August 30. 2015 11:36AM

Old Man of the Mountain project winds down

Sunday News Correspondent

Along with installing interpretive signs and an interpretive trail, the renovation of Profile Cottage in Franconia Notch is the final thing on the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund's to-do list for Profile Plaza. Dick Hamilton, who is the legacy fund's president, said the cottage will contain exhibits about the Profile House, a grand hotel in Franconia Notch that in its heyday could accommodate 800 guests, all of whom came there to see the iconic profile of the Old Man of the Mountain on nearby Cannon Mountain. (JOHN KOZIOL/Sunday News Correspondent)

Dick Hamilton, president of the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, stands in Profile Plaza in Franconia Notch, which was built by the fund to remember the Old Man of the Mountain, a series of five granite ledges on Cannon Mountain that prior to their collapse on May 3, 2003, formed the well-known image. The plaza features seven steel "profilers" that let visitors superimpose the image of the Old Man onto the mountain as well as more than 1,000 memorial stones. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

FRANCONIA — While the memory of the Old Man of the Mountain will live on, the private, non-profit group that has helped keep his memory alive since the May 3, 2003, collapse is slowly fading away.

But before the Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund enters the history books, Dick Hamilton hopes the state will give it one final extension to complete work at Profile Plaza before the fund turns the site over permanently to the Department of Resources and Economic Development’s Division of Parks and Recreation.

Growing out of a task force appointed by then-Gov. Craig Benson and charged with determining what to do about the five missing granite ledges on the southeast corner of Cannon Mountain that for hundreds of years had made up the iconic image and long-time symbol of the Granite State, the Legacy Fund, of which Hamilton is president, came up with an ambitious two-phase project.

Along the way, there were missteps and a healthy dose of over-ambition, said Hamilton, who recently met with DRED Commissioner Jeffrey Rose to talk about the Legacy Fund’s putting the finishing touches on Phase 1 in and around Profile Plaza.

Fits and starts

The Legacy Fund and the Division of Parks and Recreation have worked together under several three-year memorandums of agreement. The current agreement expires Dec. 31 and Hamilton said that doesn’t give the Legacy Fund enough time to install interpretive signage and an interpretive trail at Profile Plaza and to finish rehabilitating the nearby Profile Cottage.

Any extension of the agreement must be ultimately approved by the governor and council. Hamilton is cautiously optimistic that the extension will happen, even though the effort to remember the Old Man hasn’t always gone as planned.

Dedicated in June 2011, Profile Plaza includes seven steel "profilers" that allow visitors to recreate the visage of the Old Man, as well as hundreds of paver stones that were purchased by friends of the Old Man and engraved with personal messages.

As impressive as Profile Plaza is, and Hamilton said he and the Legacy Fund are proud of it, Phase II was going to be even more impressive, boasting a stone gateway dedicated to the men, women and families who, for a time, helped the Old Man resist the ravages of Mother Nature and gravity; a visitor and conference center; and — drumroll, please — an assemblage of the largest pieces of granite quarried in North America.

Weighing between 100 and 120 tons apiece, the stones would have been laid out so that visitors standing on a platform and southbound motorists on Interstate 93 entering Franconia Notch would have seen the Old Man’s profile leading up to Profile Plaza and Profile Lake.

Cold light of day

But just after the dedication of Profile Plaza, reality overshadowed Phase II and doomed it.
Never mind that the stones were quarried in Vermont, which Hamilton conceded was a concern, but all the real challenges were financial. Hamilton estimated that it would have cost $1 million to buy the stones, another million to transport them and a third million to install them. The enterprise would also have required the creation of a temporary exit off I-93 in Franconia Notch.

Although the Legacy Fund has raised $500,000 to pay for Profile Plaza and to also leave money in a dedicated account for its ongoing maintenance, the fund members determined that Phase II was not a reality, said Hamilton, and the idea was abandoned.

Now, with a little more than four months left in its agreement with the state, Hamilton is asking for permission to put a definitive period after Phase I, noting that "It doesn’t cost anything to the state but we’re providing the state with a new asset that we think will be a significant attraction in the Notch."

Admission is free to Profile Plaza, and Hamilton estimates that about 35,000 visitors have come there annually between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.

"We think what we’ve done is an appropriate tribute to the Old Man and most everybody who sees it is very pleased with it. It’s not overly commercial, it doesn’t have a sensationalist part; it just resonates well with the public."

As of Friday, 940 of the pavers at Profile Plaza had been sold, with sales scheduled to end at 1,020. Another 100 stones are being left blank by design. Hamilton said the Legacy Fund needs volunteers to help interpret Profile Plaza for visitors, adding that any donations it receives will go into the plaza’s maintenance fund.

"I don’t think people will forget about the Old Man," said Hamilton. "I think it’ll always be the symbol of New Hampshire. We hope the state will continue to use it on their highway signs and, of course, we know we have it on the state quarter, which is the only piece of money minted by the federal government that has two heads."