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Rep. Shea-Porter calls on feds to open forest’s private campgrounds

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 09. 2013 9:49PM

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., called on federal officials Wednesday to open privately owned campgrounds at the White Mountain National Forest, while state officials predicted a 2 percent increase in tourist visits for the upcoming Columbus Day weekend.

Meanwhile, the Appalachian Mountain Club said its eight huts, popular destinations for hikers in the White Mountain National Forest, remain open, even though it was forced to close its remote campsites.

It’s unclear what effect Shea-Porter’s efforts, which piggyback upon those of Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., will have on the White Mountain National Forest. Forest officials have closed restrooms and ranger offices in the forest, as well as the privately run campgrounds.

“The economic damage to these private campgrounds could be considerable,” Shea-Porter wrote in a letter to the Forest Service. “The Columbus Day weekend is one of the busiest weekends of the year for tourists visiting New Hampshire to view our wonderful fall foliage, and closing these campgrounds would have a significant economic impact on these private businesses.”

She said losses would spill over to nearby businesses that provide supplies, gas and meals to visitors. And she noted the federal government would lose out in the share of money it receives from the campground.

Meanwhile, state tourism officials say they expect 625,000 tourists to visit the state this weekend, a 2 percent increase over last year. Columbus Day weekend is the third busiest of the year, behind only July 4th and Labor Day.

Travel and Tourism spokesman Tai Freligh said officials have been trying for a week to counter concerns about the mountain shutdown. Trails and roads remain open in the White Mountains, and the state has control of many of the popular spots in the forest — the top of Mt. Washington, Crawford Notch, and the Franconia Notch highway and its attractions such as Flume Gorge and Cannon Mountain.

“We’ve been getting the word out for a week now. Hopefully, the impact is minimal,” Freligh said. “We do have the (National) Forest, we do have the Kanc(amagus Highway), but the foliage is great across New Hampshire.”

The Division of Travel and Tourism Development predicts that tourists will spend $91 million across the state, a 4 percent increase over last year. Freligh said many factors go into tourism forecasts, such as weather, consumer spending and gas prices.

According to the AMC website, its eight huts, its Highland and Pinkham Notch centers, and two lodges remain open.

“These AMC-owned facilities are not included in the closure order and remain open,” the website said.

However, shelters and campsites operated by the AMC are included in the closure order.

Even more unexplainable in the Appalachian Trail. AMC said the Appalachian Trail is closed in places where it crosses National Parks land, such as the Delaware Water Gap. However, the Georgia-to-Maine trail is open where it crosses National Forest lands.

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