Operational Profile of Appalachian Mountain Club Huts in Presidential Range
- Overview: (mission, land, location & current situation)
- Huts and shelters
- Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and huts?
- Governance, Staff and Management
- Reservations, Rates, Marketing, Memberships
- Guest transportation services
- Use of hut system: demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.
- Occupancy rates
- Economics: Information not available at this time. More later.
- Educational Programs
- Research Programs
- Founding/origin stories
- Lessons learned by the managers of the system
- Observations by Sam
- Challenges and opportunities
- Additional Resources
- Overview: (mission, land, location & current situation)
Founded in 1876 on the model of European clubs, the AMC built its first hut in 1889. The oldest, best-known, and most heavily used hut system in America comprises a chain of eight European style huts that celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2013. This hut system is financially stable, exemplary in its operations, and generous in sharing nationally the best practices and experience it has developed over the years. It is largely located in the White Mountain National Forest, one of the most heavily visited National Forests in the U.S. This is an area of outstanding scenic beauty, high peaks, and fascinating, fragile alpine ecology.
Founded by scientists, the AMC is broad in its mission of conservation, education, research, geographic discovery, and artistic endeavor in relation to mountain environments. It has long supported research and publishing related to its mission, and has developed a hut system that operates in accord with the club’s environmental mission. Located along the Appalachian Trail within State Parks and the National Forest, AMC has developed strong public/private partnerships. It has evolved rigorous operational policies and procedures in its pursuit of full compliance with governmental regulations to protect public lands. The hut system has long been a driver of AMC culture and remains vibrant part of the AMC. It is the nation’s premier hut system and an exemplar of this form of outdoor recreation and education.
See AMC Photo Gallery on this site for images of AMC huts and trails.
Note: The amount of operational information available is staggering. In the operational notes that follow the reader is directed to relevant sections of the AMC Annual Operating Plan and the AMC Operations Manual for more detail than I can possibly provide in this “brief” operational profile. [Please note: We haven’t figured out yet how best to link to these multi-part documents; will do so soon, I hope!] By providing this wealth of operational information the AMC is a making tremendous contribution to the community of people interested in hut operations.
- AMC Annual Operating Plan (AOP): Presented annually by the AMC Huts Manager for U.S. Forest Service approval, the AOP describes how AMC will meet the requirements of the Special Use permit issued by the USFS.
- AMC Operations Manual: AMC has been continually improving its Operations Manual for nearly a century. [For some fascinating historical perspective, see Instructions for Hutmasters 1930 (6 pages); and Hutmans Handbook – Season of 1935 (28 pages). Today, each hut is equipped with a highly detailed Operations Manual on site that includes information on water, waste, energy and maintenance operations.
The AMC huts operate in partnership between the resident hut crews and the Pinkham Notch-based Construction Crew. Following is the introduction to the AMC Operations Manual:
FACILITIES OPERATIONS INTRODUCTION
CC [Construction Crew] and hut crews keeping the huts running smoothly
In order to have effective and safe guest service it is important to keep huts running smoothly. As CC, we deal with day-to-day maintenance as well as longer-term improvements. It is our job to keep the huts presentable and working smoothly. That said, it is the crew’s job as well. While we do not expect the crew to have the technical expertise or time to perform complicated repairs, we do expect you to know your hut and how it works and to keep us informed of anything that seems out of order. If we don’t know it’s broken we can’t fix it. Sometimes there are things that you can fix yourselves and there are things we can walk you through. Everything else we will happily come up to work on. If you have any questions, call or radio us. We often have multiple projects going at once and will try to juggle your needs, and if you feel we are neglecting something, please feel free to re-remind us, as we are human and sometimes (often) things slip through the cracks. We do, in fact, want the huts to run as well as possible, contrary to popular belief. Also, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t just ignore it because the lights come on—this could be doing long term damage to the system.
