Ghost Menu

Exploring the world of trails, huts and other shelter systems (e.g. inns, B&B's, hostels, cabins, yurts, tents, pods, tree houses, caves, etc.) supporting long distance walkers & skiers → how they operate around the world → honoring & learning from the people who start & operate them → building international community and conversation → towards a sustainable, environmentally sensitive outdoor accommodations & education infrastructure for USA → all in service to cultivating environmental education and a broad-based ethos of biophilia through immersive experiences in the natural world.

Waipakihi Hut, Lockwood style architecture, NZ Forest Service
Sutherlands Hut, interior
Blue Range Hut built by Masterton Tramping Club in 1958
Ivory Lake Hut, a science hut constructed to support a team of glaciologists and hydrologists studying this retreating glacier.
Tarn Ridge Hut, 16 bunk replacement high mountain built by DOC
Sutherlands Hut, built 1860's - a former boundary keepers hut
Red Hut, built by Rodolf Wigley, tourism pioneer and entrepreneur, c. 1916
Roaring Stag Lodge II, originally built by a club, NZ Deerstalkers Association, over a period of four years.  Rebuilt by DOC in 2005.
Dolent Hut, Swiss Alpine Club. Photo courtesy Marcon Volken.
Sign of the Packhorse Hut, government built (1916) tourism and climbing hut, originally built as one of four backcountry teahouses.
Broome Hut In Summer - D Maddox photo
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Maine Huts & Trails Operational Profile

Maine Huts & Trails (MHT)

Hut Operations

  1. Overview: (mission, land, location & current situation)

“Maine Huts & Trails (MHT) is a nonprofit organization

striving to create and operate a world-class system

of backcountry trails and eco-lodges for people-powered recreation

that enhances the economy, communities,

and environment of Maine’s Western Mountain region

for the benefit of current and future generations.”

MHT was formally founded in 2007 with the goal of eventually building a system of 12 huts over a stretch of up to 180 miles. As of 2015, the 7th year of operation, there are 4 quite luxurious, fully catered and staffed huts. Each location comprises a lodge with separate bunkhouses / sleeping quarters. 80 miles of trail have been built so far. See map (link to http://www.mainehuts.org/maps/) on MHT web site. MHT is headquartered in Kingfield, ME. The Carrabassett Valley has a lively alpine skiing scene (Sugarloaf Mountain), interesting cultural offerings (e.g. art gallery, weekly Art Walks and a regional Arts and Heritage Loop), a growing network of multi-use trails, opportunities for canoeing and fishing, and is developing into a destination center for mountain biking. MHT is increasingly connected to the community in its endeavor to contribute to environmentally sensitive economic development of the region. MHT is an exciting “proof of concept” venture that will demonstrate whether the USA can sustain newly developed, high-end European style hut to hut systems.

MHT has secured easements, mostly from timber companies, built the trails and huts, and developed energetic marketing and education program. Most of the system is on privately owned timber land, but Poplar Hut and some of the trails are on land owned by the Penobscot Nation. MHT purchased 1,000 acres, mostly along the N. side of the Dead River trail corridor. State funds were secured for this purpose from the “Land for Maine’s Future” program.

MHT ‘s lodges are located between Routes 27 and 201 in the shadow of the Bigelow Mountain range and along the Dead River of western Maine; about 4 hours drive from Boston, Montreal and Quebec City. In the lowlands the trails run through mixed hardwood forests of beech, oak, maple, balsam fir, and yellow birch. In the ravines one finds hemlock trees, and spruce on the upper slopes.

MHT caters to a range of human-powered modalities. 50 miles of trail were built for groomed Nordic skiing, which is the dominant winter activity.   Non-winter activities are hiking, mountain biking, paddling and fishing. One hut is located on Flagstaff Lake, which provides a range of water recreation activities, and one can canoe from Flagstaff lodge to Grand Falls lodge along the scenic, flat water of the Dead River. : MHT prides itself in offering superb hut facilities, excellent amenities (“best of class”), a strong commitment to sustainability practices, and high quality food.

  1. Huts and shelters:
    • Description, location, capacity

The huts are 7 – 11 miles apart in a linear sequence covering about 50 miles. There is a Halfway Yurt between the second and third huts in the sequence where you can stop for lunch.

