If you’ve been anywhere near New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley this summer, it’s clear that the White Mountains have been overrun by tourists.
That’s nothing new, of course. The region is always one of the most popular draws in New England each summer, boasting a wealth of outdoor activities, theme park fun, and tax-free shopping, all within a three-hour drive from the metro Boston area.
But 2020 has delivered a much grander burden for the Granite State.
Take, for instance, the fact that the staff of the White Mountain National Forest felt the need this week to pen an open letter to tourists, pleading with them to make note of the “lack of respect for the valuable resources of the forest.”
The anticipation of getting outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic is understandable. The service had even anticipated this, erecting additional portable restrooms and dumpsters in high-traffic areas.
But the onslaught of visitors has still been a challenge. The complete disregard of the surroundings by a percentage of them has been disheartening.
“We’re seeing human waste along trails,” Tiffany Benna, who oversees recreation for the U.S. Forest Service, told New Hampshire Public Radio. “We’re seeing graffiti which we haven’t really seen, on boulders and rocks along the trails, not just on our signs. And we’re also seeing a lot of people, like 100 volunteers, you know, go into the forest and pull out, you know, 300 pounds of trash.”
Much of the issue is attributed to first-time visitors, folks who might not be aware of the rules and regulations that come with visiting the great outdoors. With many summer vacations getting cancelled this summer amidst the pandemic, people are trying to find some substitution in the natural landscapes of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.
The Forest Service’s plea is a start, but with summer season soon to translate into what promises to be a busy foliage slate, we have to wonder if the damage currently being done by tourists might leave a bad aftertaste come ski season.
If the state of New Hampshire were forced to inflict further restrictions regarding visitors to its state, it could have an adverse effect on its winter tourism. Remember, Vail Resorts used lockdowns in Australia as reason to cease operations at its properties — Mount Hotham and Falls Creek — Down Under last month. This past week, both resorts closed for the remainder of the season, remaining open only to “permanent winter residents.”
What might stricter measurements in New Hampshire mean for Vail-owned properties in the state?
“We cannot get caught trying to play catch up to the virus during the ski season,” Vail CEO Rob Katz wrote in an open letter last week. “We have to remain out front in our approach. Exacerbating that reality is the fact that each one of our communities is a destination for visitors from countless other cities. This is our greatest strength, but it can also be a weakness. We cannot only look at the COVID-19 data in our local communities. By welcoming people to our resorts from other locations we need to realize that we will be taking on their COVID-19 experience as well. Therefore, for us to be successful we need to enforce protocols and procedures now that can work all season.”
Vail was one of the first resort entities to shutter all operations last March, at the start of lockdowns in the United States. The company has proven in Australia that it still is not afraid to put a halt to things if the situation calls for it.
So, the fear that the summer burdens in New Hampshire could affect operations at Mount Sunapee, Wildcat Mountain, and Attitash Mountain Resort is probably very real. That would mean another devastating winter for the likes of the Mount Washington Valley, months after finding itself crushed under all-too-carefree visitors.
“All of us want to protect our local economies and our communities,” Katz wrote. “All of us want a great ski and snowboard season. To make that a reality – all of us must remain vigilant.”
Maybe that vigilance starts now, especially in New Hampshire, where the behavior of tourists in August, September, and October might determine the path for the skiing and riding season. That means respecting property by picking up after use. It means wearing a mask for the respect of others. It means working together (as challenging as that may be) in order to get back to our annual normalcy of visiting the slopes.
As Geoff Hathaway, president of Magic Mountain Ski Resort in Londonderry, Vt. told the Rutland Herald: “What I’ve been trying to emphasize to people is, how they behave and how they act and how we go about interacting with each other now will basically lead to whether we’re going to have a ski season or not, and how restricted the ski season will be.”
It’s not like everybody in New England is going to band together solely for the sake of skiers and riders. But we could at least begin with a little common decency for our natural environment this summer.