Recent Work to Protect the Outdoors
We are proud to share with you these snapshots of just some of our conservation work this last year. Across the region and in every program, we are advancing AMC's mission of promoting the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Appalachian region.
In Maine, AMC permanently protected 3,500-foot Baker Mountain, including 4,300 acres of unfragmented, roadless areas with a mature hardwood and softwood forest.
Also in Maine, AMC advocated to protect and fund the Land for Maine's Future program;defeated weak and inadequate mineral mining regulations that would have threatened water quality and the integrity of our public lands;and strengthened Maine's laws to require an analysis of the cumulative impact of multiple wind power projects during the permitting process.
As part of the Maine Woods Initiative, AMC continued its work to restore native brook trout habitat on our Maine Woods lands. In 2015, we removed three culverts and replaced them with bridges, restoring three miles of stream habitat, bringing the total number of miles of restored habitat to 16.
As a result of AMC efforts over the past several years, 1,007 acres adjacent to Mount Greylock State Reservation in Massachusetts were permanently protected for conservation &recreation in 2015, including 924 acres that are now managed as part of the State Reservation. AMC also successfully advocated for additional funding for the Massachusetts State Park system.
AMC has achieved Forest Stewardship Certification (FSC) for its 70,000-acre Maine Woods Initiative forest management operations. FSC, the most rigorous and credible forest certification system, uses a set of 10 principles and 57 criteria. Many major companies have policies that state a preference for FSC-certified products.
In 1998, AMC was a lead in negotiating the Fifteen Mile Falls hydroelectric project settlement agreement in New Hampshire and Vermont that was incorporated into its license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Part of the agreement includes a protection, mitigation and enhancement fund of $17 million (check) for the Upper Connecticut River that AMC, as a member of the fund's advisory committee, helps to distribute. In 2015, $1.3 million was distributed to thirteen projects that leveraged an additional $1.7 million in project funding. These projects included important river front land protection purchases, two dam removals, two endangered species recovery efforts, four instream and shore bank restoration projects, and the replacement of an obstructing culvert.
AMC and the Highlands Coalition, which is convened and coordinated by AMC, celebrated the permanent protection of Gibraltar Hill, a forested headwater area only three miles outside of Reading, Pennsylvania. The 234-acre parcel lies at the heart of the federally designated Pennsylvania Highlands Region, which is part of the larger Highlands Region that includes parts of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Conservation of this parcel protects a key drinking water supply area, provides new recreational opportunities by expanding the William Penn State Forest, and protects scenic views along the Schuylkill River Trail and Schuylkill Water Trail, a state and federally designated Heritage Area.
Also in the Pennsylvania Highlands, AMC launched a new webinar series to share information and conservation strategies with our partners in the Pennsylvania Highlands Coalition. The programs have featured experts on topics ranging from energy transmission projects to transfer of development rights (TDR) programs, allowing us to connect our partner groups with new resources across the broad Highlands landscape.
After celebrating the passage of a statewide ballot question to permanently dedicate conservation funding for parks, trails, flood-prone areas, historic sites, and farmland, AMC and our partners at the New Jersey Keep It Green coalition have continued to advocate for land conservation by pushing for the adoption of strong implementing language for the measure, which will provide at least $71 million annually for the next four years, and $117 million annually afterwards.
AMC's White Mountain professional trail crew had quite a few major accomplishments this year, among them the construction of a 40 foot long bridge over a tributary on the 19 Mile Brook Trail in the White Mountain National Forest. The crews also reconstructed the Fishin' Jimmy Trail (AT) and did a lot of work to improve the extremely popular Champney Falls trail.
AMC's Ridgerunners interacted with thousands of Appalachian Trail (AT) hikers in western Massachusetts, providing Leave No Trace information and a general stewardship presence on the trail. Ridgerunners monitor and report on more than 70 miles of the AT in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and their visitor contact has become one of AMC's most powerful educational tools. Duties include a wide range of independent responsibilities primarily focusing on communication, decision-making, backcountry user education, and some trail maintenance. The Ridgerunner position involves multi-day backpacking, as well as duties at a backcountry base camp, where 10-12 mile day hikes are common.
