The highest peak in the Northeastern U.S., Mount Washington, might be getting a new addition to its far-reaching views — and not at the hand of Mother Nature.
The owners of the historic Cog Railway and Mount Washington Auto Road, which wind their way up the face of the notoriously precarious mountain, have proposed plans to build luxury hotels mere miles from Mount Washington’s summit. However, scores of climbers, hikers, environmentalists, locals, and conservationists are now voicing their discontent over the building plans, arguing that the hotel would damage the ecology of the area and ruin the iconic, sweeping views from the mountain’s summit.
“The purpose of outdoor recreation is to escape some of the modern intrusions in life,” Mike Morin, the Northeast regional director of a mountain climbing group known as the Access Fund, said in a report from the Associated Press. “Having a hotel in the middle of the alpine zone would change the character and experience of a day out on Mount Washington.”
The hotel proposed by the Mount Washington Summit Road Co. would stand three stories tall with 68 rooms available at the base of the mountain near Pinkham Notch. That hotel is slated to open next year and will be open year round. The hotel, proposed by the Cog Railway, would be built at an elevation of 5,600 feet and would have 35 rooms open for guests from late April through November — closing during the notably harsh winter. In the past week, wind speeds on Mount Washington have clocked in anywhere between 10 to 138 miles per hour, and temperatures have dropped to a frigid -35 degrees.
During the summer months of 2016, visitor numbers reached an all-time high of nearly 375,000, which has added a new layer to the age-old challenge of outdoor tourism: how to accommodate the masses without losing the sanctuary of nature to which the masses are flocking. Currently, there is very limited space to house overnight guests and hikers, with options topping out with rooms for individual guests at Appalachian Mountain Club huts and the Mount Washington Observatory for groups.
Owners of the Cog Railway and the Summit Road Co. — including Wayne Presby, the president of the Mount Washington Railway Company — have downplayed any environmental implications that the hotels may have on the area, stating that the new hotels would be the “…nicest looking facility up there,” and blaming the New Hampshire state government for not investing the money in facilities that are needed to serve the tourists that are coming here,” according to the AP.
However, individuals and groups alike have steadily stepped up their opposition of the proposed building projects, standing behind the ethos that adding hotels to the area defeats the purpose of using the Appalachian Trail and Mount Washington to escape the trappings of modern day life and are a direct threat to the ecology of the area. The area is home to nearly five dozen rare species of plants and two rare species of butterflies that authorities have taken previous measures to protect by banning winter camping.
An online petition created in December in protest of the hotels had garnered 8,520 signatures as of Monday. Currently, no formal building plan has been submitted to the planning board of Coos County, where Mount Washington is located.