Wilderness Volunteers just completed its second trip to the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Volunteer leaders Robin and Carter Bland report:

“One thing we enjoy about WV trips is the opportunity to get to know the rangers, trail crew and other professionals who manage our national forests and parks. Working side by side for a week, not to mention camping together on backcountry trips, affords frequent occasions to shoot the breeze between shovelsful or saw cuts and to have in-depth conversations at lunch and dinner. In addition to great jokes and stories, we always come away with a richer appreciation of the area we’re visiting than could ever be gained from a few minutes in a visitor center.

On our recent trip into the Pemigewasset Wilderness in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest (WMNF), we enjoyed informal trail-side chat, long discussions, and even formal presentations by WMNF staff on numerous topics including the natural – flora and fauna – and human history of the Pemi. Unlike many wilderness areas out west, the Pemi once bustled with human activity as the center of a huge logging operation.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an elaborate railroad network, technologically advanced for its time, spread through the steep-sided drainages that feed the main river canyon, and hundreds of loggers lived in year-round camps cutting spruce and other valuable timber. Most evidence of this activity disappeared decades ago; indeed the Pemi is an encouraging case study in nature’s ability to heal itself. But WMNF staff pointed out signs of the area’s human past that might elude a casual hiker and told interesting stories about life in a logging camp.

Another topic of lively conversation was the Forest Service’s proposal to remove a badly deteriorated bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River at the end of the 2009 summer season. The bridge, a large suspension structure, is approximately 5 ½ miles from the main Pemi trailhead and connects a loop of trails that is popular with hikers and Nordic skiers.. Removing the bridge will limit day hikers and skiers to simple out-and-back routes unless they are willing to ford the river. Needless to say, this plan has stirred controversy with local outdoors people, and it was fascinating to see the bridge, to listen to Pemi Supervisor John Marunowski explain how the Forest Service has wrestled with this issue, and to share our thoughts about the meaning and value of wilderness.”