The Berkshire Volunteer Teen Trail 2-week and 4-week crews participated in a Leave No Trace Weekend Trainer Course on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Connecticut. These crews spend their weekend backpacking along the AT, learning the principles of Leave No Trace and how to implement these practices in their daily life on their volunteer trail crews.
Berkshire Volunteer Teen Trail Crews spent a total of 26 weeks and over 8,500 hours this summer on trail projects including new trail construction, rehabilitating overgrown trail, and installing drainage structures. These crews also continued work on federal Recreational Trails Program funded projects at sites that included Becket Land Trust Historic Quarry &Forest and the Appalachian Trail on Mt. Prospect. Expanded regional partnerships resulted in our teen crews helping build trails on Berkshire Natural Resource Council and the Trustees of Reservations properties.
AMC's Roving Construction Crew constructed an elaborate network of Americans with Disabilities Act accessible trails for the Town of North Providence, Rhode Island;relocated a major trail on Pleasant Mountain, Maine;and reconstructed sections of trail for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation as well as for the Trustees of Reservations.
AMC provided Leadership and Trail Skills trainings for the volunteer New England Trail (NET), Trail Adopter crew, and also outfitted the crew with a mobile tool trailer equipped with hand tools and personal protective equipment. Twenty teens worked on three weeks of NET Volunteer Teen Trail Crew to improve trail conditions. 30 field trips focused on field geology studies were organized for middle school students as part of the NET "Trails to Every Classroom" initiative, and AMC engaged students from the region's Five College Consortium in outdoor recreation and stewardship along the NET through a series of trail work days and a fall retreat.
Great progress was made on the 230-mile Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway (BCT) in 2015. AMC published the first large-format, waterproof map and guide to the entire 230-mile-long BCT, which features 30 suggested hikes to help get people outside. We also continued our work to improve the signage and tread way of the trail. During the second year of our Bay Circuit Trail program, AMC staff led 25 days of trail work, including single and multi-day projects in 12 different towns. During those programs, 193 volunteers contributed 1,551 hours of service, including working with a local YMCA to do projects on land trust and municipal lands, as well as a base camping, overnight crew who built a boardwalk and maintained the trail in a state forest and on a land trust reservation. This work included our first two Teen Trail Crews on the BCT (pictures right), which we plan to expand to five weeks of Teen Trail Crews in 2016.
A single-day workshop focused on basic trail maintenance skills for nine local Bay Circuit Trail volunteers, as a precursor to the full trail adopter program we will be launching next year.
In Maine, AMC volunteers completed 6,359 hours of trail work, with 51 hours dedicated to the Appalachian Trail. The AMC worked with 170 trails volunteers on trail maintenance and reconstruction projects in the northern Mahoosuc Range, AMC's Maine Woods, Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park, and in Evans Notch, as well as several small land trusts in Maine, like the Loon Echo Land Trust and Greater Lovell Land Trust.
659 North Country Trails Volunteers contributed a total of 16,318 hours to maintaining the trail network on the White Mountain National Forest and at Mount Cardigan.
In August, the AMC along with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Plum Creek, and the Maine Conservation Corps (MCC), opened a new two-mile trail to the summit of Number 4 Mountain. The trail is one of several being built by AMC and MCC crews in the Moosehead Lake region on Plum Creek conservation lands. The trail is being extended over the next few years by AMC crews to Baker Mountain and to AMC's lands near Baker Pond and Little Lyford Pond Lodge.