How systems are organized
- The sections/systems of this “Op’s” manual are: Fire, Propane, Electric, Generator, Water, Septic, and Winter.
General disorganized items
- Many systems interact—for example, a problem with your solar panels can affect the Clivus fans.
- Systems change drastically within an operating season. For example, in 2011 Madison went from old hut to new. Appliance upgrades are ongoing (refrigerators, freezers, water heaters) as well as constant battery and solar panel changes. If any document in this manual seems to describe a system that your hut does not have, please ask us about any differences.
- Keep the hut well ventilated. The huts are un-heated, and, as a result, moisture will behave in unusual ways. Open doors and windows on warm dry days and allow the breeze to blow through. This will reduce odors, minimize mildew, and prevent rot (keep windows and doors closed only on cold, wet days.) It’s also a good idea to open a few windows just before you serve a hot steaming meal to panting guests. This will help reduce condensation on the windows. Moisture management can be especially challenging for the winter caretakers among you, open up bunk rooms and the hut whenever possible.
2. Huts and shelters:
- Description, location, capacity
Located in along the Appalachian Trail. Eight huts are located in the White Mountain National Forest, and one in Franconia Notch State (NH) Park. The huts are about 6-8 miles apart. [Shelters and tent sites along the trail are not included in this profile.] While the huts are located on Federal and State land (with the exception of Madison Spring Hut), the AMC retains ownership of the huts themselves.
- all eight huts are open for full service Early June – late September or mid-October.
- three are open self-service (lodging only) for the rest of the year (Carter, Zealand, and Lonesome), and
- three are open self-service from May 2 – June 1 only (Mizpah, Galehead, and Greenleaf).
Going from west to east the huts are:
- Lonesome Lake Hut (2,760’)
- Date built: built as a fishing camp inn 1876, it was purchased by state of NH and offered to AMC to operate as a hut in 1929.
- Capacity: 48
- Notes: located in Franconia Notch State Park; 1.6 miles from trailhead; a good entry-level hut
- Greenleaf Hut (4,220’)
- Date built: 1930
- Capacity: 48
- Notes: 2.7 miles from trailhead; first of the huts built as a mountain hostel in style rather than a simple shelter.
- Galehead Hut at Garfield Ridge (3,780’)
- Date built: 1932; rebuilt in 2000; first AMC hut built as ADA compliant
- Capacity: 38
- Notes: 4.6 miles from trailhead
- Zealand Falls Hut in Zealand Notch (2,640’)
- Date built: 1932
- Capacity: 36
- Notes: 2.8 miles from trailhead; easily accessible family hut
- Mizpah Spring Hut at Mt. Pierce (3,777’)
- Date built: 1964
- Capacity: 60
- Notes: 2.6 miles from trailhead; Mizpah is a Hebrew term signifying a watchtower or lookout, it connotes a place of sanctuary and hopeful anticipation and a bond among people.
- Lakes of the Clouds Hut at Mt. Washington (5,012’)
- Date built: built in 1901 as a shelter in response to death of hikers on Mt Washington, it has been renovated and expanded at least five times, most recently in 2005.
- Capacity: 90
- Notes: largest and most popular hut; highest hut is also most easily accessible due to road and cog railway to Mt. Washington summit.
- Madison Spring Hut at Mt. Adams (4,800’)
- Date built: first built in 1888; most recently rebuilt after a fire in 1941, and renovated in 2011.
- Capacity: 52
- Notes: said to be the oldest hut in USA;
- Carter Notch Hut (3,288’)
- Date built: built as a log cabin in 1904, rebuilt in 1914
- Capacity: 40
- Notes: open year round (full service in summer only); currently the oldest building in the chain;
The huts provide emergency shelter as needed and will not turn anyone away in dangerous conditions, capacity thresholds notwithstanding.
