Human Impact, White Mountains

Impact photo of glass bottles thrown in the forest of Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham, New Hampshire.
Green Glass Bottles – New Hampshire

Human Impact, White Mountains – From a photographer’s point of view, I believe showing the ongoing human impact in the New Hampshire White Mountains creates awareness for what we are doing to our public lands. Overcrowding, vandalism, and litter is a huge problem.

Every day beautiful landscape photos of the New Hampshire White Mountains are posted on all the social networking websites, and this creates a false belief that the White Mountains are in a state of pristine condition. In life, and as an environmental photographer, I'm a realist, and I don’t believe in this fantasy world approach to conservation. Today, I am going to share with you a few unflattering images of the White Mountains. Out of the eleven scenes in this blog article, seven of them are linked to hiking.

Impact photo of abandoned campsite along a tributary of the Wild Ammonoosuc River, on the side of Mt. Blue, in Kinsman Notch of the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Abandoned Campsite – Mt Blue, Kinsman Notch

There has been a steady increase in backcountry camping, and along with this comes more trash being left in the White Mountain National Forest. The problem is it is not just beer cans and cigarette butts being left behind. Complete campsites, like the above one, are being abandoned in the forest. Tents, sleeping bags and cloths are being left to decay in the forest. You can view how some camping sites are being left in the forest here.

Poor leave no trace habits - Abandoned campsite off of Fire Road 511 along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway (route 112), which is one of New England's scenic byways in the White Mountains, New Hampshire.
Abandoned Campsite – Forest Road 511, White Mountains

While some of the abandoned campsites are deep in the backcountry of the White Mountains, others (above) are located close to the roads. What you see above is how the campsite was left and trash was blowing around the area for weeks. Two tents, a tarp, chairs, food, and numerous other camping gear were all left at this site.

The Wilderness Trail in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, which utilizes the old East Branch & Lincoln Railroad (1893-1948 ) bed, was rerouted to avoid a wet section of trail at the historic Camp 18 site. Unfortunately the rerouted section of trail travels directly over an artifact field and hikers are walking on surface artifacts. Though no harm was meant, the reroute will have significant impact on this historical site.
Rerouted Section of the Wilderness Trail at Camp 18 in 2011

In 2011, an out-of-state volunteer trail crew that was working in the Pemigewasset Wilderness rerouted a wet section of the Wilderness Trail. Unfortunately, the rerouted section (above) of trail travels directly over an artifact field at Camp 18 of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. Though no harm was meant, this trail reroute will have significant impact on this historical site because hikers are walking on surface artifacts. Steps have been taken to ensure this doesn't happen again. You can view more images of the rerouted section here.

Impact photo of abandoned tires in forest along Route 112 in Easton, New Hampshire.
Abandoned Tires – Easton, New Hampshire

Most people who spend time in the great outdoors have come across one or two tires discarded in the forest. I recently read that it takes 50 to 80 years for rubber tires to decompose naturally which means the tires above will remain in the forest for many years to come. I fully understand when people claim seeing trash in the middle of the forest ruins there outdoor experience.

Impact photo of graffiti painted on boulder along the Mount Tremont Trail in the White Mountains, New Hampshire during the spring months.
Graffiti – Mount Tremont Trail, White Mountains

I will never understand the fascination with spray painting objects along the trail system of the White Mountain National Forest. I am finding graffiti deep in the forest, which tells me people are willfully putting a can of spray paint into their backpack with the intention of leaving their mark somewhere in nature. In 2014, I was shooting along the Mount Tremont Trail and came across the above boulder covered in graffiti.

