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Tianchi Xu Geography 24 Prof. Domosh 3-2-12


A Walk through History: Velvet Rocks Trail and Shelter

Journey Beyond the Ordinary If one were to traverse the Appalachian Trail from eastern to western New Hampshire, one would have to start at intersection of North Main Street and East Wheelock Street near Robinson Hall of Dartmouth College. Traveling east and making a turn south at Route 120, the traveler would see practice fields for sports, community centers and local convenience stores before turning left onto an entrance way right after the parking lot of the Food Co-op Store and a nearby Mobile gas station. Straddling the southern edge of Burnham Fields, an outdoor soccer facility of Dartmouth College, the gravel road leading up the trail is tucked behind a residential driveway with its row of shrubbery and its small empty back lot. It is a plain, almost austere sight, and few, even if directed to the very spot, can envision the tortuous and mighty trail that extends beyond this ordinary façade. By the edge of the woods, a moss-covered trail slowly wanders up the hillside, and while making the ascending climb, one can notice ferny paths, wooded side trails, and bedrock outcroppings, as well as ferny clearings, woodland streams, dramatic rock outcroppings and glacial erratics. It is almost confounding that the natural history of the trail is so well preserved; the erosion-resistant granite produced by volcanic action more than two hundred million years ago still endures to the present day. The topography also reflects the differential resistance of rock types to water flow and the past activity of continental glaciers that once extended past the Canadian Shield. Many U-shaped notches and gulfs of the landscape were scoured and sculpted by a mile thick continental ice sheet that left a layer of debris in the wake of its retreat about 12,000 years ago. After taking the ridge and continuing north for about 0.7 miles, the hiker eventually reaches trail junction: the right fork is the Appalachian Trail proper, continuing north to moss-covered Velvet Rocks, where John Ledyard of the Class of 1775 and his companions once spent a night, while the left blue-blazed side loop leads to Velvet Rocks Shelter. The shelter’s history is a snapshot of Dartmouth’s outdoor tradition and the students’ loyalty to the school. Originally built in the fall of 1936 in front of Robinson Hall by Richard MacCornack ’37, the Trails and Shelter director, and Will Brown ’37, the shelter was part of the DOC’s annual membership drive in response to renewed interest in cabin and hiking. Intended to be a prop for Winter Carnival, the shelter had an unexpected yet well-deserved 15 minutes of fame at Boston’s Haymarket Square as part of the New Hampshire showcase in the Winter Sports Exposition during the winter of ’36. Apparently well-received by the public at the exposition, the shelter, after being hauled back to Hanover, had purchase offers of in the range of $150, and an internal debate ensued regarding the its fate. Meanwhile, the shelter was on display again in the North Country Fair. Finally, MacCornack decided in the April of 1937, with the blessing of the Dartmouth Trustees, that the shelter would remain in hands of the DOC and that it would be dragged up Velvet Rocks and reassembled to become an overnight stop on the Appalachian Trail, but not before its brief stint on the Green for that year’s Carnival. The original shelter would go on to symbolize the mission and values of DOC: harnessing man’s endless bounties of energy and creativity to enhance the joy and enrich the understanding that nature offers him. And though the shelter was near the end of its run by 2006, being in a state of advanced deterioration, the traditions and values associated with it were as strong and healthy as ever, and a new shelter was built in the September 2006 by members of the Dartmouth Outing Society and Tom Bonamici of Archival Clothing, the popular backpack company based in Eugene, Oregon. Clearly, ancient spell of their predecessors was not lost on the sons and daughters of Dartmouth. The shelter itself is a variation on a lean-to. A typical lean-to has a pole-type construction and a large overhanging roof, with trussed units that can support a load of 30 pounds per square foot. The log design of the original shelter is a commonly found feature in “Adirondack-style” accommodations along the Appalachian Trail in New England. The original shelter used horizontally placed logs for sidewalls, while the new shelter more conventional eastern hemlock boards secured in place by rows of 2x4s across the top. The roof of the new Velvet Rock Shelter uses two different types of material: a plastic, transparent and rain-resistant covering on the north side and thin wooden boards patched together vertically on the south side. The site selection is also not arbitrary. The back of the shelter faces the wind, the open front faces the south, and the shelter is usually within a close walking distance of a clean water source. The Adirondack-type shelter fills the recreational needs for scout camps, hunting shelter and overnight accommodations on the foot trail and may also be used as a playhouse or storage place for garden tools and recreational equipment in more suburban settings. In urban locations, some shelters have been used a market stands for fresh produce. For Velvet Rock Shelter and a portion of the trail extending to the main road, their existence primarily serves the general public as a rest area and a nature walk. On an average day, the trail sees a dozen hikers and backpackers in search of directions and points of interest or a handful of local inhabitants in their daily early morning routine, sometimes with their dogs. But this seemingly insignificant stretch of the Appalachian Trail speaks of a deep, convoluted and rich pastime. Embedded the Velvet Rock Shelter and the stretch of trail that lead to Route 120 is a history of the Appalachian Trail that come to represent not only a national sentiments and beliefs of a transcendent American existence but also the local and cultural pride of New England echoed by the stories, sights, and people of the landscape.