Total bed capacity in eight huts: 412
Each hut is pictured and briefly characterized on AMC web site at http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/huts/
- Hut design
Major building (vs. site) design considerations (assuming a European-style full service hut) are listed below. These are based largely on Design Consideration for backcountry facilities: design and maintenance by R.E. Leonard, AMC Books, n.d., and High Mountain Huts: a planning guide, by William E. Reifsnyder, Colorado Mountain Trails Foundation, 1977(?). Both of these works appear to represent AMC thinking on this topic, but are by now somewhat outdated.
- Hut capacity, including feasibility in terms of:
- water supply;
- handling human waste;
- food supply, cooking, and service;
- desired social density; need for common spaces for socializing;
- Reservation system to control use, particularly in back-country areas where it is not possible to turn people away when hut is full; need for overflow/emergency space.
- Consideration of seasonal use: which seasons will it be open? Construction materials and techniques appropriate to climate. Heat provision in winter. Flooring appropriate to seasonal use; grates or other methods of reducing tracking of dirt into living areas.
- Insulation & ventilation standards and materials; condensation potential;
- Energy needs and sources; e.g. solar, wind, hydro, etc. Heating building during both peak and off-season use. Wood storage.
- Separate kitchen and rodent-proof food storage spaces. Refrigeration and frozen foods. Cooking accommodations during self-catered season. Disposal of food waste. Attention to guest, kitchen and server traffic flow during peak use times.
- Community spaces sufficient to accommodate all guests plus overflow. Seating, acoustics, and traffic flow.
- Fire safety, evacuation routes and procedures.
- Sleeping quarters separate from the social and dining areas. Use of bunk beds is space-efficient. Need for flexibility over time in distribution of bed space. Potential demand for “private” rooms?
- Separate sleeping quarters for hut crew. Location in relation to guest noise and traffic flows.
- Construction materials light enough to be transported to back country.
- Spaces for drying wet clothes; service area for guest registration and questions; retail sales?
- External traffic flow. Space for outdoor socializing.
- Orientation to take advantage of solar heating potential.
- Aesthetic considerations:
- Architectural style and materials appropriate to natural setting;
- Site location sensitive to the landscape and view-scape;
- Retention and protection of native vegetation;
- Distinctive design for each hut within aesthetic framework of a harmonious whole for the system.
- Visibility of the hut in fog or snow.
Each hut offers shared or private bunkrooms and shared bathrooms. During the summer season each hut offers three meals per day cooked on site. Educational programs are offered in summer season. Some of the huts are open on a self-catered basis in the fall, winter and spring.
In addition to sleeping rooms, electricity for lights, water, bathrooms and food service (described below), huts include common spaces and amenities for rest and recreation, including:
- wood stoves for heat in season,
- games & informal libraries,
- hut logbook,
- no electrical outlets are provided for guest use,
- naturalist programs described below.
AMC maintains small retail sales operations in each hut, and larger retail operations in its two lodges: Pinkham Notch and Highland Center. These are operated in accordance with a Merchandising Policy outlined in the Annual Operating Plan:
AMC provides products for sale in keeping with the following Merchandising Policy. The proceeds from these sales are used to offset expenses incurred from AMC’s White Mountain programs and activities.
AMC provides for sale to the general public equipment and supplies:
- needed to travel safely and comfortably in the backcountry, with an emphasis on last-minute items.
- that have an intrinsic educational value to the backcountry recreationist.
- that are needed for personal hygiene and convenience by visitors to the huts, lodge and visitor center.
- that visitors can take home to remember their experience (such as T-shirts), small amounts of AMC logo products (such as mugs, caps, canvas bags) of a tasteful nature, taking up a minimal amount of retail sales space.
- that are available from the White Mountain Interpretive Association to help visitors better appreciate and understand the WMNF.
AMC has a protocol for product change used in the event changes are made in the inventory of items sold.
The AMC Hikers Shuttle operates daily from the start of the full service season until late September. on a schedule posted on the website. Cost is $19 for AMC members and $23 for non-members. Reservations are advised. There is not a gear shuttle service that delivers guest packs to the next hut in the sequence.
