This valley is a natural wonder; a gentle river weaves through farm fields between forested mountain walls framing a great mountain.
It is the only valley east of the Rockies dominated by a challenging open snow-capped peak. The entire valley and its main street point directly at the summit of Mount Washington, offering its beauty and hurling its challenge in a world class setting.
But if it is so beautiful, why are fewer people coming here each year? Why are there so many empty stores? Why are more long-time residents talking about leaving to make a living elsewhere? Why isn't the economic future as bright and beautiful as nature made the valley? Why aren't we as good to it as it is to us?
In the venerable Vose Galleries, on Boston's fashionable Newberry Street, the dominant painting is a superb example of the White Mountain School of the American Luminism style of the late 19th century. The large painting presents the Saco River looking south from North Conway with the Moats and Chocorua as the background. Cows are drinking from the placid river sheltered in the shade of a spreading American Elm. Soft light gives the well-tended productive farm fields and valley a warm golden feeling of peace and benevolence.
This valley was a place of wonder to visitors and artists in that age of optimism. The valley hasn't changed but how we see it and what we do here is very different.
In the past the land was productive and open. What pulled visitors from the smoky crowded cities were the sweeping views when fields not trees and buildings lined the streets.
Today the great views are parsed out at overlooks or revealed where roads cut the forest. Even worse, the buildings are mediocre to mundane, surrounded by parking lots with trees selected by the same engineering software used in Newark, N.J., and offering the same T-shirts and soy candles as Portsmouth and Old Orchard.
The natural valley is grand but the products it offers are not its equal. The world has changed and the valley offerings haven't. That's why they are not coming. That's why the valley has lost population since 2010.
The traffic tells the tale. The visitors flow into the valley on two routes, 16 and 302, which join for the length of the valley and part for the notches.
The traffic since 1990 has been declining at about 1 percent a year and the N.H. Department of Transportation counts show from 2007 to 2012 it declined even faster on Route 302 at the Maine line by 21 percent and in Bartlett at 11 percent.
For Route 16, it declined for the same period by 7 percent at the Albany town line and 11 percent at the Jackson/Pinkham Notch line. The traffic decline extends all the way to the Dover Toll Booth, where the decline is 8.6 percent, which represents 3,300 vehicles per day — but while the percentage stays the same the volume loss seems pretty consistent at 700 visitor vehicles per day from Ossipee to the Albany town line.
Taxes also tell the same story. The N.H. Rooms and Meals tax returns for Carroll County show essentially no change from 2007 to 2013 for lodging revenues and only in July and August of 2013 was there any gain in total meals taxes. If you assume rates for meals and lodging went up at all, then total guests went down. It doesn't help, but makes sense, that Conway has the lowest median family income because it has the highest percentage of retail and clerical employees in the entire state.
Traffic and products
The problem is how you get here and the products offered when you arrive.
The affluent families of Massachusetts find it much easier to drive up I-93 to Waterville Valley, Loon, or Bretton Woods than get in one line on Route 16 in Rochester and ride bumper to bumper, single file, to Conway. With the widening of I-93 and the increasing development along Route 16 the difference will only get worse.
In Maine, Route 302 is clogged and nearly useless and Portland West is jamming up as Maine, except for Portland, struggles with declining population and incomes.
The valley visitors are changing their length of stay, leaving earlier on Sunday to avoid the traffic, and increasingly, not coming at all. You can put up with the traffic if the product is worth it. The problem is the valley's offerings are getting old and market tastes have changed.
The bed base in the valley is large but typically 40 years or more old. As it gets harder to travel here, where you spend the night becomes more important. As a destination area it is the quality of the bed base, reservations system, and ease of access which decides where to spend five or more days of recreation.
Branded franchise motels meet those needs but do not set the valley apart from any other town.
Most of the bed base is older motels, rental condos, or small Inns which cannot change under contemporary codes with out excessive costs and so must wait to be bought by newer owners offering beautifully designed units that are featured in travel magazines.
Building new is risky as the units wanted by the market may not be affordable or acceptable at the costs to build them if permits can be acquired. Replacing an aging bed base is just one capital investment problem the valley faces.
