Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge, My Viewpoint

Side view of footbridge along the Thoreau Falls Trail, at North Fork Junction, in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire. This bridge is supported by two large white pines and crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River.
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge (before Irene) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge, My Viewpoint Like many in the New England outdoor community, I have been closely following the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge removal project. I have had interesting conversations as to why the bridge should be replaced, but nothing yet has changed my position, I support removing the bridge from the Pemigewasset Wilderness. I wrote about the issue of this bridge being located in a designated wilderness area back in June, and you can read that blog article here.

It has been brought to my attention that Forest Service is still accepting comments, so I want to pass that along to anyone interested in commenting. Supporters and non-supporters of the bridge removal, if you did not send in comments during the comment period, you still can send them, but do it soon. Today, I am going to share my reasoning as to why I believe the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge should not be replaced. Maybe my comments will influence you to write a letter in support of the bridge removal to Forest Service.

The bridge at North Fork Junction covered in snow during the winter months. This bridge spans the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River along the Thoreau Falls Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire.
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge (winter) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

1) Day hiking to Thoreau Falls from Lincoln Woods Trailhead – In my years exploring the Pemigewasset Wilderness, I have crossed paths with only a handful of people hiking to Thoreau Falls from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead. Out and back to Thoreau Falls from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead is about a 23 mile hike, and I think the number of people who actually do this hike is far and few. Many people can’t hike 23 miles in a day, so it is unrealistic to think Thoreau Falls Trail (starting at Lincoln Woods Trailhead) is a major route to Thoreau Falls.

Hiking mileage to Thoreau Falls:
From the Ethan Pond Trailhead  – Out and back is roughly 10 miles
From the Zealand Trailhead – Out and back is roughly 10 miles
From the Lincoln Woods Trailhead – Out and back is roughly 23 miles

Even though the popularity of the Thoreau Falls Trail is debatable, the number of miles that must be hiked to reach Thoreau Falls can suggest what is the more popular route. And with this information it is highly likely the majority visit Thoreau Falls from the Ethan Pond and Zealand Trailheads, not the Lincoln Woods Trailhead.

2) Thoreau Falls Trail already has a dangerous water crossing – If one begins a hike at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead with a plan to visit Thoreau Falls, they must hike the Pemi East Trail, to the Wilderness Trail, to the Thoreau Falls Trail, cross the bridge in question, and continue to hike the Thoreau Falls Trail for a number of miles before reaching the falls. Upon reaching Thoreau Falls, the Thoreau Falls Trail crosses the bridge-less North Fork of the Pemigewasset River and continues to the Appalachian Trail. In order to view the falls, one has to cross this bridge-less water crossing. *Thoreau Falls Trail has no bridge at the Thoreau Falls crossing.

During a rain event, this crossing can be dangerous, and one slip could result in a person being dragged down Thoreau Falls. The only way to avoid this crossing is by bushwhacking upstream to the Appalachian Trail and then hiking back down the Thoreau Falls Trail to view Thoreau Falls.

3) Thoreau Falls will still be accessible – Thoreau Falls will not be closed if the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge is removed. People will still be able to visit Thoreau Falls from the Appalachian Trail. The bridge in question and Thoreau Falls are located on opposite ends of the Thoreau Falls Trail. And Forest Service has stated the trail will remain open, only the bridge will be removed, which means the Thoreau Falls Valley will still be accessible.

The decking on the footbridge along the Thoreau Falls Trail at North Fork Junction in Pemigewasset Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire. This bridge crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, and it has a noticeable tilt.
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

4) Compared to the removed suspension bridge – In 2009, the 180 foot long suspension bridge that crossed the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River, along the Wilderness Trail, was removed because of safety concerns. Removing this suspension bridge eliminated a very popular hiking and cross-country ski loop. The 60 foot Thoreau Falls Trail bridge crosses the same river, only deeper in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the water-crossing is much shorter, and it receives much less hiker traffic than the Wilderness Trail bridge did.

This comparison alone makes it very difficult to justify replacing the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge. To remove a bridge from a very popular trail and then replace a bridge on a trail that is lightly used is not justifiable.

