Trails of the Pemigewasset Wilderness

Franconia Brook Trail during the summer months. This trail follows the railroad bed of the old East Branch & Lincoln Railroad that traveled through this area. The EB&L was a logging railroad in the state of New Hampshire that was owned by James E. Henry.
Franconia Brook Trail (old railroad bed) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Trails of the Pemigewasset Wilderness – At 45,000-acres, the Pemigewasset Wilderness (the Pemi) is one of six designated wilderness areas in the White Mountain National Forest. Wilderness areas are governed under the National Wilderness Preservation System and the Wilderness Act of 1964. And they are managed much differently than other parts of the National Forest.

Permanent improvements are not allowed, trail work is minimal, and there are strict guidelines when it comes to man-made structures in designated wilderness areas. Bridges are a convenience in wilderness areas, not mandatory. And bicycles are not allowed in these areas, and trail work can only be done with non-motorized hand tools. Preserving the natural character of a wilderness area is the objective.

Old railroad ties along Cedar Brook Trail from the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad in the Pemi Wilderness of Lincoln, New Hampshire. This was a logging railroad in operation from 1893-1948. It was built by James E. Henry.
The Old Cedar Brook Trail (old railroad bed) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

The Pemigewasset Wilderness is rich with logging railroad history and has seen its share of human impact. There is no question that James E. Henry’s East Branch & Lincoln Railroad (1893-1948) forever changed the landscape of the area. He built miles of railroad into the remote regions of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to harvest timber, using logging practices that are no longer tolerated in today's conservation movement.

Forest along the Shoal Pond Trail in the New Hampshire White Mountains. This trail utilizes the old railroad bed of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. This trail is located deep in the back-country of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Even though the Shoal Pond Trail is very scenic it is lightly used.
Shoal Pond Trail (old railroad bed) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

More than likely Henry will always be remembered for his logging practices and not for the positive outcome his railroad has brought to the 21st century. It is hard to think any good could come out of such destruction, but we have to look at the big picture. The obvious positive is the Weeks Act, which protects designated wilderness areas from human impact, something I think everyone can agree is important. It is preservation at its finest.

Nancy Pond Trail in Lincoln, New Hampshire. This trail follows the railroad bed of the old East Branch & Lincoln Logging Railroad. This trail is located deep in the back-country of the White Mountains of New Hampshire and is very scenic.
Nancy Pond Trail (old railroad bed) – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

The other positive is the trail system of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Almost every trail in this wilderness area follows or utilizes sections of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. Today, these flat and wide trails provide easy hiking for all age groups. And yes there are also miles of abandoned railroad (below) that is being reclaimed by mother nature.

The Redrock Ravine spur line of the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was a logging railroad operated by timber baron James E. Henry. He was well known for is clear cutting logging practices. This abandoned spur line can be found along the Franconia Brook Trail.
Abandoned Spur Line – Redrock Ravine, Pemi Wilderness
 

Would trails exist in the Pemigewasset Wilderness today if the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad didn’t travel deep into its regions looking for timber? It seems possible that without the railroad there would not be trails (or many trails) in this wilderness area today. Trailless and under today's wilderness guidelines, the Pemigewasset Wilderness would be considered a true wilderness area.

Looking across Hellgate Ravine at West Bond from Bondcliff during the summer months. Bondcliff is located along the Bondcliff Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This area is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in New Hampshire White Mountains. And sunset from West Bond is breathtaking.
West Bond from Bondcliff – Pemi Wilderness, New Hampshire
 

Can you imagine hiking to Bondcliff, Owl's Head, Thirteen Falls, or Stillwater Junction without using any trails? Henry may be considered a timber baron in history books, but his contribution (unknowingly) to the trail system shouldn't be overlooked. Can you imagine the Pemigewasset Wilderness without trails?

A hiker takes in the view of the Pemi Wilderness from the summit of Zeacliff during the summer months. This view is located along the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And can be visited by Appalachian Trail through hikers.
Pemi Wilderness from Zeacliff, New Hampshire
 

Unfortunately, there is not much appreciation for Henry’s trails or designated wilderness areas here in New England. There is a growing movement to change the way wilderness areas are managed. Some believe that wilderness areas should be managed (blazes every two feet, all water crossings bridged, etc.) in the same manner as National Forests or State Parks. This approach goes against the concept of wilderness stewardship.

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 from the Pemigewasset Wilderness here.

Happy image making..


 

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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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