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Mt. Wachusett

Mt. Wachusett, located in central Massachusetts, is a public parkland and the state’s highest peak east of the Connecticut River. The park is home to the state’s fourth largest stand of Old Growth Forest, recognized for its unique features and value as a historical and scientific resource.

Also located on Mt Wachusett is a commercial downhill ski area, privately owned and operated by Wachusett Mountain Associates (WMA), who have repeatedly proposed to expand their extremely crowded - and extremely profitable - ski facility. The family who owns WMA (as well as the Polar and Adirondack Beverage Corporations) leases the land form the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the state agency responsible for protecting, not developing, the reservation. Unfortunately, DCR typically approves the private developer's plans to unnecessarily clear-cut rare forest habitat on our state parks, all for private profit. Over eight acres of 140 year old forests have been cleared, with more acres planned for the future.

Ski area expansion:

  • Clearcutting of more than 12.5 acres of forest, including majestic stands of 140 year old mature Northern Red Oak.
  • Destruction of biologically diverse habitat within a buffer zone for the Old Growth Forest which the state's own review process determined should be managed in a "hand's off" fashion.
  • Increased erosion and runoff from trail clearing, blasting and excavation.
  • More areas of the park becoming “off limits” to hikers and other passive users of the mountain.
  • Increased damage to the Old Growth Forest from higher skier numbers and increased snowmaking operations and edge effects caused by wind and icing.

Is WMA's lease a fair deal?

While the average US citizen pays approx. 25% of their gross annual income to pay mortgage or rent. The ski area developers at Mt. Wachusett pay only 3% of their gross annual income (income approx. $10 million) to lease 450 acres of Wachusett Mountain State Reservation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Legal Action to Stop the Clearcutting

In September 2003, the Sierra Club petitioned the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to delay proposed forest destruction [Download the Sierra Club petition to the court]. The courts had earlier denied the Sierra Club's appeal for a hearing without explanation, in turn granting final approval for a private developer to begin the clearcutting of state forests on publicly owned parkland. Click here to view interactive maps demonstrating how the clear-cut violated the state's own management plan for the reservation.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruling established a dangerous precedent by allowing the further destruction of our public parks by a private entity without requiring the demonstration of any public need for the project. The ski area has already expanded several times over the past decade, including new ski lifts, a major lodge expansion, and major improvements made to snowmaking, lighting, and other infrastructure, some of which occurred without environmental review. The ski area capacity is now double what it was in 1990, and well above what was recommended as the maximum capacity in the state’s original ski area master plan.

The current project, however, is far more devastating than any of these past expansions. While providing only a very minimal increase in capacity, it will create the greatest damage to the natural areas of the reservation since the initial expansion of the ski area in the 1980’s by the same operators. The old growth forest which surrounds the summit of Mt. Wachusett is the fourth largest in the Commonwealth, and the largest stand east of the Connecticut River. The old growth forest is an exceedingly rare resource which should be held in trust for all citizens of the Commonwealth and for future generations. The proposed clear-cut area is directly adjacent to this area and contains spectacular northern red oaks of 140 or more years of age – a forest type which is quite rare in Massachusetts.

Stewardship of our public lands requires an orderly process whereby resources are first inventoried and then appropriate usage is determined. This was in fact required by EOEA Secretary Coxe, who mandated that a Resource Management and Protection Plan (RMPP) be developed for the mountain prior to any approval of expansion of the ski area. This process was never followed. Instead, the developers submitted their own expansion plan without the benefit of an RMPP, which EOEA Secretary Robert Durand then approved. Following this expansion approval, the RMPP was finalized, with the certificate stating the “[t]he mountains forested slopes are an irreplaceable natural resource…[t]he approximate 900 acre Biodiversity Significance Overlay will be managed in a “hands off” manner to protect the maturing forests around the summit and allow them to regain an old growth character.”

The Biodiversity Significance Overlay is the site-specific buffer zone for the old growth forests on Mt. Wachusett. The proposed clear-cut area is “maturing forest” and located wholly within the buffer zone that DEM’s own planners and scientists deemed worthy of protection. The end result is a management plan that has been ignored and a decision made that purports to protect forests around the summit while simultaneously sanctioning the clearcutting of those very same forests. Such actions are inconsistent with the proper stewardship of our public lands. Visit our Wachusett Action Page to help prevent the further clearcutting of our public parks.

The Clearcutting

The clearcutting of forests at Mt Wachusett State Reservation (a publicly owned parkland) involves approximately 8 acres to relocate an existing snowboard park, and an additional 4.5 acres of clearcutting for “trail widening and safety improvements”. Once approval was granted the developer chose to clear-cut eight acres for new trails for the new snowboard park rather than to provide the allegedly needed safety improvements to existing trails.


More images of the Clearcutting - Click on an image to enlarge it



Future Plans

Despite nearly a decade of studies and thousands of pages of documents, the state nor the ski area operator ever produced a single map for the public showing the ski area expansion in relation to the protected areas of Wachusett Mountain State Reservation. Cross referencing the state's documents and the ski area's proposal, we have generated detailed maps to show you just what is at stake at Mt Wachusett. Click on the images below to view each map full size.




See Also
Clearcut Detail

Zoning Information

Forests & Parks

Threatened Lands

Mt. Wachusett

Forest Management on Massachusetts Public Lands  

The Parks Protection Package, a legislative initiative


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