5) Cross-country skiers – If Thoreau Falls Trail is a popular cross-country ski route how are skiers crossing the bridge-less North Branch of the Pemigewasset River at Thoreau Falls? Even though I have never seen ski tracks along the Thoreau Falls Trail, I don’t doubt skiers use the trail. It is a beautiful area during the winter, but how are they crossing the bridge-less, water crossing on the North end of Thoreau Falls Trail? Refer to #2.

6) Safety – Safety is a concern, but the reality is people are crossing bridge-less brooks and rivers every day in the White Mountains. A good example is downstream from the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge at the site of the suspension bridge that was removed in 2009. People, including myself, are crossing the river at the removed suspension bridge site frequently without issue. It is the same river the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge crosses, only it is a much wider crossing, and deeper in spots. View the crossing here and compare it with the below image.

Looking downstream at the bridge at North Fork Junction covered in snow during the winter months. This bridge spans the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River along the Thoreau Falls Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of New Hampshire. Just beyond this bridge was the location of a timber trestle along the old East Branch & Lincoln Logging Railroad (1893-1948).
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

7) The Pemigewasset Wilderness is not really wilderness The Pemigewasset Wilderness is one of six wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest. Referring to #8, the Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as an area that may also have historical value. The Pemigewasset Wilderness is not without human influence and is rich with East Branch & Lincoln Railroad artifacts, but by definition it very much is considered wilderness. These designated areas are unique in character and are unlike other areas in the National Forest. If they are managed like the rest of the National Forest, the meaning of wilderness will be lost.

Many years from now, the current human impact in the Pemigewasset Wilderness will be gone. And a future generation will be able to enjoy this wilderness as it once was. What we do today can help guarantee this.

8) Definition of Wilderness – The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness in this way: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

9) Designated wilderness area – The Thoreau Falls Trail bridge is located in a designated wilderness area, and these areas are governed under the National Wilderness Preservation System and the Wilderness Act of 1964. Both have strict guidelines when it comes to man-made structures in designated wilderness areas, and permanent improvements are not allowed within these areas. Removing the Thoreau Falls Trail 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.

Pemigewasset Wilderness - High waters from flash floods from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 cause peeling to the bottom of a  footbridge, which crosses the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River along the Thoreau Falls Trail at North Fork Junction in Lincoln, New Hampshire USA. The bridge is supported by two large white pines and looks to have received some damage. This tropical storm / hurricane caused destruction along the East coast of the United States and the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire was officially closed during the storm.
Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge Days After Tropical Storm Irene, New Hampshire
 

10) Replacing the bridge If Forest Service decides replacing the bridge is the best option they need to stay true to wilderness values and build the new bridge with only natural materials from the immediate area of the bridge. A modern day bridge placed in this location will ruin the spirit of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. And if this can’t be done then the bridge should not be replaced.

I have been exploring the 45,000 acres that make up the Pemigewasset Wilderness for many years. Human influence (blazing, permanent structures, trail work, etc.) is very limited within this wilderness area, and that is what attracts me to it. In my opinion, rebuilding this bridge would undermine wilderness values, and the above reasons are why I feel the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge should not be replaced.

I encourage those who support this bridge removal project to email Forest Service's Dan Abbe. Let him know why the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge should not be replaced, and make a point to reference the importance of wilderness values. Feel free to pass this blog article along to friends. And you can find the most up to date information about the bridge here (draft environmental assessment).

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.

Happy image making..


 

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

December 2016, there has been no decision on the Thoreau Falls Trail bridge removal project. And sources are reporting the decision will be made sometime in 2017. Continue to send Forest Service your comments in support of removing the bridge.

December 2015, Forest Service sent out a letter stating that the final decision on the Thoreau Falls Trail 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 mainly in the environment of New Hampshire. His work is published worldwide, and publication credits include the Appalachian Mountain Club, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Backpacker Magazine, and The Wilderness Society. His blog articles are intended to create awareness for the environment and to promote his image archive.

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2 Responses to “Thoreau Falls Trail Bridge, My Viewpoint”

    • Erin Paul Donovan

      Thank you, Matt! I am glad you enjoyed it. No matter the outcome (removed or rebuilt) of this project it will be talked about for years to come. Forest Service is in a no win situation with the New England outdoor community.

      Reply

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