The ski industry grew here because its builders, the skiers, visionaries, and investors lived here and bet their money on their valley, their home, and their futures. Today one ski area is owned locally, one is part of a small three-resort conglomerate, and the two large areas are part of a growing corporate empire. The problem is none are committing risk capital to transform their areas to meet the changing markets and return the valley to a first-rate competitive position.
Consider One Spruce Peak at Stowe, by the same architects as the new concept for condominiums at Cranmore. (visit ttp://www.bsaarchitects.com/portfolio/places-to-refresh for a peek at the competition) The capital investment in the competitive ski resort areas in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont is impressive but the valley is just investing to keep the cash cows going. The customers are following the capital investments with their cars.
When I worked with late Attitash president Thad Thorne on the master plan for that area in the mid-1980s, I asked him what he wanted to create. His answer was, "A great place to ski."
He had no land except at Bear Peak to do a resort base so the base of the future was left and is still left for others to do. The issue he left standing was who would do the great skiing and that depended on where they slept.
In the '80s, new inns and motels were being added as were hundreds of new condominiums with rental programs. Many of those units were first class and the valley was a force in the ski industry. The danger, as I told Thad, was if the resorts could not control the quality of the bed base, it would get the skiers who would put up with the older out-of-date lodging. Thad believed skiers would stay in tents if the skiing was good enough. Not true at today's lift ticket prices.
Capital investment and leadership
The challenge for the valley is how to encourage capital investment as an innovative response to growing unserved markets while enhancing existing infrastructure.
In the modern regulated world, not the world of Thad Thorne, Bob Morrell, Carroll Reed, and Harvey Gibson, investment in this valley's future is controlled by the zoning ordinances, the U.S. Forest Service, and the state.
These bureaucratic structures will yield to the good but only if it is realized there is a problem and the solution requires new capital investment which will restore a sense of economic optimism.
The community must become investment friendly with leadership, vision, and the expertise to attract investment capital.
But in this valley, the restoration needed must begin with a return to the sense of wonder of place. It is time for the manmade to be as beautiful as the natural to give rest to the soul and a new future for the valley.
William M. Altenburg is a landscape architect who lives in Lovell, Maine.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 04:37
Of all the boards and committees I have served on in Conway over the past 35 years, the most boring has almost certainly been the budget committee. Money has never meant much to me as long as I had enough to get by, and I find that the theoretical calculation of municipal expenditures and revenues has an absolutely soporific effect. The rivers of numbers that flow past the committee carry with them an endless flotsam of documentation in fairly alien jargon, much of it describing systems only slightly less stultifying than the columns of figures themselves. Despite the ennui of the task, if there were not a cadre of civic-minded citizens willing to shoulder the job it would fall to those with special interests to serve beyond the common good.
Long ago a former selectman told me that the budget committee was the best place to learn about the details of town government, and he was right. For the last three years I've heard new members asking the same questions about the highway department, the police, and the schools that I first asked in 1982. It can be a long learning process, however, and each year I still have some new questions of my own.
The public perception of the budget committee has varied greatly over the years. During the old days of traditional annual meetings the committee often seemed to be regarded as a benign annoyance similar to an affectionate but interfering uncle. Seldom did the members agree with initial budget submissions, and their amendments saw occasional success at town meetings, where more of the legislative body shared their economic philosophy, but the school meetings were usually a different story.
In our age of vindictive politics, when economic boycotts are a standard response to political disagreement, local business owners have become reluctant to expose themselves to the animosity of teacher unions and parent groups, and with good reason. A couple of years ago I saw the first draft of a letter to the editor from a spokesman for the Conway Education Association, who made ominous reference to the business owned by a critical committee member, as though hinting for sympathetic consumers to shun it.
As a result, the committee tended to be older, retired, and conservative, ranging from the downright tightfisted to fiscal moderates. Those who were the most openhanded with the taxpayers' money took little interest in serving, instead choosing to oppose the committee from the bleachers when the fight came. Their absence from the committee contributed to its reputation for frugality, and broadened the gulf between it and the selectmen or school board. That in turn worsened the tension, lessened the chance for compromise, and probably led to the approval of budgets that were higher than necessary.