Mixing Work with Leisure The Appalachian Path is born in part from the perceptions of the American ideals on working and living. There is a general American aversion towards stagnancy and lethargy, evidenced by commonly heard proverbial phrases such as “Go West, young man!” and “Pull yourself by your own bootstraps.” These directives convey a deeper American attitude on work ethic and on the individual’s pursuit of happiness. Indeed, it is a nation that prizes self-sufficiency and the notion of the self-made man and takes pride in the roles of its entrepreneurs, freelancers and inventors, among a far ranging diaspora of self-employment. When not working, Americans are still ever repulsed by the idea of inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle. Indeed, the exploration and fascination with open space is a common theme in the rituals of American life, among which camping, scouting, hiking, backpacking, hunting, and fishing all have all respective niches of enthusiasts. In some cases, Americans have created art form out of outdoor recreation: where there is love, there is beauty. As industrialization and urbanization succeeded in siphoning people off the land, the collective American memory of the rural landscape began to fade and was replaced gradually by a romanticized and mythologized imagery of the “good ol’ days.” Even as people become entrenched in the doldrums and monotonic regiment of their daily routines of the modern world, they come to reminisce, and almost become enchanted by, the qualities of a simpler life that seem tantalizingly out of reach in an increasingly complex society. Thus, activities for leisure become a respite from the ordinary and an escape into unknown, and the joy of living is found in the simple pleasures of rediscovery. Furthermore, in the respective postwar eras of the two major world conflicts in the 20th Century, the experience of serving in military or local armed forces provided many American men and women with a first taste of the outdoors, and for the majority of them, it was a life-altering experience. The resurgent interest in outdoor recreation fortuitously coincided with a revolution in development of hiking and camping material, as innovations in producing lightweight material and gear, the discovery of dehydrated and anhydrous foods, advances in waterproofing, insect repellents, maps, compasses and the availability of surplus war equipment all contributed to the steady push to get people outside. It would be no exaggeration to claim that the merging of the American attitudes on work and life—some rooted in the past and others shaped by world events—had a significant and impactful hand in initial conception and eventual creation of the Appalachian Trail.

Enter Benton MacKaye In 1919, a Massachusetts forester from Forest Services was working with the U.S. Department of Labor to design a community development and employment plan for soldiers returning from World War I. That document, entitled “Employment and Natural Resources,” proposed a cooperative system of agricultural and timbering communities and a vision of resource conversation, work and community structure and improved geographical relationship between urban and rural settings. In essence, it was a government sponsored resettlement program that called for taking advantage of the country’s vast supply of material and natural resources. The forester was by the name of Benton MacKaye, a Harvard graduate of its School of Forestry and a leading progressive voice for regional planning and a conservation movement. In the following year, MacKaye began work with Charles Whitaker, the editor of the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, on plans to develop clusters of cooperative and self-sustaining communities that can produce and supply raw materials and power sources to consumptive urban centers. But MacKaye was hardly finished, and in 1921, he joined Whitaker’s Committee on Community Planning, later becoming the Committee on Community Planning, an intellectual forum where MacKaye laid out his suggestion for the creation a trail connecting Maine to Georgia to serve as the backbone for regional economic and social redevelopment. It is under the auspice of RPAA that MacKaye found his ideal platform upon which to voice his rallying cry for increased sustainability, better preservation of resources, and the development of ecologically friendly communities. Now armed with political support, a relatively unknown forest assistant from Massachusetts had the proper tools necessary to blaze a path upon which American perceptions of work and living would be exemplified.