Hut distances, locations and capacities:

  • Poplar Hut is a wooded location opened 2008 (1,314 ft. elevation):
    • 42 guests, 7 bunkrooms (4, 8, and 12 persons), 4 private rooms;
    • Trailhead to hut: 2.4 miles
  • Flagstaff Hut opened 2009 is on the lakeshore (1,164 ft. elevation):
    • 42 guests, 10 bunkrooms, (3,4,6, and 8 person), 6 private rooms;
    • Trailhead to hut: 1.8 miles
  • Grand Falls Hut opened in 2010 and is on the Dead River (1,049 ft. elevation):
    • 32 guests, 8 bunkrooms, (2,4, and 6 person), 2 private rooms;
    • Trailhead to hut: 0.5 miles or 7.8 miles or 15 miles;
  • Stratton Brook Hut opened in 2012 and is on a ridge top (1,880 ft. elevation):
    • 42 guests, 10 bunkrooms, (3,4, and 8 person), 6 private rooms;
    • Trailhead to hut: 3 miles

Full service at the huts is available except in spring and late fall, when the huts are open on a self-catered basis.

  • Hut design

The huts are elegant and efficient in design. All four huts were designed by MHT Board member John Orcutt, accomplished photographer and architect, who has practiced in Maine for many years and now lives in Kingfield. Buildings and furniture are built of locally harvested and milled wood. Slate for floor tiles (radiant heating) was quarried in Maine. The designs have evolved with each new hut. The design for Stratton Hut, the most recent, accommodates cooking, dining, bathrooms (hot showers!), and socializing/recreation in the main lodge, and sleeping quarters in a separate building attached by a covered walkway. See below for information on sleeping quarters.

Stratton Brook Hut’s design reflects many of the lessons learned in previous three hut design and construction processes:

  • single story construction avoids necessity of sprinkler systems;
  • use of acoustical fabric on dining room ceiling (between spaced ceiling boards) for sound absorption;
  • a single dormitory building rather than multiple disconnected buildings;
  • use of covered ramps between buildings to reduce snow and mud issues;
  • wide roof overhangs to protect building and perimeter.
  • staff quarters close to kitchen and further from social areas;
  • fiberglass panels in all wet areas (kitchen and bathrooms);
  • kitchen: full pantry in kitchen, island for food preparation, dish pit with a good view,
  • solar tubes for additional light in common areas and kitchen;
  • increased reliance on solar heat.

Other lessons learned:

  • in future, they will pay more attention to placement of solar panels to facilitate snow clearance, and/or use panels with heat elements to expedite melting of snow from panel surfaces.
  • MHT did not hire consulting engineers in designing the first four huts but have become convinced that doing so would be a good investment in future hut design.

Both the builder and architect volunteered their time in hut design and construction, which helped contain costs.

Additional design features and amenities are described below.

  • Amenities

Huts accommodate day visitors as well as overnight guests. In addition to sleeping rooms, heat, electricity, water, bathrooms and food service (which are described below), huts include common spaces for rest and recreation, including:

  • Leather covered couches and easy chairs,
  • All huts have hot showers.
  • wood stoves,
  • games (Monopoly, Balderdash, card games, and cribbage most popular),
  • informal libraries,
  • birdfeeders and bird observation logs
  • hut logbook,
  • yoga mat and roller bar,
  • art supplies and art wall for guests to contribute to,
  • decorative granite floor medallions unique to each hut located at threshold, &
  • Small retail sales operations in each hut that offer necessities (e.g. toiletries, bug repellant, hiking supplies, etc.) and souvenirs (e.g. hats, t-shirts, etc.)
  • drying room for wet clothing and gear.

MHT operates a gear shuttle service that delivers guest packs to the next hut in the sequence for a fee per shuttle.

  • Water
  • Each hut provides potable water and uses a drilled well and electric pump for its water source.
  • Solar thermal and wood fired gasification boilers provide hot water.
  • Waste management

Each hut is equipped with Clivus Multrum (link to http://www.clivusmultrum.com/science-technology.php) composting toilets. See Clivus site for operational details. A sump pump and misting system are used to automatically maintain proper moisture content for composting. Composting is aided by addition (monthly) of bacteria and yeast, wood chips, which are mixed in automatically and aid in accomplishing a relatively low temperature composting that reduces fecal volume by over 90%. The finished compost is free of human pathogens and dramatically reduced in weight.

Clivus Multrum toilets cost approximately $30,000 apiece. However the Swedish company donated them to MHT because they get great publicity on the daily after-dinner tours of MHT’s sustainable systems. These units have worked well for MHT. There are no odor or operational problems. The level of use is relatively low (compared, for example, with the very high levels of summer season in the AMC huts), and they are located in the heated basement areas (as opposed to being installed outdoors with less insulation & heat to promote composting), which is a great operational benefit.

