Opinion: Vail seeks expansion at Mount Sunapee

Two of the three main trails that cover Mt. Sunapee, including the Andrew Brook Trail, are outside Mt. Sunapee State Park.

Two of the three main trails that cover Mt. Sunapee, including the Andrew Brook Trail, are outside Mt. Sunapee State Park. Monitor file


Published: 06-07-2024 6:00 AM

Steve Russell of Canterbury is president, Friends of Mount Sunapee.

At Mount Sunapee, the current leaseholder, Vail Resort, is seeking to expand the parking capacity within the leased area of the state park.

This proposed project does not meet the criteria set forth in the 1998 lease agreement. The project calls for the removal of 5.5 acres of forest and the elimination of 7,000 square feet of wetlands. This includes most of the forested area on both sides of the upper part of the main access road.

Where trees once stood park visitors will be greeted by a sea of gravel and concrete. The proposed parking lot will permanently degrade the quality of the Sunapee State Park visitor experience.

The leaseholder is required to uphold all of the conditions set forth in the lease agreement. Among these conditions are the requirements to “preserve and protect” and maintain the “scenic and aesthetic qualities” of the leased area. Clearly, the drafters of the lease recognized that the state park is a special place whose unique beauty should be protected.

2023 was the warmest year ever recorded in New Hampshire. Erratic weather and reduced snowfall have resulted in less skiable terrain. When the weather is favorable the ski area and community are overwhelmed with an unrestricted number of visitors confined to fewer ski runs. The creation of additional parking will not solve this larger complex issue.

Additionally, site reviews by the Newbury Conservation Commission revealed the proposed parking lot abuts an antiquated sewage treatment facility installed in the late 1960s. It has long ago passed its 20-year service life. Sewage from the resort is pumped to three open, unlined, lagoons and then sprayed into nearby fields surrounded by forest and wetlands.

There appears to be leakage from one of the unlined sewage lagoons into nearby Beck Brook which outlets into Lake Sunapee. The lease states, ‘The operator shall maintain the leased premises in first class condition. The operator, at its own expense, shall undertake all maintenance of the facilities.”

Mount Sunapee State Park represents an irreplaceable part of New Hampshire’s natural and cultural history. The public has expressed a profound interest in Mount Sunapee as is evidenced by the viewer response to the YouTube film The Forgotten Forest Primeval which has garnered in excess of 35,000 views. The film depicts the early preservation history of Mount Sunapee and the wonders of its ancient forest.

Mount Sunapee’s historic and environmental importance demands that these factors be taken into consideration. The parking lot expansion does not meet the standard of a revered state park. It must be in compliance with the lease requirements which demand that the leased area of the park be maintained to the highest environmental and aesthetic standards. The public deserves nothing less.