In 2015, AMC's Backcountry Caretaker program (pictured right) supported a record breaking overnight use of 16,078 visitors to nine campsites, which translated to roughly 2,000 gallons of human waste composted. Caretakers are also part of the Search and Rescue operations in the White Mountains, and assisted with multiple calls and incidents. Caretakers work a shift of ten to eleven days in the field solo, followed by three to four days off, and are stationed at campsites spread along 110 miles of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire and Maine.
AMC advanced the development of the Pennsylvania Highlands Trail Network by securing support for construction of a 3.3-mile section of trail in Springfield and Richland Townships, and establishing a dedicated trail route through the Borough of Quakertown. AMC continues to maintain our new website for the PA Highlands Coalition and Pennsylvania Highlands Trail Network. The website showcases an interactive map of the entire PHTN trail network, which will extend the existing Highlands Trail in New York and New Jersey, connecting existing trails with nearby parks and communities across the region. The website also highlights the conservation work undertaken by AMC and many partner organizations throughout the region.
AMC completed and launched a new Interactive Map for PA Paddlers and Anglers. The Water Resources Interactive map allows boaters or anglers to access valuable conservation and recreation information, including paddling, fishing, scenic areas, access points, and USGS flow gage and water quality information for selected lakes and rivers. The interactive map also focuses awareness on important water resources and their societal value, along with known threats to their integrity.
AMC volunteers completed 1,118 hours of trail work in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area with 66 volunteers, including an expanded program for weeklong volunteer teen crews and volunteer vacations.
AMC has been engaged in science and policy to protect hiker health from unhealthy ozone pollution for nearly 30 years. This year the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized new national standards for ozone, a major constituent of smog (pictured right), as part of a required periodic scientific review process under the Clean Air Act. EPA set the new national public health standard for ozone at 70 parts per billion, down from the current level of 75 parts per billion. AMC and EPA science advisors recommended a range between 60 and 70 parts per billion with strong evidence that the lower end is most protective of those who hike, bike, or play outdoor sports.
As a member of the Low Impact Hydroelectric Institute (LIHI) which provides national certification to low impact hydroelectric projects in the US, AMC's Director of Research Ken Kimball served on the technical committee that updated the standards used for LIHI certification.
In southern New England, AMC worked to protect critical lands and trails from unnecessary impacts of energy infrastructure, including the proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline, and with partners introduced a Clean Energy Plan for Massachusetts to achieve greenhouse gas reduction mandates through a sensible mix of energy efficiency, local distributed energy resources, and new cleaner sources of energy, with protections for New England's ecology and outdoor recreation-based economy.
AMC continues to advocate for protecting the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from adverse effects that would be caused by the proposed PennEast Pipeline in Pennsylvania. AMC submitted comments on the docket and filed as an intervening party, and we are communicating with our membership to encourage them to get involved, including leading a guided educational hike on the trail near the proposed crossing. AMC also continued our work educating the public about the need to protect public lands from the negative impacts of natural gas development through our website, Marcellus Shale's Greatest Treasures, an interactive mapping website where visitors can learn about seventeen outdoor destinations across the Marcellus region, and document their experiences with natural gas development on the trail.
AMC continues to oppose the controversial high voltage transmission line known as Northern Pass, which after five years still doesn't have any of the permits it needs to proceed. In July the Department of Energy released the draft EIS;two weeks later Northern Pass announced a new preferred route that was not studied in the DEIS. AMC led a letter with colleague organizations to DOE asking them to prepare a supplement to the DEIS studying the new preferred route, and DOE agreed, delaying the DEIS public comment period while the supplement is prepared. While the new preferred route does include 52 miles of additional burial of the line around the WMNF, AMC and others continue to argue that the project is not needed, but if it does proceed it should be entirely buried under transportation rights of way.
AMC played a pivotal role in writing and successfully moving forward changes to rules for the permitting of energy generation and transmission projects in New Hampshire by the NH Site Evaluation Committee. These new rules include better protections for the environment as well as scenic viewsheds and landscapes, a focus on how the project serves the public interest, as well as requiring consideration of cumulative impacts of wind projects.