Feet Dangling in the Swift

Jack Savage | July 9, 2011

Every time I drive along the Kancamagus Highway this time of year, I pass by people dangling their feet in the Swift River. You’ve probably seen them, too. Maybe you’re even one of them, the feet danglers. Sadly, I never stop to join you, although I do think to myself, every time I go by--one of these days I’m going to the White Mountain National Forest, sit on a rock and dangle my feet in the Swift River on a hot day in July. It just seems like a thing everyone ought to do.

I’m guessing that feet dangling might be dangerous in that it could prompt Contemplation, or even spark Imagination. One’s mind might wander. Anxiety and Worry might be eased. It’s possible that New Perspective could even be gained. A feet-dangler might start looking right past the trees and see the whole forest, and who knows where that could lead? It might lead to Optimism, Appreciation, Faith, or even Wisdom.

I’m pretty sure if more politicians dangled their feet in a cold New Hampshire stream now and again that they’d arrive more easily in the promised land of Consensus. A friend of mine suggested that a few of those politicians might benefit more—or at least we would--by dangling their heads instead. This prompted me to think that my friend probably hadn’t dangled his own feet in the Swift River lately and might be overdue for a dose of stream-induced New Perspective.

That we in New Hampshire have the opportunity to douse our digits in the cool waters of the Swift is thanks to the Weeks Act, enacted by Congress 100 years ago to enable the acquisition of National Forests, including our own White Mountain National Forest.

I say “our own”, even though technically it’s federal and thus ‘owned’ by all Americans. And while we gladly (and profitably) share ‘our’ National Forest with anyone who shows up for the best feet-dangling around, it’s also true that in New Hampshire we are justifiably proud of the 800,000 protected acres that draw some six million visitors a year to our state. We love our White Hills.

When the Weeks Act was signed into law a century ago we were just beginning to understand the relationship between healthy, well-managed forests and clean cool water. Feet dangling, as it turns out, is merely a pleasant fringe benefit. Forests—especially in the mountain headwaters—act to filter rainwater runoff, limit erosion, and shade the sun in ways that keep entire river sheds flowing predictably with drinkable water. So the next time you take time to dangle your feet and your mind wanders, take note of the forest around you.

Feet dangling isn’t the only thing the White Mountain National Forest is good for, of course. It’s a multiple use forest, managed not just for recreation but also for timber, wildlife and water quality.

If you’re in need of feet dangling (and who isn’t?), there's a perfect excuse this month to take a day and head for the Whites.

On Friday, July 29, the White Mountain National Forest along with several partner organizations is hosting a free family-friendly festival at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m. to celebrate the Weeks Act Centennial. It’s a perfect way to discover everything the White Mountain National Forest offers. The festival itself includes food and entertainment as well as family-oriented educational activities. Find out more at www.weekslegacy.org.

On the way back there, stop and dangle your feet. You can wave to me as I drive by, my mind unwandered and filled with Anxiety and Worry, failing once again to stop and join you. I will not be wiser for it.

Jack Savage is editor of Forest Notes, the magazine of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. He can be reached at jsavage@forestsociety.org.