract more tourists, while opponents were concerned about what that attraction could mean for the environment.

Reaction to the Cog Railway’s proposal has been swift: an online petition created by “Rachel L” opposing the hotel was created on Dec. 2 and had gained over 5,000 of the 7,000 signatures it was looking for by Thursday morning.

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