Each hut has a drilled well and uses electric pumps to get water to the huts. The depth, location, maintenance routines, and operational details of wells, pumps, and associated electrical systems are described in detail in section 7 of the AMC Huts Operational Manual. These detailed operational sheets are illustrated and are devised to provide hut personnel with front-line information on maintaining and trouble-shooting water systems. They are reviewed in the training program and kept in the hut in the Hut Operations Manual. Emergency contact information is provided on each sheet.
The overview statement on well water from AMC Huts Operations Manual states:
One of the most important things we provide to guests is reliable, fresh water. It’s hard to believe that only twenty years ago we were pumping the green water out of Eagle Lake at Greenleaf, chlorinating it and serving it warm! Standards and testing have become much more rigorous. As a result, all eight huts have granite bedrock wells.
While all the hut water systems are a little different, there are some trends and goals in common. With the reliability of the wells (short term droughts are no longer a problem,) we are able to use and store less water which is an important sanitation factor. The newer systems have automatic pump controllers, which mean that the crew needs only to monitor the electric systems to be sure that they will have an adequate quantity of water. Carter has no water tank, but Zealand has an open tank, that will need to be chlorinated. CC is required to subject your water to a sensitive quality test multiple times during the operating season. Please follow all procedures diligently so that we pass our tests and guests don’t get sick.
- Waste management
In a nutshell: AMC huts are equipped with either a Clivus Multrum composting toilet or a waterless toilet system for human waste. The liquid removed from the human waste is called black-water. Kitchen waste-water flows into a grease trap, where the grease is separate from grey-water. Grey-water from kitchen and bathroom sinks joins with the black-water to flow into a 1,000 gallon septic tank, where further separation of solids and liquids occur. Liquid effluent from the septic systems flows into an anthracite coal (or sand) leach field. From there the treated waste liquid flows into septic chambers from which it gradually seeps into the ground.
Composted human waste is removed from each site by helicopter. Winter variations and caveats on waste management operations for the huts are described in Section 8 of the operations manual.
Following is an excerpt from section 7 of the AMC Huts Operations Manual that provides a bit more detail. For even more detailed information on each hut’s system, see the manual itself.
THE SEPTIC SYSTEM (Variations do exist!)
-Kitchen waste water: flows directly into a 1000 gallon grease trap.
-Effluent: flows out of the grease trap and joins the black-water that flows out of the Clivus composting toilet or waterless toilet system.
-Grey-water and black-water flow into a 1000 gallon septic tank (some septic tanks have a drop-in strainer.) Solids are separated from the water here, some solids float on the surface and are held back by the baffles in the tank, and other solids sink to the bottom. There is active and important bacterial decomposition going on here. Partially treated water flows out of the septic tank and into the doser.
-An automatic siphon doser helps regulate the flow of sewage. When the appropriate water level is reached in this tank, the doser will dump the contents of the tank into the next stage of the system, kind of like a toilet flushing.
-Above-ground leach field: most hut leach fields are filled with 3-4 feet of rich, black, anthracite coal. We like coal because the grains of coal are more uniform in size (than the old sand filters) and offers more surface area per grain (Lonesome’s new above ground leach field is acting as a test site for future systems as it is significantly cheaper to purchase and fly to huts. It is composed of a foam mat which the water is re-circulated through with a pump, which is powered by the solar panels on the bathhouse.) Wastewater is dispersed on the top of the field, and as the water settles through the coal or sand, most of the remaining solids are removed. The pick-up pipes in the bottom of the leach field gather the filtered, treated water and carry it on down the system. Bacterial decomposition is active and important here also.
-A final disposal system gets rid of the treated water. The final disposal systems vary, but the typical disposal consists of buried perforated chambers that are dosed with the partially filtered effluent. The water is spread evenly underground in small amounts and allowed to seep back into the ground.