Trailblazer MacKaye’s vision initially caught the attention of the public’s eye and had shown much promise. The plan that MacKaye outlined consisted of four elements: an extended trail from Mt. Washington in New Hampshire to Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina; a series of “shelter camps” built and maintained by locals; scatter “community camps” consisting of privately owned lodges for “recreation, recuperation and study”; and self-sustaining “food and farm camps” to encourage counter migration from the city on the land. In MacKaye’s view, the spatial relationship between the environment and its people had become increasingly important to the ordinary citizen because the “ability to cope with nature directly—unshielded by the weakening wall of civilization—is one of the admitted needs of modern times.” His highly ambitious and highly idealistic plan called upon a massive and coordinated mobilization from a cross-section of 14 eastern states, and his ideas were true to the prevailing American attitude towards work and leisure. MacKaye noted that the enormous amount of spare time of the U.S. population could be harnessed for increasing the facilities of outdoor community life, directed toward the progressive purpose of recreation for vacationers, recuperation for the sick, and employment for the jobless. Reflected in MacKaye’s idea of different types of cooperative camps is the long-standing American work ethic of being self-employed in a simple setting, unimpeded by the complications of competition, bargaining, and the desperate scramble for profits. In MacKaye’s own words, “Each camp should be a self-owning community and not a real-estate venture. The use of the separate domiciles, like all other features of the project, should be available without profit.” As such, workers in the food and farm communities would not have to answer to the handshake deals made in some smoke-filled board room or faceless bureaucrats of a politically-motivated committee; instead, farmers can organize themselves based on the spirit of cooperation to produce a sustainable inventory of goods and consume in a likewise measured, non-wasteful manner. That MacKaye envisioned these community, shelter, food and farm camps as being able to entice city dwellers out into the rural landscape demonstrates MacKaye’s firm and unwavering belief that Americans prefer clean and honest living over the cold, robotic and profit-maximizing philosophies of industry. That MacKaye also saw the long trail snaking through the Appalachian skyline as a lifeline to urbanites, drowning in quiet desperation and being enervated by the mechanical workday, shows the pull of the wilderness and woods on the public and again points to a fascination with an idyllic past that is dying in reality, even as the myth grows in the collective consciousness of the people. MacKaye notes, “The organization of the cooperative camping life would tend to draw people out of cities. Coming as visitors they would be loath to return. They would become desirous of settling down in the country—to work in the open as well as play.” Although MacKaye’s vision of a string of live-off-the-land communities would be overshadowed by the massive logistical operation and the more politically and economically feasible idea of a linear trailway through Appalachia, the core elements of MacKaye’s recommendations have filtered and percolated through the decades into the minds of many. The building of the Velvet Rocks Shelter speaks partly to MacKaye’s dreams: an outdoor structure constructed for nonprofit and recreational use, built and maintained by the sweat of the brow of volunteers and their steadfastness to a noble and environmentally-conscious cause.

AT in New Hampshire and at Dartmouth Despite MacKaye’s agenda that had the potential open up a Pandora’s box of legal issues and tussles, the first mile of the Appalachian Trail was cut and marked in 1922, just a year after MacKaye had launched his project. It would take 15 more years to complete the implementation of the entire trail. The New Hampshire portion of the Appalachian Trail was officially opened by the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Dartmouth Outing Club in 1932. New Hampshire, in fact, already had a complete network of trails between Hanover and the Mahoosucs near the Maine-New Hampshire border that predates the inception of the Appalachian Trail. In particular, Velvet Rocks Trail was cleared and blazed by D.O.C. crews in 1917 under the supervision of Doc Griggs and later widened. However, once the trail was open to the public, efforts had to be made to ensure the continued preservation of the trail and the clarification of property rights and liabilities between private and public and between state and federal. At the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1937 held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, a proposal was made to set up a protective zone on either side of the Trail to protect and preserve the local surroundings adjacent to the Trail. The proposal was met with general consensus among the delegates and the formal Appalachian Trailway Agreements was signed first by the National Park Service and the Forest Service—whose holdings consist of 700 miles of the Trail—and eventually by 1940, all Trail states except Maine. The agreement states that a one-mile wide zone would be designated on either side of the Trail on a conservatory area such that any incompatible developments would be prohibited. In many areas, the buffer zone was infeasible, while developments, zoning laws and urban sprawl in other locations forced rerouting the trail through less ideal settings. Still, the Appalachian Trailway Agreement would later serve as a credible precursor and a key template upon which subsequent legislative bills regarding the often delicate and thorny matters of land acquisition and use for the Trail would derive. On March 22, 1978, more than half a century after Benton MacKaye put forth the idea that would define his legacy, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Appalachian Trail Bill, which authorized 90 million dollars in an effort acquire and protects lands threatened by development and to relocate portions of the trail along its original route. Hanover was an immediate beneficiary of the legislation, as the first relocation in New Hampshire was onto newly purchased lands was the Velvet Rocks Trail in 1981. Appalachian Trail had originally started in Hanover and followed East Wheelock Street up and over Balch Hill, but with the new bill in place, Park Services could now permanently shift the trail away from paved roads and closer to the forested terrain that was planned out in the early 1970s by the state and the DOC. The relocation, however, was not without its opponents, as the trail would encroach upon dozens of private properties. Yet the act of moving the Appalachian Trail onto Velvet Rocks would come to symbolize not only the protection outdoor recreation and ecological resources but also the preservation of a regional identity and a source of local pride.

