14. EARLY PICNIC AREA

 

As we know it was the favorable combination of physical features at the Route 16 wayside location, now the Picnic Ground, which attracted the first unregulated camping before 1915.

SEE ALSO 39. GALLERY: PICNIC AREA AND FIREPLACE

The locational lures included a cleared field, river access, mountain scenery, a base for climbing, good spring water, a nearby ranger station, and a state highway intersection.



Picnic Ground sign on Route 16 today.

We know that this narrow valley wayside was public property and by 1921 was formalized by the Forest Service as the ”Copp Spring Public Camp Ground.” Evidence suggests that name for the Campground was used until at least 1928.

The old fieldstone fireplace, a prominent landmark here today, had been constructed by 1921. There were small circular in ground fieldstone fire pits nearby.

Old in ground fire pit in Picnic Ground until late 1990s.

George Brackett recalls these in ground fire pits were there by 1940 or earlier. These survived until this century but have now been removed.

Dolly Copp Forest Camp Fireplace.
See details of the campers (142KB)
.
Photo courtesy of David Veit.

Both Bob Cook and George Brackett recall that for a time there was a second large stone fireplace, removed after the sixties (I remember it also). Old photos show that the one remaining in place today is the older original, nicely restored by the Forest Service in 2001.

View north at early east bank trash disposal scene
and same northward view in Picnic Area today.

Detailed view of old left side photo (582k).

During the twenties camping remained popular here even though it was also spreading rapidly across the bridge to the west bank. We can see change coming in a response to the 1931 survey of campers, where one camper pleads “Do not stop campers from camping on the street {Route 16} side of the river. That would spoil the camp grounds. There are fewer bugs on this side and more shade.”

Evidently by 1931 the 1926 plan to prohibit camping at the Picnic Area was about to be implemented and was causing a stir.

A 1932 newspaper article on Dolly Copp describes a recent improvement to access:

This year the U. S. Government saw the need of a new approach to the campground as well as an exit. The old road going to the grounds branched off perpendicularly from the main highway and was like the descent of an airplane in a nose dive when out of control, and as abruptly came to the finish as the camper stepped on the brakes to avoid plunging headlong into the stream.

The new approach is gradual and branches from the Pinkham Notch highway at an angle. It leads to the Ranger’s Station where the new camper may learn of the rules of the grounds and secure a fire permit.

A typical government sign points to the grounds and hangs at the entrance. The exit from the grounds leading at an angle to the main highway is similar to all side roads and is no longer the steep exit of a year ago.

The graded base of the pre-1932 “steep entrance” road is still clearly visible in the woods today, in the Picnic Area, extending upgrade eastward on a wooded slope away from the old bridge location.

The pre-1932 steep central entrance from Route 16 is shown
between the tent and automobile. It was replaced
by two side entrances of gentler slope, the
southern of which is visible on the right.

Detail of sign above
ranger's tent in above photo.

View to north showing two entrances
described above. Pine Mountain at right.

Photo courtesy of Bob Rich.

The limitation to “picnicking only” here was put into effect in the early thirties, for the design plans for the Picnic Shelter were completed by 1935.

Then the camp rules of 1936 included the following at the top of the list; “The area west of the Peabody River is reserved and developed for camping only. That east of the river {today's Picnic Area} is for picnicking.”

So by 1936 the original Route 16 wayside “cradle of Dolly Copp” had been converted to a compatible recreational use as the Dolly Copp Picnic Area (now "Picnic Ground"). Since then it has served long distance tourists but is also regularly patronized by local residents.

Picnicking activity today is concentrated south of the Shelter building, that structure marking the northern edge of landscaped area. Examining the more wooded area north of the Shelter, a small strip of lawn is found along the river edge. The original thirties plan anticipated that this overgrown north section would be more intensively utilized than it is now.

The strategic placement of the words “Picnic Places” on the 1940 Campground map is the clue that the original usage plan encouraged equal distribution of picnickers on either side of the Shelter, not just on the south side where better landscaping and greater river flow draws the public today.

Excerpt from 1940 map of Dolly Copp Campground,
showing east bank of Peabody with Picnic Shelter at center.

Further evidence for the intended centrality of the Shelter is the distribution of parking spaces on the thirties plan. Entering the Picnic Area from Route 16 today, traffic turns left to parking and picnicking.

But hardly noticed, and little used, is a small access drive immediately to the right upon entering. This leads to a parking lot that sees almost no use today.

But this lot had its own direct access onto adjacent Route 16 in 1940. It was apparently intended to serve the northern half of the Picnic Area above the Shelter.

A short grassed walkway still leads from this usually vacant lot westerly to the rewooding portion of the riverside grass land north of the Shelter. Due to disuse this walkway, as well as the river frontage north of the Shelter, continue to reforest.

The little grass walkway holds two other clues to Picnic Area history. The 1940 plan included two fuelwood yards. These were strategically placed for equal use on the south and north sides of the Shelter.

