It sounds so wacky even a B-movie producer would reject the plot: Take the entire swath of land that stretches from Canada's Maritime Provinces to the Great Plains and restore it to its natural state.
But that's exactly what "Restore: The North Woods," an environmental group based in Concord, Mass., advocates. And while Burlington, Vt., isn't likely to be bulldozed into Lake Champlain anytime soon, the group has had some startling successes in stopping development¿particularly at New England ski areas.
The five-year-old organization was instrumental in winning a lawsuit on technicalities that quashed snowmaking plans at Loon Mt., N.H., last spring. Without snowmaking approval, the resort suspended its planned South Mountain expansion that would have linked it with downtown Lincoln.
Restore's founder David Carle has threatened that he will use the precedent-setting decision to jam up other planned expansions throughout New England. "It's a case every ski area is going to have to take a look at when considering future development," warns Carle. "We will be reviewing ways to protect the environment throughout the area through this legal decision."
Carle, a New Hampshire native, is a former school teacher who became involved in environmental activism while working for the education division of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Restore executive director Michael Kellett, a former college administrator from Detroit, went from citizen activist to New England regional director of the Wilderness Society before hooking up with Carle at Outward Bound in Boston.
While Kellett says, "We're not on a Jihad (holy war) against ski areas," Restore's actions indicate something close. Within weeks of the Loon decision, Restore formally protested a snowmaking expansion at Waterville Valley, N.H., filed a lawsuit against a land swap at Sugarbush, Vt., that blocked construction of the American Skiing Company's Grand Summit Hotel and expressed concern over a water storage plan at Sunday River, Me.
Unlike other mainstream environmental groups, conservation is not Restore's goal. Nor is preservation. In fact, the group's name says it all. In the mission statement written by Kellett, Restore advocates "a new generation of national parks, wildlife refuges and forests to ensure protection." The group is dissatisfied with "working forests" where logging, hunting, skiing and other recreation co-exists with nature and hopes for "a restoration of complete natural systems." Kellett admits that this goal has little chance of being accomplished in his lifetime but says the group is "thinking 50 to 100 years ahead." Restore claims a membership of just over 1,000. Most of the group's funding comes from foundations and corporate grants. The popular outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which makes a variety of ski apparel, is the group's biggest corporate contributor, according to Kellett.
An immediate target of Restore is the upcoming Forest Service review of land use in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest. Attitash Bear Peak, Waterville Valley, Loon Mountain and Wildcat have 1,600 permitted acres in the forest and an additional 2,000 contiguous acres are currently zoned for possible alpine skiing expansion if demand warrants. Loon's South Mountain expansion was the first proposed use of this additional land. Kellett says Restore is hoping for a revision of the Forest Service plan that would yank this land from possible ski area development.
Groups like Restore not only hinder or halt ski area development projects, they also impact ski area prices. Loon Mountain environmental coordinator Ted Sutton says the resort has already spent more than $2 million on the South Mountain approval process¿possibly for naught.