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Cog Railway owners propose 35-room hotel on Mount Washington

  • The Cog Railway says this could be a record year for them, in terms of number of riders.

  • A hiker near the Appalachian Trail watches the Mount Washington Cog Railway in September, 2016. A proposed hotel would be built near this location. David Brooks / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Thursday, December 01, 2016

The owners of the Mount Washington Cog Railway want to build a small hotel to deal with growing crowds of visitors drawn to the state’s highest peak – but to build it in an unusual spot, two-thirds of the way up the mountain, alongside the railroad track.

“This one is certainly going to be interesting, because of where it’s located,” said Rep. Leon Rideout, a Lancaster Republican and member of the Coos County Planning Board, which will hear the proposal at a hearing Dec. 8.

Wayne Presby, who has owned the Cog Railway for 34 years, said the plan is to build 35 “high-end” rooms and a restaurant within the 99-foot-wide strip of land that the company owns straddling the railway line.

“We haven’t really finalized what the design is going to be. There are options: One is to build it over the tracks, so the train goes through the middle,” he said.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway runs three miles up the west side of Mount Washington, from a base station to the summit. Presby said the company wants to build the hotel about a mile below the summit, near where a hiking trail called the Jewell Trail crosses underneath the train’s trestle.

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.

Under the proposal, Presby said the firm would build a sewer line running down the mountain to new leachfields at the base, near the Cog Railway station. He said this would be similar to a system used at Cannon Mountain to take waste from the mountaintop terminal for the aerial tramway.

The hotel would be open only during the Cog Railway’s season, usually May to November.

Mount Washington has had a number of hotels at its peak over the years, the most recent of which was torn down in 1980.

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.

“All of those are being done on state and federal land. This would be on private land, privately funded,” Presby said of the Cog’s proposal. He said it would cost “several million dollars” and he hopes to open it by July 1, 2019, the 150th anniversary of the Cog Railway.

The Cog Railway was the world’s first line to use mountain-climbing technology. It is the second-steepest such railway in the world, with an average grade of over 25 percent and a maximum grade of 37 percent.

Presby said the Cog Railway, which has closed for the season, carried more than 110,000 passengers to the summit this year, which is its “fifth record year in a row.”

Putting up new buildings in the White Mountains can be controversial, as the Appalachian Mountain Club found when it proposed building a new hut for hikers in nearby Crawford Notch State Park, to help relieve congestion. That 50-person hut has drawn criticism from a number of places mostly due to environmental concerns.

“I’m sure there will be some people that will voice that concern,” Presby said, “but we think there’s a need for an additional facility.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)