The owner of a historic railroad that travels up Mount Washington is proposing to build high-end housing and a restaurant near the top of New Hampshire’s tallest peak.
Mount Washington Cog Railway owner Wayne Presby said the nearly $14 million project would park 18 railcars at an elevation of about 5,800 feet (1,670 meters) from mid-May to mid-October . Nine sleeping cars could accommodate up to 70 guests who would pay similar rates to those charged to other sleeping cars.
“There is a demand for that. People want to stay on the mountain,” Presby said of the project, which will require state and county permits and take up to seven years to complete. “They want better facilities than what’s offered there by the state of New Hampshire and everybody else.”
The project, presented earlier this month to the Mount Washington Commission, comes several years after Presby scrapped plans to build a 35-room hotel on the mountain. This project has been the subject of much criticism from environmentalists and hikers, who argued that the 25,000 square foot (2,300 square meter) hotel would damage fragile alpine ecology and destroy scenic views.
Presby said the latest proposal, which includes plans to route sewage down the mountain and fiber optic upgrades, has state support. In exchange, the Cog would agree not to pursue the summit expansion.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural and Cultural Resources did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is unclear whether this proposal will attract the same opposition as the larger hotel project, when thousands of people have signed a petition against it.
Chris Thayer, who represents the Appalachian Mountain Club on the commission, called the proposal “creative in its approach to summit exploitation and visitor experience challenges,” but he said it “deserved more attention to the impacts on the very sensitive natural resources and the aesthetics of the view basin”. .”
David Govatski, a retired US Forest Service forester who can view the site from his home in Jefferson, objected to the larger hotel. But he remains undecided this time around.
Govatski thinks the project could ease congestion from summer tourist crowds on the mountain, as it includes a shuttle from sleeping cars to the summit, the highest peak in the northeast at 6,288 feet (1.91 kilometers ). Currently, the cog goes all the way to the top, causing hundreds of people to get on and off the trains at the same time.
But he fears hotel guests are damaging alpine plants, including Bigelow’s sedge on the mountain, and stressing the rare American pipit that nests in the area. Other people worry that the brightly colored wagon projects — which Presby said could change to more neutral colors — would look out of place on the mountain.
The area where the wagons would sit has had its share of activity over the years. The Mount Washington Auto Route is nearby. There are fuel tanks there, a helipad, and there was once a barracks for a jet engine testing lab.
“They did their planning. The concept looks good on paper but the devil is in the details. That’s what we want to work on,” Govatski said.
“You have to balance the economic value of a railway like this against the potential for environmental impact, from increased use to a new location near the top of the mountain,” he continued. “I’m staying neutral until I can really study what the impacts are.”
Mount Washington has been attracting more tourists to northern New Hampshire since the loss of the Old Man of the Mountain, a granite profile and state symbol that collapsed in 2003. The mountain is attracting more than 300,000 visitors per year.
Presby, 65, who owned the railway for nearly 40 years, said the project would partly fulfill his vision of bringing back the hotels that once graced the mountain in the 1800s. Among them was the Summit House Hotel, which burned down in 1908.
It would also reinforce the cog railway’s role as an economic engine, something the company has been proud of since the train went into service more than 150 years ago. The area, which has one of the lowest median incomes in the state, relies heavily on tourism. The train brings 150,000 people every season to the top.
“The rack railway has been my life. I bought this place when I was 26,” Presby said. “My goal as the owner of the railroad was to bring it back to preeminence.”
Suggest a fix