Forest Service officials on Wednesday led community leaders and environmental group partners to an area off the Greeley Ponds Trail in Waterville Valley that sustained major damage from Tropical Storm Irene. Paula Tracy/union Leader
When Tropical Storm Irene poured down the White Mountains at the end of last summer, it left behind $10 million in damage to trails, culverts, bridges and roads within the national forest.
By PAULA TRACY
New Hampshire Union Leader
WATERVILLE VALLEY — When Tropical Storm Irene runoff poured down the White Mountains at the end of last summer, it left behind $10 million in damage to trails, culverts, bridges and roads within the National Forest.
And the region has not recovered.
On Wednesday, National Forest Foundation officials announced they had selected the 780,000-acre forest to be one of 14 “Treasured Landscapes” in the United States and, in so doing, agreed to match funding for trail work and clean-up with the federal government and private partners.
The foundation seeks to raise $1 million that will be matched by the forest service in New Hampshire. The White Mountains join such iconic national forests on the list as Alaska’s Tongass, Florida’s Ocala, Tahoe National Forest in California and the White River National Forest in Colorado.
Bill Possiel, forest foundation president, said the White Mountains made the list because of their proximity to a large urban population, the fact that there is a strong network of partners in New Hampshire and actual damage from the storm.
Irene tore new river paths, collapsed river banks and destroyed infrastructure, some of which has yet to be repaired. That includes Greeley Ponds Trail at Waterville Valley, where the announcement was made. The goal of the national organization is to raise $100 million. So far $75 million has been raised, Possiel told forest service officials, state leaders, and conservation partners who gathered under a tent in the pouring rain at the Livermore trail head.
Bob Fries, a board member with the Waterville Valley Foundation and president of Waterville Valley ski resort, presented a $20,000 check to the forest service to restore the Greeley Ponds trail area. That $20,000 was immediately made into $60,000 because the money was matched by the forest service and the NFF.
After the announcement, the group of about 30 headed into the woods in rain gear to see the damage left by the storm and how the forest service is trying to rebuild 2.5 miles of trail and add a new river crossing in the popular trail area. The Greeley Ponds Trail now follows a stream that took over the trail bed and destroyed it.
Tom Wagner, forest supervisor, thanked NFF for choosing the Whites for the funding. He noted that the forest did not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. It did, however, receive about $4.5 million in federal highway grant money to rebuild but that still leaves a big gap of trails torn apart. Other areas of the forest that saw devastation from the event and are still not entirely whole are the Tunnel Brook in Benton, the Dry River, the Wild River, the Saco River and the Mad River.