My recent hike in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range was extraordinary. Once I was high on the Presidential crest—the largest alpine zone in the eastern United States—I found it relatively easy to add peaks to my daily roster. Though the 5 peaks I climbed may have been athletically unremarkable, the sights and sounds I beheld there defied the odds.
As I descended Mount Webster, my first mountain of the day, a spruce grouse studied me curiously from the spruce-fir forest beside the trail. Spruce grouse are one of the boreal birds susceptible to global overheating in the southern parts of their range. I’m always happy to see them persisting in the Northern Appalachians despite climate chaos.
Then, as I climbed up into the alpine zone on Mount Eisenhower, our moon began to eclipse our sun. Thanks to my wife, Denise, I had come equipped with the special glasses required to safely watch an eclipse. Every few minutes, I’d stop and watch, entranced, as the moon covered more and more of the sun.
On a summer weekend, the Appalachian Trail (AT) through the Presidential Range is busy with day- and thru-hikers. I attained the summit at the height of the eclipse—from my vantage in northern New Hampshire, moon covering more than half of sun—and enjoyed one last look before leaving my glasses with other celestial gawkers and turning my attention to the national Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.
Making Connections on the Trail
The main purpose of my hike was not peak-bagging or celestial gazing, but to catch Congressman Don Beyer as he hiked this stretch of the AT. The trail generally skirts the Presidential summits, whereas I can seldom resist a peak view—so I did not catch this strong hiker and wise statesman until our planned meeting place: the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lakes of the Clouds Hut, between Mounts Monroe and Washington (highest mountain in the Northeast, at 6,280 feet).
At the busy hut, the hosts told me that the Congressman had indeed arrived before me. I went into the cafeteria and detected some genteel Southern accents, guessing correctly that these might be part of Congressman Beyer’s entourage. Summoning my nerve (I find it’s always easier to talk with strangers in natural settings than in cities), I approached the group and asked after Congressman Beyer. The entourage turned to me with friendly words of welcome: “Yes, Don Beyer is with us, and he’s looking forward to meeting you.” They said he was just taking a quick nap, and one of them offered to go rouse him.
The truly inspiring conversation that followed, partially in the company of Congressman Beyer’s 10 nature-loving friends but mostly with just the Congressman himself, was a perfect complement to the grandeur of the day’s celestial events. Congressman Beyer is one of those rare people who attained a position of importance not to amass power or wealth but to serve the citizens of his country—both wild and human. After quickly covering some key conservation topics in the bustling cafeteria, we went outside and sat by a pond (an old glacial tarn, I reckon), so I could interview Congressman Beyer in the cool mountain air of a wildlife corridor.
This was my kind of interview—in a wild place, with alpine birds and plants flitting and flowering about. Congressman Beyer waxed as eloquently as any politician at a lectern ever could, but he was all the more convincing because he spoke from the source. He looked around at the majesty of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range, key wild core in a future Eastern Wildway, and explained why we must and will pass a national Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, and how our country will be stronger when we welcome home missing keystone species like cougars and wolves.
The next day, alone again, I climbed Mount Inspiration to look back at the range Congressman Beyer and his friends were traversing. They were hiking north toward Bowman Divide, one of the Northeast’s preeminent spots for a safe wildlife crossing on a major road. At Bowman Divide, wild citizens such as moose, black bears, fishers, otters, and occasionally even lynx try to cross busy Route 2, some of them inevitably getting killed by vehicles in the attempt. The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act would encourage wildlife crossing structures here and elsewhere.
Ours will be a greater country when we listen to leaders like Congressman Beyer and legislate the protection of critical wildlife corridors and crossings like those I experienced in New Hampshire. Likewise, we will be a better people when we broadly buffer footpaths and especially National Scenic Trails like the AT so that they can provide safe passage for all wide-ranging animals, including human explorers.
After all, as Congressman Beyer aptly noted, the AT corridor is as important for wildlife as it is for hikers.