Entering the grassed walkway from the little used north end parking lot and heading towards the riverbank, the northern fuelwood yard was on the left, at the western edge of the parking lot. This is strong evidence for a higher usage level being the original intent.

Bob Brown recalled an historic artifact near this walkway. Again walking from the little used parking lot in towards the water, in the woods on the right an old style fire place is seen.

One more hint as to intent is obtained from the locations of 1940 waste receptacles. The first was placed well south of the Shelter, near the pre-1951 bridge. The central one was at the Shelter, and the third was well to the north in the now unused and reforesting section.

From today's perspective the concentration of activity at the south end seems logical, as the main body of the Peabody is there and it is the primary scenic attraction.

While the Shelter and scruffy territory to the north always fronted on a watercourse, this section is only a minor branch of the Peabody. Currently it has very little flow and much less riverside appeal than the area to the south.

We can speculate that the flow in the Peabody may have shifted more to the west after the Picnic Area layout was fixed by CCC workers in the late thirties. Such a shift would have left the northern half of the Picnic Area fronting on an almost dry river bed and thus a much less desirable amenity.

Belvin Barnes confirms just such a water diversion in 1958. That year, high waters from a storm had threatened the stability of the river bank near the Shelter. The Forest Service intervened and built up the river rocks so that the main flow veered away from the east channel, this diversion remaining in place today.

Perhaps the tapering off of recreation in the north section dates from that year, as the draw of water side picnicking was greatly diminished.

Campers appear to be registering in this
1920s scene. Mount Madison is above right.

Looking at the old administrative rules of 1940 for the Picnic Area, “Picnickers are requested to register at the registration booth provided.... All persons must leave the picnicking area by 10:30 P.M.”

The Picnic Area may also have served as a parking lot for users of the Imp Trail, for the 1935 USGS map shows that Trail paralleling Imp Brook on its north side, with the trailhead due east from the bridge.

Today the trail is just south of Imp Brook, paralleling the Brook on its south side. A 1939 USFS map and a 1969 Randolph Mountain Club map both show the Imp Trail paralleling the Brook on the north side, evidence of a relocation since 1969.

A memo in the USFS file dated 5/19/1949 confirms the popularity of recreation at the Picnic Area: “At three o'clock Sunday afternoon the Picnic Area was overcrowded and many groups of picnickers were over to the camping side. I am sure that not less than 60 parties were on the grounds at that time and the number could have exceeded 100.”

Recall that moving “over to the camping side” was still quick and easy in 1949, as there was a bridge here over the Peabody River until 1951.

The Picnic Area became more serene when state highway traffic to and from the Pinkham B Road (main campground road) was no longer channeled thru it.

The map in the 1951 Campground brochure indicates that it was at this time that the southern of the two Picnic Area entrances, believed to date from 1932, was permanently closed, leaving the northern entrance to serve this area today.

Public drinking water supply for the Picnic Area is today supplied by an onsite well and electric pump. This system is not an extension of the main water supply network across the Peabody River.

As an exploring child in the fifties my friend Bob Brown found the rusting hulk of a late twenties auto in the woods on the bank of Imp Brook north of the Picnic Area, about 1100 feet from the Picnic Shelter. The story then was that it had washed down from the Picnic Area in the great hurricane of 1938. We found it still sitting there in 1998.

PICNIC SHELTER. The lovely log Picnic Shelter has for generations been the main landmark in the Picnic Area. Its 1936 date of origin is evidenced by a petition that year by almost 200 campers who felt as follows:

We, the undersigned Campers at Dolly Copp Camp, having heard that there is a possibility of a ruling that all religious services shall be held in the picnic shelter outside the camp ground on completion of said shelter, do hereby request that all meetings of a social or religious nature be allowed to continue in the Administration Building as heretofore.

Picnic Shelter in 1942.

According to Belvin Barnes, a CCC worker at that time, the drinking fountain just south of the Shelter was built in 1936, the same year as the building. A water pipe from the Dolly Copp Spring was the original supply source.

A 5/1989 USFS archaeological assessment states of the Visitor Center (1934) and the Picnic Shelter (1936) that “The CCC built structures on both sides of the river are the finest examples of that era of craftsmanship we have on the forest.”

But by the early nineties the Shelter had fallen into disrepair and in 1993 was officially closed. Belvin Barnes was then a leader of a grass roots restoration movement.

In 1992 he came across in his attic the original architectural plan, dated 7/22/1935. This document, along with much local pressure, was then used to persuade the Forest Service to restore the decaying historic structure rather than demolish it.



Above and below: Picnic Shelter during 1996 restoration.

During the 1996 restoration each dismantled timber was catalogued and numbered. Wood in good condition was reused, while rotted pieces were replaced with replicas. Authentic thirties era construction techniques were again used.

The restoration was completed by volunteers from throughout the country belonging to the National Timber Framers Guild, an enthused and highly skilled volunteer group. They camped as a group in End Loop during their visit, a temporary bridge across the Peabody River erected for their use.

SEE ALSO 39. GALLERY: PICNIC AREA AND FIREPLACE