Because the composting components of the Clivus Multrum Composting systems are located outside the AMC huts, they tend to operate in cooler conditions than are optimal for composting (bacterial action). As a consequence there have been ongoing maintenance challenges for the Clivus compost units in some of the huts.
In addition to disposal of human waste and gray water AMC is committed to recycling of other solid waste. The following excerpt from the Annual Operating Plan (p. 14) encapsulates their general approach:
AMC has a long-standing goal of limiting, to the maximum appropriate level, the generation of solid waste. A combination of “reduce, reuse, recycle” has limited solid waste contributions to the local landfill. AMC is a member of the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District (AVRRDD), through Coos County Unincorporated Places. AMC is an active participant in the regional recycling program. We recycle #1 & #2 plastics, cardboard, newsprint/junk-mail, office paper, aluminum cans, tin cans, and glass. In addition, we attempt to recycle other waste products such as construction materials, batteries, printer cartridges, cell phones, computers, monitors, keyboards, compact fluorescent light bulbs, copper and other scrap metals. In addition, AMC composts as much of the food service scraps as is appropriate. “Bear-proof” enclosures are utilized where needed. The balance of the refuse is disposed of through AVRRDD at the local landfills.
Non-recyclable/non-landfill wastes, such as used vehicle fluids and septic sludge is disposed of off Forest by commercial vendors.
- Energy and heat supply
None of the huts is on the grid. Energy generation systems include:
- Solar panels: all huts
- Wind generators: at 6 of the 8 huts
- Hydro-electric plant: Zealand only
- Propane powered generators: all huts
The Electric System overview provided in the AMC Operations Manual:
Your hut has a fairly extensive 12-volt (Carter, Lakes, Zealand) or 24-volt (Madison, Mizpah, Galehead, Greenleaf, Lonesome) electric system. The wiring is like that of a house with light switches, circuits, and a breaker box that allows you to disconnect a specific circuit. The power that is available to you is limited by the size of your battery bank and by the amount of power that is coming in.
The electric system powers:
- The gray box radio
- The fire alarm system
- The water pump
- Clivus fans
The Electric System is charged by:
The solar panels, and in many cases, wind generators are what normally charge the system and keep the batteries full. At Zealand, the hydro-electric plant also charges the system. In all cases, you might need to use the propane powered generators to charge the system.
12 Volt (Carter, Lakes, Zealand) 12.5 à 14 Volts 12.4 Volts 14 Volts 24 Volt (Lonesome, Madison, Mizpah Galehead & Greenleaf)[i] 25 à 28 Volts 24.8 Volts 28 Volts
The Battery Monitor
The TriMetric battery monitor is located either on the power panel near the DC panel, or in a more conspicuous location. This unit’s digital display has four settings: battery voltage, amps, amp-hours, and battery percent full (the percent full is not accurate, do not use it for reference.) Check and record the voltage of the battery bank daily on your systems walk. If the voltage drops below the value in the table above, you will have to recharge by running the propane powered generator.
Special instructions are include in the AMC Hut Operations Manual for the electrical systems in each hut in Section 2, and for propane generators in Section 5.
Winter operations are outlined in Section 8 of the AMC Hut Operations Manual, these include an overview of winter operations, a firewood plan for the 3 huts open in winter, snow removal guide, etc.
- Cooking and eating
The huts offer breakfast(7AM) and dinner (6PM) for all guests. Lunch is not provided, though the huts sell soup and baked goods at lunch-time.
Hearty meals prepared by the hut “croo” (the insiders spelling of crew) are served family style. Dinners typically include homemade soup, bread, salad, entrée, vegetables, dessert, and a choice of beverages. Vegetarian and restricted diets (vegan, gluten free, and lactose free) can be accommodated if notice is given at the time of reserving the stay.
Socializing over breakfast and dinner is a primary recreational activity for guests. Raucous after-breakfast skits performed by the croo are a highlight of hut life for guests (and croo!).
