The peak in question is the one 2.7 miles east of Giant Mountain, accessible from a trailhead on U.S. Route 9 in New Russia. There are three other Bald peaks in Essex County, which is one of the reasons John Pennucci of Colchester, Vt. gave for the name change.
Although the board doesn’t like duplicate names, it also places a high value on local acceptance of a name, said Lou Yost, executive secretary of the Domestic Names Committee.
“In this case, the locals don’t seem to think that’d be the case — there wouldn’t be any confusion,” Yost said.
Both Essex County and the town of Elizabethtown, where the mountain is situated, have weighed in against the change, and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names had received 34 letters and e-mails as of Monday, March 21, all but one opposing the change, Yost said. The state Board on Geographic Names has also recommended against it.
Elizabethtown Supervisor Noel Merrihew said he opposed the change because he didn’t think one individual should be able to start the process of the federal government spending money to do research and vote on a name change. He said he thought such an initiative should come from a government body or an organized group such as a hikers’ club, representing more than just one person’s whim.
“To go into response mode because of one individual — I think it’s a faulty system,” Merrihew said.
“I was told the only way to do this is to go through the official channels at USGS (U.S. Geological Survey, parent agency of the Board of Geographic Names),” Pennucci said. “This is what I got from (the state Department of Environmental Conservation). So I did, and now people are complaining that I’m going through the right channels.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), which publishes a number of guidebooks and maps for hikers and paddlers, also opposes the change.
“We probably sell close to anywhere from (10,000) to 20,000 different units a year that cover that area,” said John Kettelwell, ADK’s publications and marketing director. “They would all have to be updated so that we could get the correct naming in there.”
Kettelwell argued a name change would cause more confusion, not less. Many hikers have older guidebooks and maps at home, and might be confused when they think they’re going to Bald Peak but come to Twisted Cedar Peak. He said the other Bald peaks in the area are “fairly minor,” and he wasn’t aware of any confusion among hikers currently.
“We feel there would be both an economic impact on us and a safety issue in terms of the hiking public,” Kettelwell said. “It’s not a huge issue, but it seems to us there’s really not any great benefit we see, and there’s only negatives in changing the name.”
Pennucci told the Enterprise he hikes the mountain, and several others in the region, almost every summer. He said he came up with the idea for the name when talking to a group of hikers from Montreal. He said he thought it would be more appropriate because it is a unique feature of the mountain — the krumholz at the top is mostly northern white cedar, not balsam fir and spruce.
“The name of the mountain should say something about the cedar trees,” Pennucci said. “They’re little and short and twisted and gnarled, and it’s a great name for it.”
Pennucci carved a wooden sign and put it up near the summit in October 2010. The top of it said “Twisted Cedar,” the bottom said “aka Bald Peak.” He then contacted the DEC, suggesting the name change and asking for the formula for DEC’s brown and yellow paints, so he could make the sign the appropriate colors.
DEC spokesman David Winchell told Pennucci that only the USGS has authority over name changes, and advised him to contact them. Winchell also said the sign was illegal on state land and would have to come down.
“It is a very nice sign and obviously a lot of work went into it, so it would be better if you remove and place it in a location it can be legally appreciated,” Winchell wrote in an email. “If DEC forest rangers remove it, it will most likely be disposed.”
Pennucci said Tuesday that he hadn’t been back to the mountain since October. Winchell could not confirm by press time whether the sign had been taken down, but he said it likely had, given the time that had elapsed.
Photo courtesy of John Pennucci
Vermont resident John Pennucci, who has asked the federal government to change the name of Bald Peak to Twisted Cedar Peak, placed this sign near the summit of the peak last fall. The sign has likely been removed by now.