Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge Removal

Thoreau Falls Trail in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Thoreau Falls Bridge – White Mountains, New Hampshire
 

Thoreau Falls Trail, Proposed Bridge Removal – The final decision on the Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge project was made in September 2018. The bridge will be removed without replacement (Alternative 1). This is a win for wilderness conservation. Written in June 2015, the below article focuses on the bridge project.

In August of 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused massive erosion damage to the White Mountains trail system in New Hampshire. Some trails were damaged so badly that they have been permanently closed (Flume Brook Trail in Waterville Valley has been decommissioned). And to this day trail crews are still repairing Irene damaged trails.

Deep in the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness, at North Fork junction, along the Thoreau Falls Trail, a beloved bridge that crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene. The bridge is now listed to be dismantled on the Forest Services Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPA). A final decision should haven been made by the end of 2015, but it now appears the decision won’t be made until 2018 (this is updated information).

Pemigewasset Wilderness - Footbridge, which crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River along the Thoreau Falls Trail at North Fork Junction in Lincoln, New Hampshire USA. This bridge is supported by two large white pines.
Before Tropical Storm Irene – Thoreau Falls Bridge, New Hampshire
 

According to the proposal, the bridge will be dismantled, and the hardware components will be packed out. The wood will be broken up and scattered, and the concrete abutments will be broken up and buried or scattered. Forest Service does not plan to close any section of the Thoreau Falls Trail. The project involves only bridge removal. Removing this bridge should go smoother than the last two removed from the Pemi Wilderness.

High waters from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 damaged the bottom of a bridge of the Thoreau Falls bridge in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Days After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 – Thoreau Falls Bridge, New Hampshire
 

A hiking partner and I were at the bridge site in 2011 days after Tropical Storm Irene blew through the White Mountains and we were amazed at the damage. In order to cross the bridge we had to remove debris that was on top of the bridge. It seemed a portion of the bridge might have been underwater during the flooding.

Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 damaged the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Days After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 – Thoreau Falls Bridge, New Hampshire
 

After Tropical Storm Irene, Thoreau Falls bridge was inspected by professionals and issues were found. And because the bridge is located in a wilderness protection area, if it collapses or is deemed unsafe and has to be dismantled, more than likely it will not be rebuilt. Wilderness protection areas are governed under the National Wilderness Preservation System, and the Wilderness Act of 1964, which have strict guidelines when it comes to man-made structures in wilderness protection areas.

Bridge at North Fork Junction in Lincoln, New Hampshire
Days After Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 – Thoreau Falls Bridge, New Hampshire
 

When an area is officially deemed a designated wilderness area, permanent improvements are not allowed within the area. Removing the Thoreau Falls bridge, which is considered a permanent man-made structure under the Wilderness Act, would push the Pemi Wilderness that much closer to the "Natural State" it once was.

North Fork junction bridge along the Thoreau Falls Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
 After Tropical Storm Irene – One Person Weight Limit, Thoreau Falls Bridge
 

Some will just say rebuild the bridge, and that is a great idea, but it doesn’t seem likely under current policies. It appears only two options are available at this point. Leave the bridge as is, and wait for it to collapse and hope no one gets hurt in the meantime, or dismantle it now to prevent any injury from possibly happening.

Bridge along the Thoreau Falls Trail in Pemi Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Side View – Thoreau Falls Bridge, New Hampshire
 

The bridge is in an area of the Pemi Wilderness that attracts a certain type of hiker, and it is not overrun with hikers like the New Hampshire 4000 footers are. If (or once) the bridge is removed, hikers not accustomed to hiking in the backcountry will need to plan accordingly when they want to cross the East Branch of the Pemi. And crossing the East Branch should only be attempted by hikers who are comfortable doing water crossings.

Pemi Wilderness - bridge, which crosses the East Branch of the Pemi River along the Thoreau Falls Trail at North Fork Junction in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Thoreau Falls Bridge – White Mountains, New Hampshire
 

This bridge removal proposal is going to be a heated debate among hikers, and some will use the opportunity to attack how the White Mountain National Forest is being managed. It does not matter what side of the bridge you stand on with this issue, get the facts, accept opinions, and ignore the nuisances.

Winter hiker crossing bridge at North Fork Junction in the Pemi Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire.
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge – White Mountains, New Hampshire
 

I have spent many days in the Pemigewasset Wilderness and have used this bridge more times than I should ever admit. I will be sad to see it removed, but the Wilderness Act has been put in place to protect designated wilderness areas from heavy impact. As a conservation minded society, we have to ensure the Wilderness Act is upheld to the fullest extent so our designated wilderness areas are not turned into city parks. I support the removal of the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge.

Forest Service will be accepting comments on this project and you can find more information about it here. If this bridge is dismantled it will be the third one removed from the Pemigewasset Wilderness since 2009.

All of the above images can be licensed for publications by clicking on the image you are interested in. And you can view more images of the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge here.

Continue reading – 11 reasons why the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge should not be replaced.

Happy image making..


 

Updates
September 26, 2018, a final decision has been made. The bridge will be removed without replacement (Alternative 1).  Read the final decision notice.

May 25, 2018, Forest Service is proposing to implement Alternative 1, removal of the bridge without replacement. Read the draft decision notice.

May 23, 2018, the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge has been closed and partially decommissioned to prevent use in its current condition. The trail is still open, but hikers will have to ford the river at this location. However, no decision has been made yet on if the bridge will or will not be replaced. Read more

March 2018, sources are reporting that Forest Service’s Pemigewasset District Ranger hopes to make a decision by the end of the month. The keyword in this sentence is “hopes”.

August 2017, the 30 day comment period is again open, and the Draft Environmental Assessment is available for viewing.

December 2016, no decision has been made on the bridge removal project. And sources are reporting the decision will be made sometime in 2017.

December 2015, Forest Service sent out a letter stating that the final decision on this bridge removal project has been delayed until the winter of 2016 or longer. So continue to send Forest Service your comments in support of removing the bridge.

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Erin Paul is a professional photographer who specializes in environmental conservation and historic preservation photography in the New Hampshire White Mountains. His work is published worldwide, and credits include; Backpacker Magazine, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and The Wilderness Society.

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