Commission Debates Whether To Take Position on Changing Mount Washington’s Name

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Paula Tracy photo

The Mount Washington Commission met atop the mountain on Friday.


THOMPSON AND MESERVE’S PURCHASE – Easton resident Kris Pastoriza’s efforts to change Mount Washington’s name because the former president held slaves was again the subject of discussion when the Mount Washington Commission met atop the 6,288 foot peak Friday with state Sen. Carrie Gendreau criticizing Pastoriza for making it an issue.

Gendreau, R-Littleton, who serves on the commission, said it was her understanding that the name change movement came from “just one person, Kris Pastoriza.”
A member of the Littleton Selectboard, Gendreau said, “we have had issues with (Pastoriza) in Littleton,” adding Pastoriza is an “activist” who has spoken out about ATV trail issues.

Gendreau said: “I have been in hot water already this week” for public comments in an unrelated matter that Gendreau did not like recent public artwork in her downtown with LGBTQ+ references.

“We have had issues with our ATV trail with (Pastoriza), but she just backs right away,” after complaining. “I don’t know. I know her. I could reach out…it’s like crickets,” Gendreau said.

Pastoriza did not attend Friday’s meeting, the first of which was held by the commission on the mountain’s summit since 2019. It was held in the Tip Top House which is under restoration/construction but being reopened to the public after a period of closure.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Pastoriza said she wasn’t at Friday’s meeting because she doesn’t own a car and uses a bicycle for transportation.

She said she doesn’t believe the commission is obligated to take a stand on the Mount Washington name change.

“I don’t think they represent the mountain. They don’t represent the people,” Pastoriza said.

She called the name change a “huge cultural, ethical and historical issue to do with our whole world view.”

She was also concerned at the statements that some commissioners made that they need more information.

“It’s all in the application. I don’t know what they are looking for,” Pastoriza said, referring to her application to the federal body responsible for such name changes.

Pastoriza said Gendreau was referring to her challenging Littleton’s Ammonoosuc Rail Trail in which they had to close a section to ATVs after she showed ATV use there was illegal because of funding.

Pastoriza said it was her persistence that upset Gendreau.

Gendreau using the word activist as an insult says something about Gendreau, Pastoriza said.

If the commission does weigh in on the name change, Pastoriza said she believes the words genocide and slavery need to be included.

Pastoriza doubts the Mount Washington name change will go through but said there is some local support for changing the name of the Baker River.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is taking testimony on Pastoriza’s proposals to change the name of the Northeast’s highest peak to Mount Agiocochook, and the Baker River flowing through Grafton County to Asquamchumauke, Abenaki names.

Members of the commission said they lack the details to make an informed decision on whether or not to support the name change while one member, Wayne Presby, the owner of the Cog Railway, expressed concern that timing might be of the essence and that they take a position or not before it is too late.

Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, said she has drafted a letter in opposition to the name change and the same position has been taken in letters to the commission from the state’s Fish and Game Department, Department of Economic Affairs and possibly the Department of Environmental Services.

The U.S. Forest Service is taking a neutral position on the request.

In June, Pastoriza wrote an op-ed piece published in saying it is time to recognize Native Americans instead of a president who owned slaves.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names is responsible for standardizing geographic names for use by the federal government, and its members must approve any new name or name change before it can appear on federal maps and products.

Pastoriza attended a meeting of the commission at Cannon Mountain within the past year, but hasn’t attended one on the name change.

She said in her op-ed that New Hampshire recently approved Ona Judge Staines Day, honoring the enslaved woman who escaped from George and Martha Washington and settled in New Hampshire.

“George Washington ordered the Sullivan Massacre, one of a series of massacres of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people,” she wrote.

As for the Baker River, which winds through towns like Wentworth and Rumney to its confluence with the Pemigewasset River in Plymouth, Pastoriza wrote it was named for: “Lieutenant Baker (who) led an expedition against the Abenaki in which several were killed, for which Baker and his men collected scalp bounties and which led to the Baker River being named after him, to commemorate these killings.”

There is a petition for a name change for Mount Washington and those interested can submit comments on these proposals to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names at

A member of the public, Rob Bermudes attended the meeting. During the public comment section, he asked if it was possible the renaming of Mount Washington could be placed on a future agenda.

