LEFT PHOTO: Smoke rises from large forest fires in the Pemigewassett valley, 1907. Logging camp buildings are in the foreground. Courtesy of White Mountain National Forest. RIGHT PHOTO: John Wingate Weeks, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts and native of Lancaster. Weeks led the battle to pass federal legislation to purchase and protect damaged and threatened eastern forests, including the White Mountains. Courtesy Collection of the Library of Congress. COURTESY
PLYMOUTH — A new documentary tells the compelling story of the beginning of America’s National Forests east of the Mississippi. And it all begins in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
“The People’s Forest: The Story of the White Mountain National Forest” will premiere Tuesday, July 16 at 7 p.m. in the Boyd Auditorium, Room 144, at Plymouth State University. The screening is free and open to the public.
Produced by David Huntley and Moore Huntley productions, “The People’s Forest” looks at the mix of man-made disasters, colorful characters, citizen activism and political courage that brought about the protection of our National Forests through the Weeks Act of 1911.
“While the dramatic chain of events depicted in the program took place well over a century ago” Huntley said. “he people involved and issues they confronted still crackle with unmistakable life and meaning.”
For “The People’s Forest,” Huntley collaborated with Plymouth State University’s Center for Rural Partnerships and The Museum of the White Mountains.
The program was made possible with the generous support of Plymouth State University and inspired by a shorter video produced for The Weeks Act Centennial Committee.
The main character in “The People’s Forest” is Massachusetts Congressman John Wingate Weeks. Weeks, originally from Lancaster, had already enjoyed a successful career in finance and banking before his election to Congress in 1905.
While he would have a 14-year career as a congressman and then senator, his lasting contribution is the Weeks Act of 1911, which allowed the federal government to purchase private land to protect watersheds and forests.
As the film illustrates, events in New Hampshire’s North Country at the turn of the twentieth century had effects far beyond the White Mountains, including severe flooding in 1895 and 1896.
These floods forced the closing of mills and other factories that depended on waterways like the Merrimack River for hydroelectric power. Thousands of people were out of work and many blamed the flooding on the impact of deforestation in the White Mountains.
Citizens began to realize the connections among natural systems such as forests, watershed and rivers.
Standing in the way of Weeks’ bill was a bitterly-divided Congress which had debated similar conservation legislation in previous sessions. What was new was an unlikely alliance of citizen groups, environmental activists, business leaders and members of the pulp and paper industry.
The film shows the Weeks Act’s enduring impact on the landscape of New Hampshire and the United States. In the century since its passage, more than fifty-two national forests and grasslands in forty-one states — more than twenty million acres — are now protected.
Filmmaker David Huntley specializes in productions in extreme and isolated environments, from the Arctic tundra to the jungles of Central America.
He has produced, directed and written for PBS televisions series such as NOVA and Scientific American Frontiers with Alan Alda, and specials and series for the History Channel, Discovery and National Geographic.
“It’s been a unique pleasure to work with Plymouth State University on this video program,” he said. The University’s “diverse academic and archival resources have been invaluable to this production.”
“This documentary of the Weeks Act is a remarkable piece of work,” said Thad Guldbrandsen, vice provost for research and engagement at Plymouth State University. “We are fortunate to have worked with David Huntley, a world-class film maker with roots in the White Mountains. I think everyone is going be really pleased with the short video he produced for the Centennial of the Weeks Act, as well as this longer, broadcast length documentary that we expect will reach a national audience.”
Prior to the showing there will be introductory remarks from Tom Wagner, White Mountain National Forest Supervisor, Thad Guldbrandsen, Vice Provost for Research and Engagement at PSU, Catherine Amidon, Director of the Museum of the White Mountains at PSU, and film director David Huntley, from Moore/Huntley Productions.