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White Mountain National Forest Looking for Visitor Input on Parking

U.S. Department of Agriculture

The White Mountain National Forest has a new supervisor. Clare Mendelsohn succeeds Tom Wagner, who retired last month after 15 years of service. She served as deputy supervisor for the past two years.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with her yesterday.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.

So tell me what would you like to see accomplished as you take over in the new role?

Well clearly I had a great mentor in Tom Wagner for the last two years, and he's done a fantastic job. He's been a real pro at managing this forest. So I don't think I would change a whole lot from the way he led us. You know some of our challenges, of course, are growing and competing uses of the forest, but through collaboration with our great partners I think that we can continue to keep this landscape as beautiful and giving to our community as what it has been.

Increased traffic and congestion is an ongoing problem, you know, as more and more visitors come to the forest. How do you plan to continue to address that issue?

That's a great question. We definitely have had some concerns about the parking overflow and spill into some of our major roadways. So we've been working carefully with the state and many of our NGO partners to explore different alternatives. And at the moment, in fact over the weekend, we put fliers on vehicles in cooperation with the state up in the Franconia Notch Parkway alerting them to the problem and that we want to see some change next year. And then we linked it to a survey allowing people to give us some input on what they would like to see change about their experience and options for perhaps alternative transportation in the area.

Well give me a little idea of what those alternatives would be. Obviously the problem is there just isn't enough parking for all the people who want to come, right?

That's correct, and I'm not sure that building more parking is the solution. We would like to explore options such as shuttles. Alternative modes of transportation could also be an option. So those are the kinds of things we want to get input from people.

Do you realistically feel though that a lot of tourists are going to want to take buses or shuttles or vans into various sites?

It happens in other places. A lot of our national parks are experiencing this problem and a lot have also introduced shuttle options. And I think that the convenience of it is actually working. It beats having to park on a highway and hike half a mile up the side of a highway to get to the trailhead.

Do you feel that overall the financial health of the White Mountain National Forest is healthy?

It's definitely been an issue. I think most people are aware that when we have fires out west, a lot of our budget goes to take care of those fires. And in fact, we send resources in the form of people to go help fight the fires. And that takes away from managing the forest here locally. So that has been an ongoing challenge for us. For us, I think finding opportunity is one of my biggest agenda items coming in will be to find efficiencies in the way that we do business, streamline some of our processes, and find synergies between all of our business lines. It's about balancing the resources of the forest; the forest products, the watershed management, the wildlife and of course recreation, which for us is big. So our infrastructure is aging and that will continue to be a challenge for us. Our partnerships will continue to be important for us to manage those and try to make some improvements.

So what are the challenges do you see in the in the near term and in the long term?

It's really a basic bottom line of competing interests and competing demands for use of the landscape. We've got energy transmission as people are well aware, the issue of overflow of parking and carrying capacity of our ecology to be able to withstand all of the various uses—the foot traffic and otherwise. So I do think it's really about how we distribute the use, and how we balance all of those interests in a way that keeps the forest sustainable for our future generations.

What do you love most about the White Mountains?

It's beautiful. It's just such a beautiful place. Every time I drive from our forest headquarters in Campton to one of our district offices in either Gorham or Conway, I just never cease to be amazed at how beautiful this landscape is. I also really appreciate the community and how well people work together. It's so nice to be part of a small state that locks arms and recognizes the importance of cooperation to get it all done. 

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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