Proposals for Public Purchase…

Joseph B. Walker c. 1863 Photographs, Special Collections, New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH

Joseph B. Walker c. 1863 Photographs, Special Collections, New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, NH

During the 1880s, Joseph B. Walker began to push what was then a radical idea: government purchase of private lands in the White Mountains to create a “public forest.” In an address to the Fish and Game League, he suggested, “the purchase, at low and established prices, by the state, of some of the denuded areas recently cut over, to be held and managed hereafter as public forests.” In 1892, the same year New York created a park in the Adirondacks, Walker asked New Hampshire to accept donations of land for preservation. But, hampered by a lack of funding, the state legislature did little: it passed a few forestry laws, created some temporary forestry commissions, and, in 1893, established a permanent forestry commission.

The value of the New Hampshire timber harvest doubled in the 1890s. In an 1893 article in the Atlantic Monthly, Julius H. Ward wrote that there had been a:

frightful slaughter of forest, the trees cut off entirely … and that what ought to be enchanting scenery along a great railway has been ruthlessly laid waste by the lumbermen and by fire.

The argument seemed to be that the state could either promote tourism or promote timber and pulp interests. “It is plain that in the future, if these great domains are to be maintained in their substantial integrity and wholeness, there must be some other arrangement for their protection and preservation than now exists, so that the charm of the region as a great national park may not be lost, and the rights of private owners, who have purchased this property in good faith and are entitled to revenues from it, may be preserved. The question is, What shall this protection be? and it is more easily asked than answered.”

View Greeting Hikers—Presidential Range and Carter Notch from Mount Washington The snow distinquishes the vast scope of the clear cuts Guy L. Shorey Collection, Mount Washington Observatory

View Greeting Hikers—Presidential Range and Carter Notch from Mount Washington The snow distinquishes the vast scope of the clear cuts Guy L. Shorey Collection, Mount Washington Observatory

Pushing voluntary cooperation for forest management had minimal impact. Urging the state to buy the region would not work; the state could not afford to purchase even a small portion of the White Mountains. Congress refused to consider creating a national park. In 1892, North Carolina geologist Joseph A. Holmes offered a new idea: instead of a park, why not create eastern national forests to match the new western ones? New Englanders agreed. “The demand exists that the White Mountain region shall be in some way regarded as public property…. New Hampshire enjoys the unique distinction of having a domain which nature has pointed out for a great public park; not a sportsman’s preserve… but a people’s hunting and tramping ground, where the domain is as free as the air, and where every American feels that the endowments of nature are as permanent and secure as the Constitution.” But was it constitutional for the national government to purchase private forest lands for public purposes?

Ruins of Summit House Guy L. Shorey Collection, White Mountain Observatory

Ruins of Summit House Guy L. Shorey Collection, White Mountain Observatory