Gray water from showers and sinks is discharged into leech fields that comply with local disposal standards.

  • Energy and heat supply

Multiple redundant power generation sources are designed for each hut to ensure continuous energy supply in event of failure of any one system. Heaviest energy draws are for: lighting (many lights are on motion detectors), ceiling fans, radiant heat in floors, refrigerators and freezers, range hoods, well pumps, satellite for staff-only internet access, and supplemental systems for hot water on demand. Only one hut is on the grid (MHT ran a power line at cost of $30,000 and considers it a good investment) and can return excess solar energy generated locally to the regional grid for financial credit.

The energy sources used are:

  • Hydroelectricity (Poplar Hut only):

A used turbine was installed in a nearby creek when the hut was built in 2008, and operated well (generating more energy than was needed at most times) until this past year. However, it is currently out of order.

  • With the need to keep the water flowing evenly, and maintain the turbine, hydropower is more finicky than that of solar and wood systems.
  • Design of the interface between the hydro system and the hut electrical system requires a higher level of expertise than that of integrating power from other generating systems.
  • Solar panels and battery packs (all huts):
    • Each hut has solar panels and inverters for DCà AC conversion:
      • Poplar: 12 solar panels
      • Stratton Brook: 30 solar panels
      • Flagstaff: 29 solar panels
      • Grand Falls: 30 solar panels.
    • Poplar has 12 batteries of 2 volts each in a storage bank, providing 24 volts of energy. The other huts have batteries providing 48 volts.
    • Hut battery arrays cost $20,000 – $25,000 each.
    • Lead acid batteries require monthly maintenance to top off water level as necessary.
  • Wood burning boilers (all huts):
    • Wood supply: MHT strives to keep a two-year supply of cord wood on hand at each hut. Annual Cordwood needs for each hut are:
      • Poplar: 19 cords
      • Flagstaff: 18 cords
      • Grand Falls: 9 cords
      • Stratton Brook: 12 cords
    • Most wood (mixed hardwood, majority oak) is purchased from local providers, though some is cut with permission of nearby landowners.
    • Tarm Biomass wood-fired gasification boilers (manufactured in Tarm, Denmark and distributed in U.S. in Lyme, N.H.: http://www.woodboilers.com/) are high quality residential and commercial central heating units. Their operational reliability and efficiency (80% of wood is burned in a two cycle process) makes this a good choice for MHT’s needs.
    • The Tarm boilers heat water that is then stored in an insulated 820 gallon tank (“hot tub”) to circulate through radiant heat coils in floor, and to use for domestic hot water (cooking and showers). In-floor radiant heat is used in sleeping quarters and in lodges.
    • Tarm Biomass donated three of the four boilers to MHT once they saw how much good publicity they were getting through the daily “energy tours” for guests.
    • Traditional wood stoves are used in the public areas to provide supplemental heat for guests as needed.
  • Propane (all huts):
    • Used to supplement the TARM boiler by providing hot water “on demand” with a propane fueled Rinnai hot water heater as needed, and to pre-heat water used in radiant, in floor heating before it is heated in the solar panels for circulation.
    • Used to fuel electrical generator as needed, e.g. to charge batteries when solar generation is at low ebb.
    • Is delivered to each hut by truck in the late fall.
  • Cooking and eating

The social dimension of the hut experience is enhanced by comfortable and attractive dining rooms, and MHT prides itself in providing tasty, nutritious meals for guests. Meals are served family style. To the extent possible locally sourced, non-GMO foods are used. Two meals a day (except during self-serve season) are prepared from scratch in accordance with guest numbers. Except in spring and fall self-catered seasons, guests are provided the fixings to make their own trail lunches after breakfast. A good selection of beer and wine is available for purchase by guests.

Each hut has a fully equipped kitchen operated by Safe-serve trained staff. Some food-related lessons learned by the Hut Operations Manager:

  • Every effort is made to accommodate food restrictions if they are communicated in advance of a stay. Menus are specifically designed to aid the cooks in accommodating dietary restrictions, e.g. allergies, vegetarian, vegan, & gluten free.
  • Daily menus are the same in all four huts and rotate in sync every 5 days to ensure that guests moving from hut to hut do not encounter the same meals on a trip.
  • Hiring staff trained as professional cooks is not necessary and can prove problematic: they don’t necessarily resonate with the outdoor experience, some large egos may require tending, and some chefs insist on a large measure of control over the daily menu, which makes it hard to coordinate across the huts.
  • What has worked better than hiring professional cooks is hiring multi-faceted individuals staff that love the outdoors. The profile sought is folks who can do many different things well, have a very positive attitude and enjoy being with the guests, and can learn to cook.
  • Fragile foods (e.g. lettuce and tomatoes) are subject to freezing during transport during the winter months.
  • In future hut designs root cellars will be requested.
  • No problems with excess consumption of alcohol have been reported.
  • Sleeping quarters

Sleeping quarters are in bunk buildings constructed very close to the lodge. Most bunkrooms provide shared accommodations with bunk beds for 4 – 12 people per room. However, each hut has a limited number of private bunkrooms that sleep two people and must be reserved in advance. .

