Joe and Jack: pioneers in a culture awakening to the environmental benefits of huts
In 2013 Joe Dadey and Jack Drury came up with the idea of a lodging and trails system connecting Adirondack hamlets to huts. I’ve been following their quest as something of a model planning process for hut systems.
What does it take to develop a hut system a culture that doesn’t really know much about huts? How do you work with agencies and organizations whose experience, and whose environmental laws and policies do not yet take into account the role of well-planned hut systems in recreation planning, in rural economic development, and in thoughtful environmental protection and promotion?
While a great deal depends on local conditions and circumstances, there may be some lessons to learn from specific instances where progress is being made. In that spirit, this is a closer look at the two key players and their work in the development of Adirondack Hamlets to Huts.
Over the past three years they have conducted an unusually thorough planning and consultation process. They appear to be winning the support of state and local government leaders for an initiative that some thought could never happen given the rigorous legal protections of the Adirondack Park, and within the bureaucracy of New York State. But they are making good progress. Their success to date (see my recent post on the nascent Adirondack Hamlets to Huts) is due to several factors, including having the right idea at the right time. But this is often not enough. In the Adirondacks, working effectively with government agencies and trail communities requires:
- substantive knowledge of the local ecology and terrain, and a deep commitment to its preservation,
- the deep listening and leadership skills needed to conduct an effective process of community consultations,
- the ability to communicate and work effectively with business owners, environmental groups, and state and local government officials, and
- a genuine feel for the people, communities, culture and history of the region.
Their work is just beginning, but it seems that together Jack and Joe have an ideal set of educational backgrounds, work experiences, and skills for this long-term undertaking. And they have complementary personalities and approaches that allow them to work effectively across a range of domains.
This profile focuses on the background, principles and vision of these two founders, and on the story of how Adirondacks Hamlets to Huts got started.
Growing up in Central New York, Joe was surrounded by lakes and forest and wanted to get out into nature more than his large family could manage. As an undergraduate at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) he majored in Forest Biology and began to spend more of his free time in the woods and mountains. Upon graduation from SUNY -ESF, Joe worked seasonal jobs in environmental education as a naturalist and in outdoor recreations as a wilderness trip leader. These experiences provided Joe with the realization that his professional passion involved sharing nature and the outdoors with people. He was most enthusiastic about helping others develop greater knowledge of and appreciation for nature. He worked for two seasons as an Assistant Forest Ranger in the Adirondacks High Peaks and at Project U.S.E in New Jersey leading 40-day wilderness expeditions with adjudicated youth. H developed an interest in wilderness leadership and teaching at the college level. These interests prompted Joe to pursue a Masters degree in Outdoor Recreation at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
After completing his PhD in Environmental Policy and Communications at SUNY ESF, Joe continued what working with college students in what has become a 2o year career in higher education. For eight years he ran the Recreation, Adventure Travel and Ecotourism (RATE) program at Paul Smith’s College. In this capacity he lead numerous month-long outdoor leadership expeditions and taught a range of environmental and tourism-related courses. He also took small groups of students abroad to study international ecotourism in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and New Zealand. Joe is a highly experienced wilderness guide, teacher, and specialist in sustainable eco-tourism.
When I met Joe he had just returned from a week of guiding summer camp adolescents in the Adirondacks and was musing about their attitudes towards nature and their need to develop more environmental awareness and outdoor leadership skills. He now sees everything he does as a form of environmental education and as a means of helping to develop the next generation of environmental protection leaders and supporters.
Jack grew up visiting his uncle and aunt in Saranac Lake and knew by the time he was 12 that he wanted to live there. He started his undergraduate work at University of Wyoming and soon met his mentor Paul Petzoldt, the founder of NOLS, the National Outdoor Leadership School. Jack attended three NOLS training programs, including, in 1971, the school’s first expedition up to 20,320 ft. Denali. He transferred back east to Cortland State University where he majored in Recreation with an emphasis in Outdoor Education. After college he moved to the Adirondacks and started a guiding service. He was an early instructor of High Horizons, an outdoor education program for troubled youth and spent two summers seasons leading wilderness trips with them.
