Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Contemplation in Conway - Guest Blogger Post

By Loren Valliere

How lucky are we to be able to share in Karl’s many adventures! If you’re like me, blogs like this one remind you why you love the northern landscape, and inspire you to get outdoors and enjoy it. Adventure is engrained in our Yankee spirit, and these wild spaces are deeply appreciated by everyone who is privileged to visit the granite state.

Today Karl has given me the opportunity to share some of my own experiences with his readers. Below is a picture of one of my hikes in the North Country this past year, up to Cathedral’s Ledge. We stayed at the newly-renovated Comfort Inn in North Conway and were looking for an easy afternoon hike on our first day up there. We looked at the trail map in the parking area for a while, a very rudimentary brown sign with not much to intrigue our current adventurous spirits. There were a lot of people out during a prime-tourist weekend, so we decided to ditch the trail and climb through the woods to the summit (I don’t recommend this- it was dangerous!). Before we knew it, we were scaling rocks without any equipment, pulling each other up steep areas, and catching great views between the trees as we ascended. To catch our breath, we stopped and listened to some of the different bird species. I could make out the purple finch (NH’s state bird!) and the common chickadee, but my limited identification skills stopped me there.

Before we could see the summit, we could hear voices. A few boosts up some tall rocks, clinging to some trees for dear life; I remember thinking we are certainly not taking this way down! Open blue sky was a welcome sight for me, and I crab-walked on all fours to make my way up the flat gray rock, cool on my hands in the fall sun, and finally I could stand straight up at the top of Cathedral’s Ledge. The top is fenced in many areas where the best views are, to keep you from walking straight off the cliff. From there we could see real rock climbers (not the young-and-stupid form of rock climbing we had just done) navigating the sheer cliff face. I learned later that this ledge formed during the retreat of the last ice-age. The cliffs are sheer granite and spectacular to see. During the summer months, you can hire a guide to help you navigate the cliff (oh, and there’s an autoroad to the top). Cathedral’s Ledge is part of Echo Lake State Park, along with White Horse Ledge, which were both purchased in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s by area visitors and local residents, and later deeded to the state of NH.

People laughed at our clamoring around, and probably thought those people obviously aren’t from around here (although, in truth I’m a born and raised granite-stater – go wildcats!). We stood with a friendly group catching some sun rays and delighted in our prize: the astounding views at the summit. People love New England, and that is for sure. I’ve lived in Oahu, Hawaii, and traveled every stretch of the island there; I’ve visited Mexico and the southern states, seen the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, and have gone north into Canada, but there is something about New Hampshire that keeps people coming back. Maybe it’s the charm, a strange kind of northern warmth even in cold weather. On this brisk fall day, you couldn’t feel any sense of chilly gray up there. Colors abound and the air is crisp, renewing the spirit.

This was about the same time I was embarking on a separate adventure. In my professional career: I had just been hired by the National Wildlife Federation to research and outreach to New Hampshire citizens about climate change. And now, standing up here on the rock face of Cathedral’s Ledge, it was all I could think about. It was very real to me that, in several years, my children and grandchildren may climb to this same summit, and discover a very, very different north country.

Most of us have accepted that climate change is here. The accelerated warming trends are well documented, especially here in the northern areas of the country where climate change will have the first and probably most devastating effects. If you haven’t read into this, I certainly encourage you to do so. There has been lots of press lately about how moose are being affected by shorter winters that allow ticks to literally suck the life out of our state’s icon (see the National Wildlife Federation’s recent report: “Nowhere to Run: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World"). Moose tour businesses are feeling the effects, since they have to search longer and put in more hours to find a moose to show their clients. The shops that rely on ice fishing during the non-tourist months are hurting because the ice just isn’t reliable for fishing anymore (see www.nwf.org/sportsmen for more information). Ice forms later and breaks up earlier, shortening the ice fishing season.

The maple sugar industry, also economically important for New England, now fears the northward movement of sugar maples out of this area as the warming climate proves inhospitable for their continued growth. US Forest Service models predict that New Hampshire’s future climate will support plant species that typically grow to the south and in lower elevations – think oaks and southern pines, not the smooth, stretchy-armed, long-fingered, yellow-and-red-leaved sugar maples. As hikers and people who connect with the outdoors, we know what a shift in plant species means for our wildlife species—lots of changes, lots of movement, and perhaps even loss. I thought then about the birds I heard earlier on my hike— the purple finch isn’t going to stick around in a warming climate, and is one of several species that has already begun to shift its range northward according to NH Audubon.

National Wildlife Federation is one of many groups in New Hampshire working to take action on climate change. If you’re interested in doing something to reverse our negative impacts on New Hampshire’s landscape, I encourage you to contact us and use our many resources to make your voice heard. You can take action right here in New Hampshire, and it can be as easy as making a phone call to your senator or signing a petition to set carbon pollution standards. So, I encourage you to speak up; this is one issue where every voice matters, and together we have the power to make positive change in 2014. Happy New Year fellow outdoorspeople-- keep adventuring!

Loren Valliere is a NH wildlife biologist and an outreach consultant for the National Wildlife Federation. Please feel free to contact her through e-mail (Loren.wildlife@gmail.com) or on FaceBook (NH Wildlife and Climate News)

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this guest post are that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Live Free and Hike NH.

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