amc map

A map on the AMC website shows the proximity of the Lake of the Clouds Hut to the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.

CRAWFORD’S PURCHASE — Pemigewasset District Ranger Brooke Brown has OK'd extending the reach of the Appalachian Mountain Club Hut/Pinkham Notch Visitor Center permit under which the Boston-based non-profit organization operates the facility off Route 16 in the Androscoggin Ranger District.

On April 4, Brown signed a decision memo to allow clearing and “dirt work” to go forward, creating a long-term 150-by-150-foot airlift helicopter site to serve the AMC Lake of the Clouds Hut.

The project is located on the White Mountain National Forest, which is part of the National Forest Service, adjacent to the Cog Base Station Road, some 5 miles from Route 302 and 0.3 miles east of the junction of the Jefferson Notch Road Junction.

The memo says AMC is authorized by a special use permit to operate and service the huts along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail — a k a the Appalachian Trail, or A.T.

Most of the airlift sites have long been located in the forest, the district ranger points out, and this project will give AMC a safe and secure airlift site.

The Appalachian Mountain Club lost the use of its previous site on private land at the Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Station parking lot after it issued a statement strongly opposing an idea floated by the owners of the Cog about building a hotel over their rails above treeline.

The AMC did not want to use its own land where its Highland Center is located or WMNF land off the meadows edging Route 302. These locations, Brown said, would have required AMC to “increase flight time and fly long-line cargo over a major road, a practice helicopter pilots avoid.”

AMC’s permit also requires it to reduce flight time wherever possible in order to lessen the impact on the visiting public and wildlife.

The AMC apparently also noted in its application that shorter flight times would “reduce the overall cost and the carbon footprint of the Lakes of the Clouds resupply, and enable the AMC to direct cost savings toward conservation work and education.”

Airlift helicopter rentals run nearly $3,000 an hour, plus fees.

The memo states the AMC will also help the USFS contribute to the objectives of the 2005 Forest Plan “by managing high-use areas and facilities to meet visitor needs, while ensuring they can be sustained over the long-term and by working through Special Use permits to provide recreation opportunities that the Forest Service is not able to offer.”

Creating a long-term airlift site will require AMC or its contractors to clear vegetation, stump and grade within a 0.5-acre site; to widen an existing woods road to 30 feet; install a culvert; to maintain existing drainage, and to install a standard USFS gate as well as to level two areas totaling 2,700 square feet for a helicopter landing zone, a fuel truck parking area, and a propane tank storage pod.

As directed by the USFS, all forest products will remain on site: Logs will be cut and stacked, and slash will be scattered at the perimeter. Best practices must be used to prevent erosion, and AMC will be responsible for maintaining both the site and access road.

This action is categorically excluded from documented in an environmental impact statement or an environmental assessment.

“The action is a routine activity within the following category of exclusion: approval, modification or continuation of minor special uses of NFS lands that require less than 5 acres contiguous acres of land,” Brown said. “This category is applicable because of the minimal impacts to a limited area in support of activities by an accepted Special Use.”

This decision is therefore not subject to administrative review or objection and may be implemented immediately.

Project activities are expected to start this spring and completed this fall.

In May 2018, an error in the project’s location was made in the initial scoping notice. It was listed as being in Carroll County rather than in Coos County.

At the time, the expected date of decision was July 2018.

Asked whether the permit had a sunset or required renewal date, Burnett replied, “This larger AMC permit (Hut/Pinkham Notch Visitor Center) expires in 2029, and public concerns can be raised as we begin the process of re-permitting, probably starting in 2027.”

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