Human Impact - Burned artifact (utility pole) in the area of Camp 15 along the old railroad bed of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad in the Pemigewasset Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire USA. The EB&L Railroad was a logging railroad in operation from 1893 - 1948.  In 2011, this utility pole was knocked down by campers and then burned in their campfire. It was one of only a handful of utility poles still standing along this railroad.
Burned Utility Pole – East Branch & Lincoln Railroad, White Mountains

In 2011, near Camp 15 of the old East Branch & Lincoln Railroad in the Pemigewasset Wilderness, the above utility pole, considered an artifact, was knocked down and then burned in a campfire. As you can see, only a portion of it was burned. There are only a handful of these utility poles still standing along the EB&L Railroad and once they fall another piece of history is forever lost. The EB&L was in operation from 1893–1948 which means this utility pole stood for at least 68 years before someone came along and knocked it down.

Tree stump in Unit 44 of the Kanc 7 Timber Harvest logging project along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Tree Stump – Kanc 7 Timber Harvest Project, White Mountains

There are a few timber harvest projects going on in the White Mountain National Forest. Trees that will be cut during the harvest are marked with paint. And these painted marks (above) remain on the tree stumps for years after the trees have been cut down. This approach to marking trees goes against leave no trace principles.

Plastic bottle with skull & crossbones on it in the forest of Kinsman Notch in Woodstock, New Hampshire USA during the summer months.
Plastic Bottle – Kinsman Notch, New Hampshire

Over the last few years, I have noticed an increase in plastic water bottles being thrown along the trail system of the White Mountains. The time it takes for some types of plastics to completely breakdown is amazing. When you have a chance research how long it takes for plastic bottles to biodegrade. In 2014, I came across this old plastic bottle with skull & crossbones on it in Kinsman Notch. I have always wondered what was in it.

May 2015 - A wound on a yellow birch tree along the Mt Tecumseh Trail in New Hampshire. This is what happens when mankind does not properly remove painted trail blazing from trees. The blaze was painted on the tree in 2011, and then improperly removed (by cutting and peeling the bark off) from the tree in the spring of 2012.
Trail Blaze Wound – Mt Tecumseh Trail, New Hampshire

In 2012, a trail blaze (painted trail marker) was improperly removed from a yellow birch tree along the Mt. Tecumseh Trail. Proper trail blaze removal protocol was ignored. And the bark, where the trail blaze was, was cut and peeled away creating an ugly tree wound where rot, fungus, and insects could enter the tree. Above is how the healing wound looked in 2015. Most trail maintenance groups here in New Hampshire avoid using this practice of blaze removal because of the impact it has on trees. You can view an image series of this wound at different stages of healing here.

September 2013 #2 - View of illegal tree cutting on Mt Tecumseh in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. Unauthorized cutting of trees on National Forest land is considered vandalism, and it has become a problem on Mt Tecumseh. Forest Service has verified this cutting is unauthorized, and they are trying to determine who is doing it.
Illegal Cutting, September 2013 – Mt Tecumseh, NH

There has been talk about how social media is impacting outdoor recreation. And some vandalism in the White Mountains is likely done for social recognition. An example is the illegal cutting on Mt. Tecumseh (above). The consensus is this vandalism was done for social recognition. The higher elevations of the White Mountains are home to rare bird habitat. And Mountain birdwatch results indicate that between 2000 and 2009 Bicknell's Thrush, an extremely rare species with very limited breeding grounds, was detected on Mt Tecumseh. Anyone who willfully destroys rare bird habitat for social recognition has no concern for conservation.

I have been documenting the environment for much of my photography career. And I realize that most people don’t enjoy viewing this type of imagery because its not how you envision the White Mountains. But the impact is real, and we should all be concerned for the future well being of the White Mountains.

All of the above images can be licensed for publications by clicking on the image you are interested in. And you can view more scenes of human impact here.

Happy image making…


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2 Responses to “Human Impact, White Mountains”

  1. Carla Lapierre

    Thank you!  I haven't been able to backpack for 6 years.  I had neever seen such disrespect in the 40 or soyears I hiked in the past.  This certainly seems to be a reflection of the crude, cruel selfishness I see in this new generation.

    • Erin Paul Donovan

      Hi Carla,

      It is awful. Our picturesque White Mountains are being ruined. I wish people would care a little more about our public lands.


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