All that came to a head three years ago—when, in sheer frustration, the budget committee exercised the only real power it had and imposed an 11-percent reduction in the proposed school budget. Because the annual meeting could increase the remainder by 10 percent, that translated into an actual cut of a little over 2 percent, but all hell broke loose. Suddenly the budget committee became the target of hostile attention. Critics complained that conservative members seemed uninformed and missed a lot of meetings, attending mainly when it was time to vote. Several seats came open that spring, all of which went to new members, and more newcomers have been elected since.
Some of the new members were mirror images of the people they replaced. A few served as overt allies of the school board. It was true that some of the conservative members had probably not digested much of the paperwork they were handed, but the same was obviously the case with many of the newer and more generous members, whose questions sometimes betrayed their unfamiliarity with the documentation. The most liberal incumbent from the 2011 election still mimics the poor attendance of those conservatives who were so reviled for it three years ago: between April 25 and February 3 he missed three-quarters of our meetings, only to start showing up regularly the week before it was time to vote.
The last two elections have nevertheless reinforced the committee with enough moderate, conscientious members that this centrist faction now reflects the overall attitude of the group. The committee as a whole finally represents a fair cross-section of the entire community, and I don't think that has been the case for at least a generation.
William Marvel lives in South Conway
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 07:28
Mark Hounsell: The Company You Keep
One of the expectations I had when I wrote my support of Mike Cryans for District 1 Executive Council on Feb. 12 was that it would flush out some of Joe Kenney's local supporters. Sure enough, right on cue, Ray Shakir, Frank McCarthy and Ted Sares chimed in with letters to the editor. The interesting feature of each letter was not what I wrote pertaining to the points I raised to show the difference between the right-wing partisan, Kenney and the people above politics approach of Mike Cryans. No indeed, their letters were all ragings against me personally. I do not intend to respond to their mean and hateful lies and name calling. I pray for those who spitefully use me and I forgive them for what was clearly a move to shoot the messenger while ignoring the message. What I would like to point out dear readers, is often times one is judged by the company one keeps.
The choice in this race is clear if you judge people by the company they keep. Apparently, Joe Kenney has no qualms with accepting the support of possible eugenicists, John Birch Society members, and special interests. Mike Cryans is supported by Ray Burton's family, as well as Democrats, independents and Republicans from throughout District 1.
There was a time when the Democrats were influenced too much by the left. Moderates and independents would often vote Republican because it was the only political party that truly welcomed them. No longer. As we saw with the victory of Kenney over moderate Republican Chris Boothby in the Republican nomination race, there is no quarter given for a moderate in the State GOP. Good Lord, today's Republican party would never nominate someone like high performing and stellar former U.S. Senator Warren Rudman. He would be labeled as "not conservative enough." I will not rehash what I wrote on Feb. 12, except to say I stand by every word. Joe Kenney is a hard-working family man, who has served his town, state and nation. I do not have a bad thing to say against Joe Kenney as a person. However, his politics are regressive, hurtful and totally wrong for the office he seeks. His politics are too far to the right and the confrontational approach he would employ would be to the detriment to the Mount Washington Valley and the people he seeks to represent. Joe Kenney does not represent the views and values of the people of District 1.
In 2002 he created a bad law that resulted in allowing health insurance companies to discriminate against small businesses and individuals based on age, geographic location and health history of those being covered. This law did significant harm to businesses and people living in the the sparsely populated, aging communities of the North Country. In many cases the insurance costs for folks in Northern New Hampshire increased as much as 50 percent!. Thank goodness, under the leadership of Governor John Lynch the law was repealed. Joe Kenney admitted to The Conway Daily Sun (Oct. 20, 2004), "the law (his law) was a problem for many New Hampshire workers." A 50 percent increase in health insurance cost for people in the North Country a problem — you think?
