Trials of the Appalachian Trail
(Page 3 of 4)
"It [the project] is a really good way to preserve the land," Carol Stout, one of three landowners in the area who has sold property to the Park Service, says. "Ever since we took the land away from the Indians, we've had a false notion about property. The wilderness should be more accessible, especially to people living in the cities."Skip to next paragraph
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Allen King, chairman of the Hanover Conservation Commission, minimizes the amount of opposition to the project. And the few "dissidents" there are, he says, are more concerned about themselves than the long-term benefit of a trail.
Wrong, say Kevin Cunningham and David Cioffi, two of the most feisty (and, backers would say, almost the only) opponents of the trail. Both contend they aren't against the hiking path. They just don't want it to bisect their families' property. It's all right, they say, to route it along the edge of their land -- but not through the middle.
On a recent brisk February day, Kevin Cunningham plunged down on his living room sofa and ticked off a laundry list of peeves. He backed up his grievances with folders full of maps and letters. His family owns a 67-acre, boomerang- shaped plot. Under the current plan, a couple-hundred-foot corridor would slice through one leg of the land.
"I've worked many a summer to get this place in shape," frets this systems analyst for a West Lebanon computer firm, bolting upright on the couch. "And to cut it in half is wrong. They can condemn the property. The judge can slap the gavel and say 'Sold America,' except that's not the American way.
"The Appalachian Trail is dependent on the friendship of the community it goes through. that's been its history. But it is never going to hang onto the friendship the way it is going."
Both Cunningham and Cioffi charge that the Park Service didn't fully explore alternate routes or involve the landowners in early planning stages. They also contend that Dartmouth College, the largest landowner in the area, steered the trail to where it would least affect its own holdings -- all contentions trail planners stoutly deny.
In late 1979 the men went so far as to map their own route through the area. But Park Service officials and local planners rejected it, arguing it stepped on even more property owners' toes and wasn't as pristine a corridor.
"We could go ahead and make the Appalachian Trail a roadwalk from Maine to Georgia," says Roger Sternberg, NEw England field representative for the Appalachian Trail Conference. "But the idea is to get it away from civilization.
"I think a lot of people need to be able to go ahead and just walk, breathe clean air, and drink out of a stream. There's something about being all sweaty and coming up to a stream and being able to drink -- knowing a municipality hasn't chlorinated it."
David Cioffi's relatives own to plots, one on each side of the Cunnighams'.The proposed trail would cut across parts of both lots, part of which he eventually hopes to timber harvest. Like elsewhere along the trail, the Park Service wants property owners to continue using the property, for woodcutting or farming or whatever. But Cioffi doesn't want their plot cut in half.
"I think I have skied as many miles on that trail as anyone," says the cross-country buff, sitting in a Spartan office above the Dartmouth Book Store, which he manages. "You feel like you're fighting a friend. But we're at the stage up here in Hanover where they are backing us up against the wall."
Opponents also worry about whether the local hiking clubs here and elsewhere will be able to police and maintain the trail adequately. A firm "yes," reply Park Service officials, who point out that manuals are being drawn up detailing management tasks.