  • Beds include mattresses and pillows that are covered in plastic sleeves.
  • Guests bring their own sleeping bags (or sleep sheets in summer) and pillow cases.
  • In winter bunkrooms are heated to 50 – 55 degrees F and a sleeping bag rated for 20 – 40 degrees F is adequate.
  • Bunkroom floors are covered with a heavy duty, but attractive porous rubber mat material, which prevents melting snow from making floor surface wet.
  • Quiet hours are 10PM – 6AM.
  • Bunkrooms include electric lights and a bed stand.
  • Bathrooms
    • Bathrooms:
    • For 48 overnight guests, the huts have  4 showers, 4 toilets, 1 urinal, and 4 bathroom sinks.
    • Lights are operated on motion detectors.
    • Receptacles are provided for feminine hygiene products and other items that should not go into he composting toilets.
    • To help conserve hot water, showers are operated with free tokens that provide 6 minutes of hot water. Guest can take multiple tokens but are encouraged to limit showers to one token, particularly when huts are full.
  • For 48 overnight guests, Stratton Brook has 4 showers, 4 toilets, 1 urinal, and 4 bathroom sinks.
  • Lights are operated on motion detectors.
  • Receptacles are provided for feminine hygiene products and other items that should not go into he composting toilets.
  • To help conserve hot water, showers are operated with free tokens that provide 6 minutes of hot water. Guest can take multiple tokens but are encouraged to limit showers to one token, particularly when huts are full.
  • Maintenance

Hutmasters perform routine maintenance throughout the year in conjunction with a fulltime Facilities Manager.

  • Capital projects and repairs

Renovations and repairs are generally performed in summer season under the direction of the Facilities Manager.   Local contractors are brought in as needed. Ideally a maintenance reserve fund is maintained to cover needs, which can occur quickly and sometimes need immediate resolution.

MHT has received a grant to enhance the waterfront amenities at the Flagstaff Lake Hut. This will include construction of a boat house and purchase of more canoes and kayaks for rental.

Funding for hut construction is through large donations (see Section 13 below).

  • Permitting process

Two huts are in “unorganized territories” (i.e. not within a Maine township). One operates under permits issued by Maine Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) and another operates on a 25-year lease from the Penobscot Nation. The other two huts are in the township of Carrabassett Valley (population 761) and operate under town building permits. MHT enjoys good community relations as it works in partnership with the Town on shared economic development aims.

Trails Manager coordinates hiring of experts as needed to complete Environmental Impact Statements when required for new trail construction.

  • Hut supply: how do you get supplies in and waste out?

Each hut is accessible by a service road for truck delivery of food, fuel, construction materials, and other supplies. In winter the huts are supplied via snowmobile.

Access roads tend to follow old logging roads and are used only for hut supply. Guests are never allowed to drive vehicles to the huts.

  • Policies and hut ethics
  • Dogs:/pets
    • Questions about dogs are the most frequently asked topic concerning policies.
    • Pets are NOT allowed on the trails Nov. 15 – April 15. Trail easements contain clauses that require MHT to avoid disturbing deer-yards.
    • Pets are allowed on the trails (on leash only or “under voice command”) April 16 – Nov. 14.
    • Pets are never allowed in the huts due to health inspector.
    • Observations:
      • While most MHT staff are dog lovers, they support and enforce the policies;
      • It seems some dog owners are a special breed: they sometimes have a hard time thinking beyond their own dog-related needs and preferences and object to the policy.
    • Energy use: visitors are urged to conserve energy whenever possible and are offered a tour of the hut’s sustainable energy systems after dinner each evening.
    • Electronic devices
      • Guests are encouraged to enjoy an “unplugged” respite; use of electronic devices is strongly discouraged.
      • Can keep phone on airplane mode if they must have them.
      • Some huts have no cell reception.
      • Electrical outlets are not plentiful, but people seek them out and don’t hesitate to reconfigure furniture and lighting to accommodate their need for an electricity fix.
    • Smoking is not allowed in or near huts.
  1. Trails:
    • Trail design

MHT has a linear trail system connecting the huts, which are 7 – 11 miles apart. Each hut is accessible via multiple trailheads (each with parking and outhouse) that range from 1.6 – 15 miles. Three of the huts are within 1.6 – 2.4 miles of a trailhead, the fourth, Grand Falls, is 7.8 miles from a trailhead in winter and about 1 mile in summer. Trailheads are located to serve population and recreation centers, and to provide easy human-powered access to the huts.