Mike Cryans opposes a state income tax or a sales tax. Mike Cryans promises to fight for a fair share of roadway funding. He is pro-environment and pro-outdoor sportsmen and women, those who hunt and fish and hike. One important thing to consider is Mike Cryans is is 63 years old and is not looking to make the position on the executive council a political stepping stone to a higher office. Mike Cryans puts people first and foremost. If we truly desire to have an executive councilor who best fits the mold cast be Ray Burton, then it only makes sense to vote for Mike Cryans on Tuesday, March 11.
— Mark Hounsell is a former Republican State Senator. He is registered as an independent.
PULL QUOTE: I do not have a bad thing to say against Joe Kenney as a person. However, his politics are regressive, hurtful and totally wrong for the office he seeks. His politics are too far to the right and the confrontational approach he would employ would be to the detriment to the Mount Washington Valley.and the people he seeks to represent. Joe Kenney does not represent the views and values of the people of District 1.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 05:27
It finally happened. After writing a weekly column for all but the first few months
of Daily Sun History, I finally came down from my house in Jackson with the wrong text. The column that was left behind was a fair-well salute to mark the end of Bode Miller's career with the U.S. Ski Team. So, hoping that another ski team salute could stand in to make up for my deficiency...
The Sun picked up the AP story telling how New Hampshire's own Bode Miller duplicated the feat of New Hampshire's own Penny Pitou when she won two Olympic silver medals and fell in the third event. That was in 1960, and thereby, of course, hangs a tale.
When Penny was a little girl, she wanted to be a jumper. That was a very high aspiration, but the track was not well marked. Dorothy Graves had competed in New England jumping meets of the early '50s, but she did not establish a tradition, so for Penny it was alpine or nothing. Even that was a tough prospect, but Penny was tough; "Can you imagine," she once said to me, soberly, "what it's like to go through grammar school with a name like Penelope Pitou?"
In Penny's day, young racers took the snow conditions pretty much as they found them, most of the rising generation only had one pair of skis, and many of them didn't have family transportation, either. Penny had a friend who drove her from her home in Guilford to such distant places as Stowe, Vermont, then he'd sit at the top of the Nosedive Trail and whittle away the wood on her skis until there was enough exposure on her steel edges for the needs of the day.
Penny prospered and her star was rising at just the same time as the star of Betsy Snite, who lived in Stowe. They both made the Olympic team in 1956 and went to Europe as a natural pair, and also a vivid contrast. Betsy was a powerful racer, but there was a delicate quality about her and she was always dressed in the latest fashion. Penny was everybody's favorite girl next door, a jeans and sweatshirts kind of girl. It was perfect, and Penny once told me, "We were always roommates and Betsy would be washing out her things in the sink and I'd throw my stuff into her pile and she wash them and iron them and she wouldn't even notice. We always travelled by train in those days, and I'd haul her things around the station and heave them in the windows of the compartments, so I guess it was okay."
The 1956 Olympics were in the Italian Alps at Cortina, and they were very much like the narrow trails and hardscrabble conditions that Penny had left behind in New England, so she felt perfectly at home. Downhill day was very cold and there was hardly anyone left up at the start, so Penny pushed off just as she always had. "I was just bombing along, rattle, bang, arms and legs all over the place, having a great time."
There were two other things on Penny's mind. Television had just come to the Olympics and also to Guilford, and she knew that people back home might see her. She'd also heard that Austria's Toni Sailor was watching at the bottom of the course, handsome as a movie star, the cynosure of all eyes, and on his way to a first-ever sweep of the gold medals. The last element in Penny's downhill course was a bump above the finish, and a racer had to hit her pre-jump just right or she'd be in trouble. "So I got into my best tuck for the finish, looking like aces, and CRASH!" Penny crossed the finish line on her face, at the same time imagining Toni crossing her off his list.
She started the long walk back to the American's hotel. "I was dragging my skis behind me, everything was over, my life was flashing in front of my eyes. I got to the hotel and Andy was in there having a Coke or something." She meant Andrea Mead Lawrence, the elder of the American team and our greatest international ski racer of the age. "So Andy said, ' Great race, Penny!' I said, 'Huh, some great race, eighteen seconds out.' And Andy said, 'Never mind about the finish, you'll get the hang of that. But when you fell you had a chance for a medal -- you are a great ski racer.' "And that," Penny said, "saved my life."