A Fork in the Woods If Robert Frost was right in saying that taking the road less traveled makes all the difference, then the story behind the relocation Appalachian Trail onto Velvet Rocks goes to reaffirm Frost’s poetic wisdom. Moving the trail through the densely wooded Velvet Rocks path appealed to the legal sensibilities of minimizing the potential trespassing of hikers onto private properties and spoke to cherishing the distinctive sights and tastes of New Hampshire. The erosion-resistant granite is a reminder of the early English settlers’ hardy struggle with the land, their patience, persistence and endurance all symbolized by protrusion of mineralized rock formations against the steady wearing of nature’s elements. Dense clusters of poplars, pines birches, and other hardwoods recall the sturdy stewardship of resources and gracefulness of a classic New England character. The trail itself, rising and falling over deep notches and broken ridgecreasts and passing by warning signs for bears and moose, reveals the drama of the wilderness and the competition within it for survival. Both beauty and history are permanently imbued in the features of the Velvet Rocks landscape. Thus, the relocation project undertaken by the town of Hanover and the college of Dartmouth can be seen as much to protect a fragile environment as to preserve an even more fragile memory attached with it. The symbolic purpose of a landscape is only as strong as the care and loyalty by which its inhabitants attend and remain committed to it. For the students of Dartmouth and the people of Hanover, they have been rightly rewarded for their faith and work.

Gateway to the Past It is easy to overlook back roads at the edge of the wilderness; some lead to private properties and others, somewhere off the map to some undeveloped and nondescript location, easily substituted and easily forgotten. The dirt and gravel road branched off Lebanon Street of Route 120 in Hanover, NH, stretches beyond the ordinary, boxed-in constructions of man and nature’s leafy cover and leads into the heart of the wilderness itself. But where does this temptation come from? Perhaps for a civilization born in midst of a new land, it is important to cultivate a good understanding of unknown, to re-familiarize with the traditions of long ago ancestors, to experience inner peace in the intimacy of solitude. Indeed, the path invokes nothing new but rather reacquaints the not-too-distant past with a far-in-the-future present. And for everything that has changed, we somewhere wander back onto the same old dirt road, that one leading to the past and the eerie yet tranquil feeling of déjà vu. In our minds, the setting should ideally match the mood. Stepping onto historical natural trail should at least generate a little buzz or a tingle in one’s senses as somehow registering a heightened anticipation of forthcoming journey, an excitement that feeds off its own energy. Anything that fails to complement this feeling is either the wrong address or a letdown. The left turn at 41 Lebanon is certainly the right location and certainly not a bore, if one understands the history behind the path and the cultural values that the presence of the path represents. Most would claim that the Appalachian Trail is merely an outdoor exhibition for recreation, designed to fulfill the outdoor interests of a citizenry preoccupied by leisure. This is a rather cynical and incomplete framework by which to examine the purpose and function of the trail because once set on its path, the traveler becomes irrevocably, whether or not by his own volition, more than a bypasser, but rather a participant in the history that was and the future yet to come. Herein lie the fundamental beauty and character of the Appalachian Trail: it is not only the local sights and people that make the trail great but also the trail that makes the sights and people great as well. The Appalachian traveler through Velvet Rock Trail can spot the biodiversity of New England flora and fauna, a town green with faux colonial pieces, a 16-wheeler pulling a load of lumber down Main Street, a hoard of cross-country skiers or bikers passing by and disappearing over the horizon of the next slope. More than just a pipeline for recreation, the path is the silent yet effective storyteller of a particular region and communicates to its wanderers the people, the development, the historical background of the landscape, and much of the story is still yet to be written. Thus, the travelers on the Appalachian Trail are much more than fun-seekers; they naturally become part of the landscape itself and take away, intentionally or unwittingly, regional and cultural souvenirs aplenty. Works Cited 1) Armstrong, Scott. “Trials of the Appalachian Trail.” Christian Science Monitor (Dartmouth College Library). February 26, 1981. 2) Foster, Charles H.W. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail: A Time to Be Bold. United States: National Park Service, 1987. 3) Grove, Noel. “A Tunnel Through Time: The Appalachian Trail.” National Geographic. February 1987. 4) Hooke, David. Field Editor, Appalachian Trail Guide to New Hampshire-Vermont. Harpers Ferry: Appalachian Trail Conference, 2001. 5) Hooke, David. Reaching that peak: 75 Years of the Dartmouth Outing Club. Canaan: Phoenix Publishing, 1987. 6) MacKaye, Benton. “An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning,” Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition. Ed. Vincent b. Canizaro. New York: Princeton Architectural Press: 2007. 7) Macinko, George. “A Study of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire.” Concord: Office of State Planning, 1971. 8) U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Adirondack-type shelter: Issue 1055 of Miscellaneous publication.” Washington D.C.: USDA, 1967.