[Published in Apex to Zenith #54 – Third Quarter 2001]
By: Roger Rowlett
Dave Covill has been after me for sometime to change my americasroof page on Rhode Island — especially the headline “America’s Most Inaccessible Highpoint”
My perceptions of private property as well as the Club’s have changed dramatically in between my first during a Nor’easter on October 23, 1994, and my visit during a Club-Private Owner negotiated visit on October 8, 2000. During the 1994 visit while I was returning from Mount Washington and my guidebooks by Don Holmes and Paul Zumwalt noted that it was just short walk down a jeep trail along an easement from Brown University to the actual summit. But I couldn’t find that trail! The obvious place across the highway from a radio tower had two cars parked facing each other making it quite clear that was not the way. There were also “No Trespassing” signs. It was raining and so I snapped some pictures of the sign on the highway in the late hours of day and headed back. I emailed Mike Fedor who had told me about the Highpointers Club and the books when I posted a question in the newsgroup rec.backcounty shortly after dawn of the new invention — the public Internet in 1993. Mike alerted me to the long standing problems regarding Jerimoth access and thus began my peculiar relationship with Henry Richardson.
To begin with, I never met the man. I never had any of the famous confrontations. However, I saw lots of stories in Club Newsletter Apex to Zenith about him. People in emails complained about him chasing them off his land. I had started what was to become americasroof.com over Memorial Day in 1993 by just stringing together bookmarked searches for each the highpoint and a little bit of information about their height and location. It was the beginning of my plan to visit them all. Since I hadn’t visited a highpoint since the early 1970s my site’s graphics consisted mostly of Delorme Street Atlas maps as well as renderings of the peaks from another DeLorme product. The only picture that turned out from my 1994 visit was the road sign and it was blurred because of rain and low light. I posted a flip comment that maybe it was blurred “because I was afraid of the mean old man” who guarded the summit.
Quite frankly this was the philosophy of a lot of people who attempted Jerimoth. For many people there is an assumption that a highpoint is automatically public property regardless of who actually owns it. Of course these same people would not want the public coming in at all hours to walk across their own front yards. It’s a great thing that as the Highpointers Club has grown it has also moved to be more responsible in its relationship with privately owned highpoints. The fact of the matter that there is trivial height difference between the sign and the so called “boulder in the woods” that is the summit. However there seems to be a feeling — and in fact it is the Highpointers Club bylaws — that you must physically touch the summit for it to count as a “recognized” visit. So the boulder seemed to become a sort of Holy Grail. Yet, ironically that boulder is not even the right spot according to the topo map. The current USGS Topo Map places an “X” in a contour on the east (left) side of the jeep trail. The boulder is on the right. The Highpointers Club visits the boulder because Paul Zumwalt (with Henry Richardson’s permission) surveyed the area a few years ago and notes that the markers along the jeep trail (which are on Henry’s property) have incorrect heights and that the boulder appeared to be the highest feature in the nearly flat Jerimoth summit. Besides, a boulder is a much more interesting feature that the clump of brush that some may think is closer to the topo map marker.
So, this gets back to why I think Henry Richardson got an unfair bad reputation for Jerimoth. Yes, it is true that highpoints are historical and geographic treasures that should be protected and open to the public. There afterall is only one each state. Yes, it is true that all highpoints would be best served if they were on public land. However, it’s an axiom that you learn something about each state when you visit its highpoint. The lesson on Rhode Island is that private property is private and the owner has the right to protect it. An example of how in the Northeast are rules affecting water access. In New York and New Jersey for instance shorelines are considered public property. In most New England states including Rhode Island, the shoreline is private property. I know this may seem like a silly thing to take away from Rhode Island, but that is the lesson I came away with.
So, Henry had every right — even had an obligation — to defend his property. His stubborn determination actually made Jerimoth an interesting destination as it raised a buzz. History has shown that he was correct as we saw in 2001 in Illinois that generosity in access can result in some visitors using access as an excuse to trample, steal or damage private property. Henry was vilified for his defense. He endured many innuendos and misinformation made about him. Even on the day I visited in 2000, somebody had propped a hand written sign up on the road below the summit saying that Jerimoth was lost because of “greed.” It wasn’t greed. He was just protecting his property. He had had break in’s. It hardly seemed worth the abuse he received over a trivial distance in height. Yet through the efforts of Dave Covill, Henry still tried to accommodate the dedicated highpointers by permitting access on Sunday of 3-day holidays. These visits have become fun, mini Highpointers conventions. People from all over the world visit. Some Highpointers complete their 50-state summits on Rhode Island. The hike down the pine lane is quite peaceful.
I was sorry to hear that Henry died in March. In his obituary I saw that we shared Leavenworth, Kansas, roots. My regret is that I never had the chance to tell him that he was right or correct a page on my website that had reflected naive opinions at the beginning of my highpointing career.