John W. Weeks

Today is Earth Day, and a good opportunity to celebrate the life of John Weeks.  You may not know John Weeks, but if you’ve hiked in the White or Green Mountains in New England you’ve directly benefited from the Weeks Act, which was designed to protect the headwaters of rivers in the eastern United States.

Weeks made his fortune in banking, became Mayor of Newton, Massachusetts and then steadily advanced in politics first as a United States Representative and then as a Senator.  He became Secretary of War after World War One.  His most notable accomplishment in his political career was the passage of the Weeks Act, which he had introduced to Congress on March 1, 1911.  More than 20 million acres of forest were protected with the passage of this Act, including the White Mountain National Forest, Green Mountain National Forest, Allegheny National Forest and others.  There’s also a State Park named after him near his summer resort in Lancaster, New Hampshire.

As a rower, I’ve known John Weeks’ name without realizing the things he’d accomplished in his life.  The Weeks Footbridge connects the Harvard University campus at a critical bend in the Charles River.  Critical because if you’re racing in the Head-of-the-Charles Regatta this particular bend in the river combined with the choke point of the bridge arch and some very aggressive coxswains, leads to some notable collisions under the Weeks Footbridge.  It thus became a popular spectator destination.

So while I know his name from the bridge, I’ve come to appreciate him through his Weeks Act and the preservation of lands that I’ve come to love.  On this Earth Day, with so many weak politicians in Washington doing nothing notable except protecting their careers, it’s nice to reflect back on a different kind of Week.  I’ll be sure to toast the late Senator next time I’m hiking in the Whites.

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