In commemoration of the centennial of the Weeks Act, NHPR is looking at the impact the federal legislation has had on the state and its largest forest. The Weeks Act gave the federal government the authority to buy private land to turn into the National Forest system. While the law is typically appreciated by conservationists, it was business interests that drove its passage. And one hundred years later, the law has had a large and positive economic impact on the North Country, providing jobs and improving the quality of life. NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.
SOUND OF KIDS BEING LOADED ON A SKI LIFT
John Weeks, a native of Lancaster, had to cajole and maneuver Congress and President Taft into approving what would become known as The Weeks Act.
At the time though, he probably wasn’t thinking about happy tourists getting on ski lifts in The White Mountains.
Nor was his primary motivation the idea of millions of tourists visiting what would become The White Mountain National Forest.
He was thinking about the economy, about business.
“There was an enormous support for this act in the business community in New England.”
That’s Rebecca Weeks Sherrill More, a history professor and Weeks’ great granddaughter.
Weeks grew up on a farm and loved the North Country.
But his major argument for passing the act was that lousy conservation practices were bad for business.
One worry was the existing take-no-prisoners approach to logging.
Brad Simpkins is the state’s chief of forest protection.
“They were just cutting everything, not really giving any thought to the future stands or will this be sustainable.”
That clearcutting led to rivers flooding as far away as Manchester.
By allowing the federal government to buy a huge tract of land and turn it into national forest, it became clear that there was a better way for the industry to operate.
“The forests are still being harvested but they are managed sustainably, they are using forestry techniques and silviculture so those forests can still generate timber products but they can do it for generations to come.”
SOUND OF SLED DOGS BARKING
A huge benefit to the North Country is tourism ranging from dog-sled rides to hiking.
“The Weeks Act in general was a big boost for tourism because it helped to create the White Mountain National Forest which really is the backyard to New Hampshire.”
That’s Tai Freligh. He’s an official with state’s division of travel and tourism.
“Tourism is our second-largest industry in the state so it is very important to the economy of the entire state and important to the North Country.”
Tourists had been coming to the North Country for years before the Weeks Act.
They came on trains that funneled them to the grand hotels.
But the increasing use of the automobile provided more options.
The chance to roam, to go elsewhere.
Mark Okrant is a professor of tourism management at Plymouth State University.
“The large hotels that were already well in place by the time The Weeks Act came about were already giving way to motor courts and motels.”
The Weeks Act created something beautiful to keep them coming.
“But of course without the Weeks Act it is questionable whether so many people would have wanted to drive up here and see the place.”
Okrant estimates about five million people visit the White Mountains each year.
He figures that works out to about $661 million a year.
The Weeks Act has also made the North Country an attractive place to live and helped with property values.
Rebecca Oreskes is an official with the White Mountain National Forest.
“What is really striking if you happen to be looking at real estate listings is they make a point to say either it is close to the national forest or next to the national forest. So, that’s clearly a big driver for people for living here.”
Thad Guldbrandsen is the director of the Center for Rural Partnerships at Plymouth State University.
He says the Weeks Act provided the people who live in the North Country with eco-services.
Here’s what he means.
“If you think about a natural eco system like a forest in terms of all the different benefits that we glean from it, whether it is clean water, fresh air, beautiful vistas.”
But there is also the economic aspect.
“In the case of the White Mountain National Forest of course we have fiber and other timber resources, resources that have been the foundation for the pulp and paper industry as well as saw logs.”
Jasen Stock is the executive director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.
He says the Weeks Act had something for everyone.
“There was a real nexus there between conservation and business interests.”
This summer a series of celebrations is scheduled in the North Country to commemorate the Weeks Act.