Hiking: The Exceptionally Unique Circular Ossipee Range, Part Two

Ossipee — December 11, 2006 — Is the wild Ossipee Range an appropriate place to build a private racetrack?

In the spirit that it is not, last week I interviewed three people who value this unique mountain range for what it is and believe it should be preserved. The response from the community was strong and supportive. This column is a continuance of that.

Bob Newton is a geology professor at Smith College. He has given a number of summer lectures at Castle in the Clouds on the geology of the Ossipee Range. In a recent phone conversation, he jumped right into this complex subject with enthusiasm.

“If you look at the Ossipee Range on a topo map, it is a perfect circle,” he said. “Why? This is called a ring dike. It was formed 130 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period. It was formed during a large volcanic eruption.

“Are there any modern analogs?” he asked. “The best is Crater Lake in Washington, which is a little smaller than the Ossipees. It is also another place where a volcano collapsed into a magma chamber.”

He continued by describing what happened there, and in the Ossipee Range.

“First, there was a swelling of the magma chamber below, then a cataclysmic eruption to release the pressure. The volcano above no longer had the strength to hold itself up and collapsed into the magma chamber. A circular fracture formed on the circumference of the collapse, and magma came up in this fracture and formed a dike.”

Newton pointed out that since this occurred in the Ossipee Range, differential erosion has occurred, wearing away the land for several vertical miles, leaving only the more resistant remnants of the old volcanic caldera. It must be pointed out that the frequent mention in geology of “several vertical miles of erosion” doesn’t mean the world was at some point bigger.

“There is a science called Isoftacy,” said Newton. “It is about the continental plates floating on the mantle. If land on top of a plate erodes down, the plate rises up. So, two vertical miles of erosion doesn’t mean that the land was 10,000 feet higher back then. It was relatively the same as today.”

“There is a fair amount of basalt in the Ossipees from the original volcano,” he continued. “The central block that dropped down was protected from erosion. There is also a lot of granite mixed in and this is interesting because granite and basalt are polar opposites in their makeup.

“There is also another very interesting factor,” said Newton. “There are two types of glacial till in the area; one type from the last glaciation 14,000 years ago, called upper till, and an older till that formed over the last two million years, called lower till. The Ossipee Range has a tremendous amount of lower till, especially on the north slope. I suspect this lower till was picked up and plastered there by the last glaciation.”

At this point, Newton voiced his concern about the problems of potential development on the north slope.

“The lower till contains 50 percent clay. It is very stable until it is moved. It becomes very unstable once disturbed. The racetrack will have to move volumes of this lower till, creating unstable slopes with a lot of cloudy clay runoff.”

On one level, Chris Conrod of Tamworth has no objection to a race track in the Ossipees that might help the town economy. “But for the noise,” he qualified his statement. “They (Club Motorsports, Inc.) managed to slide by everything. The Army Corps of Engineers passed their wetlands permit, which included a noise part, but the noise level was higher than the limitations that were set by the Corps’ own noise consultant.”

Since then Conrod was on the committee to revise the town wetlands ordinance. Last week, CMI failed to obtain a special use permit required by the ordinance, and will likely appeal.

“I think there will be ongoing litigation between Focus:Tamworth and Club Motorsports, Inc for quite a while to come,” he said. “One question that has actually yet to be answered is, who is the aggrieved party?”

Conrod loves to bushwhack in the Ossipee Range. “I’ve taken some hikes on some ridge lines where the moose are plentiful,” he said. He greatly enjoyed this, despite a trying experience in the fall once, when a bull moose tried to romance him. “Also, I went with a group into the Ossipees with Rick Van de Poll, and he showed us a stand of old growth hemlock, some 400 years old.” Listening to his own inner voice, Conrod is not pleased with the idea of a race track in his favorite mountain range.

“I don’t like the idea of 250 acres of impermeable tar in those mountains,” he said. Gary Whitewolf Woodings is a Native American who lives in Ossipee near the Ossipee Mountains. He gives various workshops in native skills and the healing arts, and hosts a monthly full moon drumming circle to build community.

In his own words, he is a “spiritual being enjoying this human experience.” He steers away from politics and has no preferences when asked about the possibility of a race track in the Ossipee Range. However, I thought I would end with a comment of his, which reflects a time when all the land in the area was wild.

“There is a strong energy in the configuration and history of the Ossipee Range,” he recently said. “From Dan Hole Pond to the interior crater region, the range holds a lot of ancient wisdom. My connection is ceremonial.”

Conway Daily Sun Columnist Ed Parsons can be contacted at mtsandrivers@yahoo.com.

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