Trails follow old logging roads in part. The lowland terrain can be muddy through June. Some stretches over muddy or boggy ground, require construction of alternate trails on drier ground for summer and fall hiking and biking seasons.

The Appalachian Trail crosses MHT’s trail near the Long Falls Dam Road.

An increase in mountain and fat-tire biking has prompted the re-design of some trails, and the building of new trails to accommodate these uses. The entire 50 miles of ski trail has been hardened to accommodate hiking and mountain biking.

  • Trail building and maintenance

For the most part, MHT designs, builds and maintains its own trails. A fulltime Trails and Land Manager oversees the work of seasonal staff during the summer season.

Ski trails are groomed on an as needed basis, particularly after snow storms and after a thaw/freeze cycle. 50 miles of trail are groomed for skiing and snowshoeing. Track is set when possible.

  1. Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and huts?

Nothing.

  1. Governance, Staff and Management:
    • Governance

Board is comprised of up to 20 members. They are deliberately selected for their professional strengths in order to add capacity to help guide and strengthen the organization. The board advises and assists with initiatives (marketing, finance, development)

MHT has 11 fulltime year round staff, of which two are grant funded*:

Executive Director,

Deputy Director*

Marketing Manager,

Digital Marketing Strategist

Reservations & Outreach,

Operations manager (guest experience),

Facilities Manager

Trails and Land Manager

Youth Programs

In addition, MHT employs 15 seasonal staff. Openings are listed on MHT web site. These include Hutmasters and trail crew. They receive many applications for seasonal work and are working hard to develop a high return rate. Currently about 1/2 of seasonal workers return for a second or third season. This is very helpful to operations. Their experience is that the key to hiring seasonal staff is attitude: fun people, passion for the outdoors, enjoy the hut life, flexible, and smart enough to follow a recipe.

  • Volunteers

Volunteers are an integral part of building community and increasing productivity.

  • Interns

We work with the local university and colleges to affect productive internships for both students and MH&T.

  1. Reservations, Rates, Marketing, Memberships:
    • Reservations

Reservations are made by phone, which provides the staff and opportunity to review key information and determine any dietary restrictions, etc. Online reservations are not offered.

The cost of sophisticated reservations software for a multiple hut system is prohibitive for a small nonprofit. Reservations are managed with the software package “Arctic”, which was designed for booking guides and outdoor activities. It has been customized to work for MHT reservations, which are more like an “activity” than a room reservation because they must be able to book multiple hut stays in sequence, book a variable number of beds, book both guided and self-guided trips, and book “add-ons” such as gear shuttle.

The MHT website offers information on trip planning, including: a calendar of activities and a calendar showing availability at each hut; rates and amenities; reservations policies; weather conditions; directions; packing tips and lists; safety information; map; and information on local gear rentals.

  • Rates

Rates vary for weekdays and weekends, and by season; see MHT web site for full information.   Full hut rentals are available at an attractive rate for groups of up to 40.   During fall and spring huts are available on a non-catered basis (i.e. bring and cook your own food in the hut kitchen) for $35 per night for non-members.

Overall, MHT is comparatively expensive for a hut system (e.g. $81 per night for members and $90 nonmembers on weekdays in winter; and $120 per night for nonmembers on weekends and $108 for members). Youth rates (under 17) are $40 on weekdays and $54 on weekends for members.   However, the system offers a quality of hut-to-hut experience that is unparalleled in USA (including hut design and construction, furnishing and comfort, three excellent meals a day, very nice bathrooms (hot showers!), and other quality amenities). For people who like the hut life and can afford it, the rates are, IMHO, a very good value.