Ed Bergeron, commission chair, said there has been no mention of it since the commission met this summer and decided that “we need to have a lot more information.”

Rob Kirsch, representing the Mount Washington Observatory, said he feels there is a lot more information needed on why it was necessary before the commission is prepared to vote and though he reached out to indigenous people’s organizations through Dartmouth College he has not found more information. He noted he has not reached out to African American groups.

Presby said, “if we don’t get any info and if this is moving forward are we going to take a position at some point?”

Kirsch said he was unsure of the petitioner’s issues and exactly how they are trying to get their concerns rectified.

“It is the petitioner’s obligation to make their case,” Kirsch said. “We could act…but it is a bit confusing. What would we be opposing or supporting? There is so much else on the table for this body…to wade into something that is politically controversial…to understand the place this played in Native American culture…the petition didn’t have any of that information.”

Bermudes asked if sharing that information with the petitioner would be appropriate “so that the body making the decision has that information.”

The Mount Washington Commission is an advisory board that works with the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to manage the 60-acre Mount Washington State Park and has on its board representatives of entities that lease or use the park property.

Bermudes asked if the members would “be OK with the name change.”

Members said they thought that was several months down the line.

But Presby said, “I don’t want some deadline to go by….from what I know, Indians could have been slave holders,” and he said it was likely that everyone’s ancestors were slave holders.

Howie Wemyss, representing the Mount Washington Auto Road, said, “we should be thoughtful about this. Some of us may agree and some of us may not,” but he supported the idea of having it as a formal agenda item again.

Stewart said she wrote a reasoned letter opposing the name change and noted the documents from state department heads opposing it are publicly available.

Some of the reasons listed by those commissioners and directors indicate concern for changing maps and safety issues for people in the White Mountains who might be using older maps and documents to indicate to rescuers where they are in emergencies.

Derek Ibarguen, supervisor of the White Mountain National Forest, said the agency works with tribes and did not get a response from them on this subject.
He said the federal agency would “remain neutral” and that without input “you cannot assume what the names mean.”

State Rep. David Paige, D-Conway, said he has read the petition and the issue is slavery.

“There is more than one way to reckon with our history of slavery. Changing the name is not the only way,” Paige said.

Gendreau said she is Abenaki and has tried to reach out to some of her cousins who are Abenaki on the issue, to perhaps do research and share, “but they won’t do it. Maybe it’s a trait the Abenaki have. I would love to bring that forward and what the native Abenaki name means.”

The commission recently approved a master plan for the summit with a proviso that it implement recommendations from an assessment of the health of the summit, with a particular eye toward changes in climate and intense use by the public to help develop future guidelines for its wise use and protection.
Stewart said she hoped to get requests for qualifications out in the mail in October and that by January, a selection of a firm approved by the Executive Council to begin work in 2024.

The legislature appropriated more than $1 million for the project.
“I don’t know if we will get 50 or three,” she said, but the hope would be culling the list down to the top two choices before January.

Currently the summit is undergoing significant construction work on its water and wastewater treatment facility and as they met, construction crews were working outside the doors of the Tip Top House to fill in two 20,000 gallon water tanks before winter.

The construction of the wastewater treatment facility will have to wait until the spring, officials said.
Fiber optic cable is also likely a new addition with the Cog working with Bretton Woods Telephone Company to co-locate.

The good news, Stewart said is “we are getting very close to an agreement…and there is an existing conduit that will work at the summit so not a boulder will be moved.”

Patrick Hummel of Mount Washington State Park said work is underway to restore the Tip Top House as a museum of sorts to allow visitors to see what it was like up there in the 1800s when it was built.

Attendance at the park is generally down this summer after what he said was the “…the second wettest June and July,” but a promising fall foliage season coming up.
He said the park is down about 7 percent in attendance and revenue from last year.
Oct. 15 is the final day of operations, and the park will be closed for the winter.

Stewart said she is prepared to sign a one-year lease extension on the summit parking lot with the Mount Washington Auto Road, which is unchanged from this year.


State Parks now has a new facility in Gorham to support the Mount Washington State Park in downtown Gorham. Retail managers have offices there and will be spending a lot more hours there this winter instead of in the Moose Brook State Park.

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