Andrea was right, and by the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, Penny and Betsy Snite were favored for medals. The Sierras had not gotten their traditional heavy snows that year, and just a few days before the Olympics opened there were flowers blossoming in the valley. Then a huge blizzard hit, and this was a mixed blessing, because the single fall of snow was not bonded to the ground and the officials were seriously worried that the start area for the women's downhill might break loose and slide away under them.
Penny had drawn bib #1 and as she came up to the start gate she exchanged a pleasantry with one of the officials. That made it seem like home and she was smiling as she got ready. The key to this course was the Airplane Turn about halfway down. The racers approached at high speed, then a large roll in the terrain made them light on their edges as they set up the long and rather flat left turn that came next, so centrifugal force would be throwing them to the outside. Penny got through it, but only just barely. Betsy started sixth and she caught an outside edge in the Airplane Turn and took a bad fall. Heidi Biebl of Germany had a later start and she was behind Penny at the midway timing. Then, perhaps already alerted to the problem lower down, she aced the Airplane Turn and finished one second ahead of Penny for the gold medal.
The giant slalom was next and Penny was coming down with a heavy cold. She collected herself and won her second silver, just one-tenth second behind Yvonne Reugg's win for Switzerland, the smallest increment on the timing clocks of those days. Betsy Snite was fourth, four-tenths behind her.
That left the slalom. Betsy and Penny had been the big story for the American women all during the summer and fall and up to the Olympics, and the demands of media people had not gotten easier in Squaw Valley. Not only that, but her cold was hanging on and she was feeling drained. Anne Heggtveit of Canada won the first run by a second and a half, with Betsy in fourth. Then Betsy won the second run, which gave her the silver medal. Slalom was Penny's least-favorite event, but she tried to push aside her cold and was skiing a great deal better that she thought she would until she went into a left-hand turn in the second run and lost her grip in the warm snow and dropped onto her hip. She went out of the course and it seemed to her as if she was in the snow for a long time and she could feel all the weight of the long Olympic year sliding off her shoulders. Then she thought, "Come on, Penny, this is the Olympics and I really ought to finish." So she climbed back up to the gate she'd missed and finished her run.
A while later, one of the coaches told her that the slalom was calculated with the downhill for FIS combined points. Given the time differentials and her place in the downhill, all she had to do was finish twelfth in the slalom and she would have won the gold medal for combined. But the coach forgot to tell her before the race.
Bode Miller is another bone-deep New Englander. His family lived in Franconia and he showed early promise on the notoriously tough slopes of Cannon Mountain, but promising young racers were not showered with money and equipment and all the advantages of coaches and equipment technicians and training camps as they often are now, so he made his own gym in the family barn. I've seen it, and it's an astonishing lash-up of ropes and pulleys and springs that he savaged from their other duties, but it did the job and young Bode went on to a distinguished career on the top-level of the international racing circuit.
Now he's saying goodbye, and I'd like to say, "Thank you, Bode, you're one of those people who makes things better, and I wish you well in whatever comes next.'
Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 06:44
by David M. Shribman
Here are a dozen reasons why the tax overhaul plan that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan released last week — or, indeed, any bill labeled "tax reform" — will not pass this year:
It is an election year, and lawmakers don't take risks in election years. The bill was crafted by a Republican, so the Democrats in the Senate will never give it a fair shot. At its heart is "dynamic scoring," an arcane accounting practice that assumes lower taxes spur higher revenues, a notion Democrats aren't about to accept. The economic recovery, while not robust, isn't weak enough to prompt substantial changes in the tax code.
Wait, there's more: Camp's involvement in the movement to stop new IRS regulations governing social-welfare groups alienates some lawmakers and provides an excuse to spurn his tax proposal. Some Republicans won't support Camp's drive even if they agree with his precepts because they don't want to be identified with a proposal that has few prospects in the Senate. Every fat-cat special interest group in Washington -- watch especially for the Realtors, who don't want to undermine the much-overrated home mortgage deduction -- will mobilize against it.