  • Marketing

MHT does not use paid advertising and relies greatly on word of mouth and good publicity by travel writers. With a three-year grant MHT has hired a staff member to develop a marketing strategy. The focus of the evolving marketing strategy is to increase summer and fall usage of the hut system by offering an increased range of recreational activities. This includes shaping a separate identity and program for each hut, making each a “destination hut”. In addition to hiking, biking, snowshoeing and skiing, bird/nature walks, and fire pits (which are common to all huts), some of the evolving elements of each hut’s individual identity are:

  • Poplar Hut: swimming, fishing, waterfall, mountain biking hub
  • Flagstaff Hut: lakefront location, canoe and kayak rentals, swimming, lake canoeing and kayaking, river paddling to/from Grand Falls Hut, located on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org); mountain biking
  • Grand Falls Hut: location on Dead River, flatwater canoeing, paddling to/from Flagstaff Hut, located on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail; mountain biking, fly fishing (salmon,
  • Stratton Brook Hut: ridge-top location and views, mountain biking hub

Some other key marketing strategies include:

  • Inviting travel writers to experience the MHT system and write articles for magazines and newspapers. Many have been written and they all seem to be very positive.
  • Encouraging (by handing out “How was your visit?” cards at the huts) guests to go to tripadvisor and share their opinions of the guest experience.
  • During summer, operating the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center with Carrabassett Valley Bike, a nexus of outdoor recreation services in the area.
  • Outreach to summer camp and family camp community to increase group usage in summer.
  • Membership

MHT has 1,200 paying members ($50 individual, $100 family). Membership fees support trail building and maintenance. Member benefits include:

  • 10% discount on all MHT offerings;
  • free use of MHT canoes and kayaks on Flagstaff Lake and Dead River;
  • first choice for reservations;
  • complimentary private room upgrades when available;
  • annual members BBQ;
  • member-only guided trips;

“Neon” software used for membership management.

  1. Guest transportation services:
    • To the trailheads

MH&T works with local vendors to shuttle people and cars between trailheads.

  • Guided trips
    • Guiding services

MHT partners with nine guiding services to offer skiing, hiking, backpacking, paddling, fishing and other guided experiences, which are described on their website. They are also willing to put together custom packages for groups, including youth groups.

  • Snowmobile or ATV

No snowmobiles or ATV’s allowed except for MHT hut supply and maintenance purposes, and MHT gear shuttle services.

  • Horses and pack animals

No pack animals allowed. The trails are not hard enough to withstand horse traffic.

  • Car access to huts

No cars or motorized vehicles allowed, except for MHT hut supply and maintenance purposes.

  1. Safety:

MHT provides safety information on their website and requires guests to sign a liability waiver in case of injury or costs incurred for search and rescue services.  Hutmasters are trained in emergency protocols. Search and rescue operations within the MHT system are the responsibility of the Franklin and Somerset County Emergency Rescue (911).

  1. Insurance:

Insurance coverage in compliance with Maine Landowner Liability law, Title 14, M.R.S.A. Section159-A.

  1. Use of hut system: demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.:

MHT is able to provide the following data on use of its hut system:

  • The average stay in winter months is 1.8 days; in summer it is 1.6 days.
  • The state residence of users of the hut system has changed from 70% from Maine to 63% from Maine over the past 6 years. MHT aims for growth that will result in 30% from Maine and 70% from outstate.
  • About 50% of their hut business is January – March.
  • Skiers aged 45-65 are the most frequent demographic; many are retired; they are seeking active vacations; and they have more disposable income.
  • In the summer families are a major market segment.
  • In the self-catered, shoulder season (April – June and November) younger people are more prevalent because the off-season rates meet their price point.
  1. Occupancy rates:

The four huts combined have 158 total beds (cf. section 2.1 above = 3@42 beds, 1@32 beds). With 7,666 bed nights paid for, overall occupancy rate for calendar year 2014 was 14%. The two highest occupancy months were February and March with 31% and 37% respectively. The lowest were April and June, with 6% and 8% respectively.

The winter usage rates cover winter operational costs, i.e. operate “in the black”. Increasing the use in summer and fall is a key marketing and economic challenge for MHT. If all months outside the shoulder season can achieve 25% occupancy MHT will be able to operate well “in the black” year-round, i.e. cover costs and achieve an earned income maintenance reserve fund.

Bed nights and occupancy rate have increased over the years as the word gets out and as more huts have opened for business. Total bed nights:

2010   3,000 (only one hut open)

2011   4,800 (2 huts open)

2012   5,100  (3 huts open)

2013   7,300  (4 huts open)

2014   7,446   (4 huts open)

2015   9,508  (4 huts open)

  1. Economics

A nonprofit wrapped around a business model. Nonprofit status is seen as essential in fundraising, and very helpful in working in the arena of economic development, and in securing easements for use of private land.

  • Budget
  • Key revenue sources
  • Key expense categories
  • Profit/loss, or break-even point?

MHT may be two years away from a break-even or self-supporting budget, assuming capital costs for future hut construction will continue to be raised externally.

