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Friday, May 3, 2013

Old Man in need of a new legacy

Ten years ago to the day, the state of New Hampshire lost its oldest friend.

Early on the morning of May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain, the famed rock formation which symbolized New Hampshire’s quiet strength and natural beauty, crumbled to the ground in Franconia Notch. ...

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Ten years ago to the day, the state of New Hampshire lost its oldest friend.

Early on the morning of May 3, 2003, the Old Man of the Mountain, the famed rock formation which symbolized New Hampshire’s quiet strength and natural beauty, crumbled to the ground in Franconia Notch.

Supporters from around the state have spent the years since trying to determine how to best honor the memory of the fallen icon. On the 10th anniversary of its collapse, it’s time we stopped searching and let the Old Man’s memory rest.

In the first days after the collapse, planners considered reconstructing the 40-foot outcropping – an absurd notion quickly dismissed by a task force led by former Gov. Steve Merrill.

On the first anniversary, task force members unveiled several coin-operated viewfinders that show before-and-after images of the rock face. Three years later, project leaders released plans for a memorial on the shores of Profile Lake, and in 2011, they dedicated the monument, which consists of a series of steel rods that, when viewed from a certain angle, reveal an outline of the Old Man’s profile.

Planners intended to raise as much as $5 million for an ambitious second phase of the memorial. The expansion would have added five steel monoliths representing the granite slabs that made up the rock formation. Viewed from a raised platform, the steel pillars would have appeared to merge into an outline of the Old Man.

But after years of planning, fundraising has largely stalled, according to Dick Hamilton, chairman of The Old Man Legacy Fund, a non-profit group that led the effort.

“Fundraising has basically come nearly to a halt because of the economy, so there will be no Phase 2,” Hamilton told the Associated Press this week. “Basically, what we have there now, we’re going to finish up, polish up, add some benches and some signage, and then go away.”

Perhaps that’s enough.

The current memorial may not be the grand homage some would like, but the monument, which also features hundreds of stone pavers engraved with contributors’ names and memories of the Old Man, is a fittingly humble tribute. No man-made memorial could recreate the history or the majesty of the icon, which was first discovered by surveyors around 1805.

Instead, the magic of the Old Man best lives on in the countless pieces of art and literature crafted in its honor, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic story “The Great Stone Face.”

Those tributes always will be available to residents of the state. The Old Man will forever be the subject of vital history and geology lessons in New Hampshire classrooms. And, even if students miss those lessons, they will find the Old Man’s profile adorned on each license plate and highway sign across the state.

Rather than committing more money and time to honoring New Hampshire’s fallen icon, supporters could better honor their state by preserving its other natural wonders.

New Hampshire’s forests, lakes and beaches, among other sites, are among the state’s most valuable assets. Still, the State Park system remains woefully under-funded.

The parks depend largely on admission fees for funding, and many of the system’s buildings and recreational facilities, including those around the former Old Man site, have fallen into disrepair. Perhaps the funds supporters once considered for the memorial expansion could go toward the state park system.

That’s a tribute that would make the Old Man proud.