Still more: Democrats are offended they weren't consulted by Camp. They're also miffed the Republicans were briefed before they were. The proposal doesn't have a big-name co-sponsor. President Barack Obama and the Republicans will never agree on a major initiative. The political conditions in 2014 don't begin to replicate the conditions in 1985-1986 that produced the last tax overhaul.
Here is one reason why the Camp proposal, or another tax overhaul, should pass this year: The United States tax code is an unredeemable mess.
Into this mess waded Camp, who had hoped the bipartisan super-committee on budget issues might have tackled tax overhaul four years ago. He's devoutly conservative — he once rated a "0" score from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, a badge of honor on the right. He's also devoutly committed to his quixotic mission.
Camp defeated his Democratic rival by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 in 2012 — far bigger than former Gov. Mitt Romney's margin over Obama in the same district — and his winning percentage in a dozen races in his district in Central Michigan has never dipped below 61 percent and once, in 1994, soared to 73 percent.
Almost everyone on both sides of the aisle comments on how mild-mannered he is. Except on one issue: the tax code.
His reprise line is that the tax code is 10 times the size of the Bible without the good news. The proposal he unveiled Wednesday would reduce the top rate from 39.6 percent to 25 percent for all but some of the top 1 percent of filers, who would be subject to a 10 percent surcharge on some income.
Of course it was declared dead on arrival by all the coroners on Capitol Hill, who are better at performing autopsies than playing midwife to successful births. And in truth, there are some things about the Camp proposal that are not to everyone's taste — or, to change senses but not tenses, there are in the Camp plan (many) things on which all lawmakers do not see eye to eye.
Camp and some others believe his proposal would spur growth of more than $3 billion, create nearly 2 million new jobs and bring an additional $700 billion in additional revenues. Maybe it will and maybe it won't, but Camp deserves a hail and hurrah for even bringing the matter to the table.
There was a time, four decades ago, when the tax code had grown so hoary and mossy that a man could run for president and declare in his acceptance speech at his party's national convention that the country's income tax system was a "disgrace to the human race" (Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1976). He didn't prevail and it took his successor, Ronald Reagan, more than five years (May 28, 1985) to begin his public offensive -- an offensive that brought a landmark tax overhaul in 1986.
In truth, the political circumstances of 1985-1986 are far different from the circumstances in Washington in 2014.
In those years, a popular Republican president held Congress in his sway, even bringing along many Democrats to his tax and spending initiatives. Today a Democratic president with tepid approval ratings has no sway at all with the House and minimum influence in the Senate. In those years, tax overhaul had many fathers (Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri along with Republican Sen. William Roth of Delaware and Rep. Jack F. Kemp of New York), and it was a bipartisan push. Today's Camp bill lost its Democratic sponsor, former Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, sworn in 10 days ago as the new American ambassador to Beijing.
The Reagan effort was the sort of spectacle that only the Gipper could swing. His co-conspirator was Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the gruff Chicago pol who headed the House Ways and Means Committee, and in Reagan's nationwide address he urged Americans: "Write a letter to Washington. Just address it to Rosty, Washington, D.C." Two days later, Treasury Secretary James A. Baker, no one's idea of a Republican-in-name-only, appeared before the tax-writing committee sporting a large black-and-white "Write Rosty" button.
The following elements of 1985-1986 are missing today: The kind of goodwill that would prompt a GOP president to elevate a Democrat like Rostenkowski, who died in 2010, from Capitol powerbroker to national celebrity. A president who can make his priorities the priorities of Congress.
A chief executive who has enough self-confidence to share the limelight and the credit, along with the responsibility. A Treasury secretary with Baker's will and acumen to steer the process. Strong Senate leaders, such as Sen. Robert J. Dole, adept in the unwritten rules of the chamber and with credibility on both sides of the aisle and on both sides of the Capitol.
This is the environment in which the notion of tax overhaul is being discussed, or being dissed: Almost six in 10 Americans give below-average grades to Washington, according to a poll the Marist Institute for Public Opinion conducted last month for the McClatchy newspapers. Tax overhaul may not be the public's highest priority, but the prospects for Camp's initiative help explain why the public demands an overhaul of the Washington political culture.
Last Updated on Friday, 28 February 2014 00:52