  • Economic impact on the surrounding communities

Extrapolating on a 2012 economic impact study MH&T has affected $25 million of economic activity in our communities.

  1. Fundraising/donations/sponsorships:

MHT is deeply based in its community and effective fundraising is a key to MHT’s economic viability in its early developmental stages. Thus MHT has developed an impressive program of fundraising and sponsorships. Following are key components:

  • Grant writing:
  • Financial donations to cover hut construction:
    • Poplar Hut: New Balance Foundation
    • Great Falls Hut: private family
    • Flagstaff Hut: LL Bean
    • Stratton Brook Hut: private family.
  • Donor recognition:
    • Huts are named after geographic locations, not donors. However the attractive slate medallions at the entry threshold of each hut honor the donor and there are discrete donor recognition signs in the buildings.
    • Bunkrooms are named after donors and names are prominently displayed on the buildings.
    • The tables and chairs in all the huts have donor recognition plates on them honoring donors.
  • Gifts in kind/business sponsorships:
    • Local craftsmen constructed and donated hand-crafted tables and chairs for huts
    • Cabot Cheese: donates cheese, butter and yogurt for hut kitchens.
    • Carrabassett Valley Coffee: donates all coffee for hut kitchens.
    • Architect John Orcutt has donated his architectural services for all four huts constructed so far.
    • John Orcutt and the Schoolhouse Gallery donated fine art photographs gracing the public areas of each hut.
    • Tarm and Clivus Multrum donated equipment (boilers and composting toilets).
    • In addition to those businesses listed above, there are 10 other business sponsors.
    • There are two levels of business sponsors:
      • Bigelow level: Businesses who give $5,000 or more
      • Flagstaff level: Businesses who give $2,500 or more
  • Business sponsors can use a hut for staff retreats or outings, or can donate use of the hut for night to a local youth group.
  1. Partnerships
  • Timber companies have provided easements and are big supporters of MHT.
  • Community – Franklin and Somerset Counties, Town of Carrabassett Valley
  • Trails – Carrabassett Valley has an active recreational development community comprised of snowmobilers, bikers, skiers, and hikers. The town and many of the local organizations collaborate actively with MHT in trail building, and there is some joint use of trails (i.e. other trails overlap with MHT’s trails for some fairly short sections). The town of Carrabassett Valley partners in a cost=sharing arrangement with MHT in building more mountain bike trails.
  • Ski resort
  • Local schools –
  • Mountain biking community
  1. Educational programs:

True to its theme of “conservation through recreation”, MHT uses a variety of means to raise the level of environmental awareness among its guests. IN working with young people they are “creating the next generation of stewards” of the land.

With limited staff, MHT is active in partnering with local schools and organizations in experiential and environmental education. MHT must be creative to lower the barriers to participation for schools, which include difficulties in taking time away from test preparation, transportation costs, and “fear of the outdoors” on the part of students. Participation in Maine’s Youth Outdoor Network is beneficial.

Among its programs and partnerships are:

  • School programs in which classes visit MHT for day or overnight trips that include activities tailored to the class curriculum. The current focus is on Franklin and Somerset Counties, but the hope is to expand efforts.
  • School programs include skiing and hiking with high school kids, and overnight trips to the huts which might include building primitive shelters the kids can sleep in overnight (with the option to move indoors if they become cold or frightened).
  • Providing kids with the experience of packing, carrying their packs to the huts on their own power, spending a day or two “unplugged” and outdoors, and learning about the alternative energy systems is perhaps the most important educational program they can provide.
  • They partner with Teens to Trails, which aims to get high school students outdoors.
  • Astronomy programs at the huts and in the schools.
  • Partnership with the L.C. Bates Museum in Hinkley, ME to do environmental education in the huts.
  • Nightly talks at dinner time highlighting MHT’s mission, vision, and values, including “leave no trace” and “carry out/carry in” principles. Also highlighting practical “housekeeping” information about using the hut system.
  • Energy system/sustainability practices tours of the huts each night after dinner.
  • Conservation-oriented bathroom reading is provided by Hutmasters in some of the huts.
  • Nature walks at the huts.
  • Birdfeeders and birding walks at the huts.
  1. Founding/origin stories:

See profile of Larry Warren (reprinted in hut2hut.info by permission of Maine Magazine) for a good summary of how the hut system came to be.