Jack went on to found and direct the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College. He co-authored the classic wilderness education textbook Backcountry Classroom: Lessons, Tools and Activities for Teaching Outdoor Leaders, and has written other books and articles on wilderness education. He has been active since its inception in The Wilderness Education Association, and served as president for six years. Jack retired as Professor Emeritus from North Country Community Service after over 20 years of service.
After leaving the college he, along with colleague Bruce Bonney, created an education consulting firm called Leading EDGE. He has facilitated workshops for over 35 years on experiential learning around the USA and in the United Kingdom and the middle east. His background in education informs everything he does, and is evident when talking about hut systems and their potential in the Adirondacks. Jack has raised his children in the Adirondacks, has a maple syrup operation, and supports a wide range of environmental causes.
Adirondack Hamlets to Huts: genesis and vision
After his return from an ecotourism field trip to New Zealand in 2013 with a group of Paul Smith students, Joe facilitated a senior capstone project that explored the possibility of a hut system in the Adirondacks. Joe was amazed by the experience of staying in huts and walking the Kepler Track in New Zealand with his students. He and his students administered a survey that solicited people’s thoughts about a hut-to-hut system in the Adirondacks, what one should look like, and what services/accommodations it should provide. Later inn 2014 Joe caught up with his friend Jack, who had been blogging about “ten trails to develop in the Adirondacks” in response to a (misguided, in his opinion) proposal to tear up rail tracks and install a trail. Jack was interested in connecting trails and developing trails that were more community-based. Joe was interested in developing a hut system in the Adirondacks. Suddenly the light went off and they launched a joint investigation into the potential for an Adirondack community-based hut-to-hut system that merged their individual visions into one.
Jack and Joe talked with folks from the Appalachian Mountain Club huts and Maine Huts and Trails, and visited these hut systems. They began to look for grant funding to develop the idea. It turned out that New York was focusing on developing the Adirondacks as an international tourism destination and on the ongoing need to invest in development of this economically depressed region. They won a $220,000 grant for the New York State Department of State to explore the potential for a hut system, and launched their Adirondacks Community-based Trails and Lodging System project.
Then began the hard work, which is still going on: they have talked with dozens of stakeholders, including DEC and regional government officials and representatives of environmental organizations. They have also conducted over twenty reconnaissance trips, created a GIS inventory of existing lodging, and identified and analyzed more than twenty possible routes. Jack is a serious planning and process person, and Joe is a “doer”, anxious to get on with the work and insistent that it be done well. They seem to work very well together.
Their vision is to create a Park-wide hut-to-hut destination trail system with a wide range of interconnecting routes, ranging from 3-4 day traverses to 18 day grand circuits. They want to connect rural communities with this system of trails and lodging, providing much-needed economic development while making the lightest of imprints on the land. The idea is to utilize existing trails and lodging, interpolating only as necessary with new construction.
Growing out of their experience as wilderness educators, environmentalists, and guides, they envision a series of interconnected hut-to-hut systems that:
- are based on effective public/private collaboration;
- connect “infrastructure lying in wait” rather than build new;
- contain places of lodging that are generally spaced 8-12 miles apart and serviced by a spectrum of lodging options that provide 24-36 beds;
- are family friendly and affordable;
- expand the constituency for environmental conservation by making immersive experiences in nature accessible to a broader demographic;
- are attractive to a broad range of ethnic and racial groups not necessarily well represented in the outdoors;
- provide educational opportunities, including thematic trips which appeal to populations that do not usually experience the backcountry;
- model green tourism practices;
- generate a demand for transportation infrastructure and services that reduce the carbon footprint of visitation; and
- that minimize the environmental impact of the every-increasing numbers of people seeking meaningful contact with nature.
Joe and Jack are committed to building a hut system that ensures that the demand for nature created by the 80% of our population who live in urban areas does not threaten, in the words of Aldo Leopold, to “love to death” the very thing they are craving. Their combined experience and shared vision seems uniquely suited to help realize these goals in the nation’s third most populous state.