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Insignificant N.H. peak getting significant name: Mount Reagan

Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2003

MOUNT CLAY, N.H. - A peak that New Hampshire is naming for Ronald Reagan is one of the tallest in the White Mountain Range, at 5,553 feet, but it isn't exactly a popular hiking destination.

The rocky summit doesn't even bulge high enough over its supporting treeless ridge to be a distinctive peak, according to the Appalachian Mountain Club, which doesn't include it on its list of peaks over 4,000 feet.

"It's just a bump on a ridge," said Nick Howe, a journalist and White Mountain historian.

Yet, in a state whose primary helped propel Reagan to the White House in 1980, fans of the 40th president say the soon-to-be Mount Reagan is a prestigious address in the Presidential Range.

Neighboring summits are named for President Washington - the highest peak in the Northeast at 6,288 feet - and presidents Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Pierce and Eisenhower.

The mountain had been named for Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, who crafted the Missouri Compromise and was nicknamed the "Great Pacificator" for finding solutions that postponed the Civil War.

Supporters of the change say it's appropriate to substitute Reagan's name because Clay was never president.

Opponents say the renaming is premature and inappropriate because Reagan, 92, is still alive. The federal process to change the name of a mountain is not supposed to start until five years after a person's death.

However, New Hampshire's GOP-dominated Legislature voted last month to ignore federal policy.

"We can move on it locally and let the feds catch up," said Rep. Ken Weyler, who sponsored the legislation.

Republican Gov. Craig Benson is expected to sign the bill into law.

The U.S. Board of Geographical Names won't consider renaming the peak on federal documents until Reagan has been dead five years, said Roger Payne, the board's executive secretary. Until then, Mount Reagan can appear on federal maps in parenthesis, he said.

The peak can be reached directly in a two- to three-hour hike. It can be reached more easily by going to the top of Mount Washington by cog railway or a toll road, then hiking a little more than a mile down the ridge.

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