Additional notes on founding and early years:

Larry Warren was a visionary who spearheaded the effort to form a hut to hut skiing system, which grew to encompass an integrated recreational program of hiking, skiing, biking, canoeing, etc. He formed the original board, negotiated easements from the timber companies, and lobbied locally and state-wide for support of this vision. From the beginning this initiative had an economic development aim: reviving the economy of the region, which was depressed by the loss of jobs in the timber industry, wood products, and shoe manufacturing.

  1. Lessons learned by the managers of the system:
  • Being a community based enterprise ongoing cultivation of a sense of community ownership/buy in is extremely important. Among the many partners are timber companies, power company (which manages the dam that created Flagstaff Lake in the 1950’s); ski mountain; Penobscot Nation (25 year lease of land on which Poplar Hut stands); Carrabassett Outdoor Center; snowmobile clubs; bike clubs; corporate sponsors; food sponsors.
  • Having locals as employees is very helpful in expanding community relations.
  • Importance of developing a strong Board of Directors early in the planning process engenders credibility with funders.
  • In future MHT would consider use of wood pellets for greater efficiency and ease of use.
  • Plan the trail route to connect population centers and recreation centers. Build on existing population and tourism activity. Start with higher population areas to engender early commercial activity and revenue, then expand to less populous areas.
  • Every hut should have its own trailhead. Getting people to the huts and then giving them options to decide their route is beneficial.
  • Linear trails are more limiting to users than circular trails. Good to have side loops off of a linear trail that connect to communities and schools.
  • Locating huts close enough to trailheads to make the hike doable for a broad range of fitness levels is desirable, but not so close that one doesn’t have to make an effort to get there.
  • Hire consulting engineers to advise on complex energy systems.
  • Go with pre-fab construction approach in future (see section 2.2 above).
  • Be proactive in getting the trails on official maps to ensure that the existing easements are well publicized and not overlooked in future planning efforts. 
  1. Observations by Sam:

MHT is an exciting “proof of concept” venture that will demonstrate whether the USA can sustain newly developed, high-end European style hut to hut systems. They have quickly come quite far in implementing an ambitious vision.

Apparently there was discussion in the early days of partnering with the Appalachian Mountain Club. The potential exists today for connecting and partnering with AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative. This has the potential to take hut to hut hiking in the USA to a new level, just as the Tenth Mountain Division’s partnering with other hut and yurt systems in Colorado is doing. Through this and other partnerships it is possible that MHT could become a key part of a word class ecotourism destination in northern New England.

  1. Challenges and opportunities:
    1. Challenges:
      1. Key challenges
  • Increasing occupancy during the summer and fall months.
  • Developing sufficient revenue in summer to compensate for a potential bad snow year.
  • Securing sufficient economic stability to embark on phase two of the building program.
  • Limiting factors on hiking potential include mud season, low-lying trails, and black flies early in season.
  • Cost of building and maintaining both trails and huts simultaneously is a big undertaking. (Versus building huts on a trail system maintained by another organization, which is a common model.)
  • As timber companies sell off their land, holdings become more fragmented and securing easements/rights of way becomes more complicated. Need to secure easements proactively in anticipation of growth. Much of this work has been done, but it is ongoing.
  • High end, full service huts are very capital intensive to build and operate.
  • While skiers seem to know how to use a hut system, hikers are more tentative and need more handholding.
  1. Minor challenges
  • People want to bring their dogs!
  • People want to charge and use their electronic devices.
  • Rebuilding/re-routing trails for increased use by mountain bikers.
  • Managing retail sales at six locations. Need for small-scale inventory and sales software.
  • College outing clubs and orientation programs are a potential source of fall revenue, but they all happen at about the same time and can overwhelm and area.
  1. Opportunities:
  • Implement the original vision of 12-14 huts and 180 miles of trail. The plan is to have the trail start in the Mahoosuc range near Bethel, ME and extend to Greenville, ME.
  • There is the potential to connect above Greenville with a trail being planned by the Appalachian Mountain Club as part of their Maine Woods Initiative. Connecting two of the nation’s premier hut-to-hut systems would certainly put MHT and AMC on the map of both American and European hikers.
  • Recent grant for developing summer recreation opportunities (e.g. biking, swimming, boating).
  • As the trail grows MHT will positively affect more communities and engender more support locally.
  • Next phase of hut and trail development could take MHT in direction of Rangeley, where there is a big summer population and strong economic base.
  • Targeting parents of kids attending summer camps in Maine.
  1. Additional Resources:
    1. Web site: http://www.mainehuts.org
    2. Contacts: Charlie Woodworth, Executive Director, cwoodworth@mainehuts.org

Document written by: Sam Demas with assistance from Charlie Woodworth and John Orcutt. Completed 2/23/16 

hut2hut.info

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