Coos County officials have sided with the Mount Washington Cog Railway in a dispute over a trail near the summit – but the fight is far from over.
The Coos County planning board says the Cog didn't need a permit to clear the trail on its property, as long as it's used for maintenance and recreation.
They say it will need a permit if it's ever used commercially, but it's still not clear what that means.
Environmental advocates who've argued the trail should be removed say it's already contributing to the Cog's business.
And they worry its commercial uses could expand in future – such as by “running Snow Cats up there in the winter with passengers,” says attorney Jason Reimers, or “using it to build a hotel."
Railway owner Wayne Presby maintains the trail isn't related to his controversial goal of building a lodge near the mountain's summit.
But he doesn’t disagree that the trail contributes to his business – in fact, he says, he’d like to use it more.
"There is no difference between recreation and commercial,” Presby says. “The railroad is a recreational thing, but it's also a commercial activity. Skiing is a recreational thing, but it's a commercial activity."
He says he'll stay in touch with the county about any plans to expand use of the trail in future, whether or not they’d require a permit.
Meanwhile, opponents like Reimers and the group he represents, Keep the Whites Wild, say they're waiting to see if the trail causes erosion on the mountain as snow begins to melt.