All hut croo are provided cook training at the beginning of the full service season. Hut croo rotate cook duty. Menus and recipes have been refined and passed down over the years in a hut cookbook. Menus are planned on a seven day rotation.
While alcohol is not prohibited in the huts, beer and wine are not available for purchase in the huts (unlike most European huts). Alchohol is prohibited in the Special Use Permit with the USFS.
Canned and frozen foods are flown in by helicopter at the beginning of the summer season. Perishable foods and other supplies are packed in by croo from Pinkham Notch headquarters. AMC’s eight huts serve meals between June and October. Last year the supplies crews carried into the mountains included 2,300 pounds of beef; 700 pounds of mozzarella cheese, 1,200 pounds of pork loin and 173 turkeys weighing about 3,000 pounds, says AMC spokesman Rob Burbank.
About 76,000 meals were served in all.
During the self-service season guests bring their own food and are able to use the kitchen facilities (stove, oven, cookware, and service ware) of the huts.
The cooks aim to produce very little food waste by making just enough for the guests and leftovers are eaten by croo and AT through hikers working for stay in hut. Most food waste is composted. Meat, citrus and dairy waste are hiked out instead of being composted.
- Sleeping quarters
The huts have several bunkrooms in the huts, or several bunkrooms in detached bunkhouses. All bunkrooms are co-ed and are not heated. Each bunk is provided with a private reading light but there is no lighting of the common area in the bunkrooms.; guests may bring headlamps/flashlights for moving around the hut after lights out. Quiet time and lights out begin at 9:30 PM. Three wool blankets, a pillow and pillow case are provided during the full service season; guests bring along sleep sheets/sacks and pillow cases.
During the self-service season guests bring their own sleeping bags and may sleep on the bunk bed mattresses provided.
Separate bathrooms and washrooms in all huts. Running cold water is provided, no hot water in bathrooms. There are no showers. Composting toilets are waterless flush.
Routine daily/weekly maintenance during the summer season is performed by hut croo. The AMC Construction Crew is on call to perform more complex maintenance procedures and uses the following annual checklist:
AMC ANNUAL MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST-GENERAL
*Items common to all buildings
-Inspect and clean shingles or metal roofing. Check membrane roofs
-Inspect and clean gutters and downspouts
-Inspect and clean chimneys and flues
-Inspect insulation in attics
Walls, windows, doors–
-Check all windows for smooth operation, tight seal, and no broken glass. Screens should fit well and have no holes.
-Check all doors for proper latching, weatherization, closing and security
-Inspect exterior walls for weatherization (caulking/insulation), appearance (paint/stain/trim etc.), safety (loose boards, beehives, snakes, bats, etc)
-Inspect roof trim; paint/stain as needed
-Inspect concrete/stone/wood foundations and sills for rot and deterioration. Seal rodent holes.
-inspect all lines and poles.
-inspect all power entrance hardware.
-check drainage and grade driveways and roads. -clean culverts and catch basins.
-check drainage around buildings and downspouts
-check for hazard trees around each building. Limit overhanging trees.
-pump septic tanks and grease traps as needed
-inspect well house; keep well ventilated and bug/rodent free. Rebuild water pumps, chlorinators, relevant plumbing as needed. Exercise all valves annually.
-visually inspect all propane tanks for stability, regulator age, and debris
-clean boiler, furnace, fireplaces/woodstoves before heating season
-check all refrigerators, coolers, and freezers 4x/ year for proper seal and defrosting. Check condensate pans.
-check and clean all kitchen appliances; stoves, ice machine, etc. Clean and maintain kitchen hood, screens and ventilators.
-check bulbs and lighting to insure best possible bulbs are used
-Verify all external inspections; Range Fire Suppression, Sprinklers, Fire/smoke detection, Health, boiler, insurance, OSHA, etc.
-inspect all building ventilators; intake and exhaust
Bathrooms and kitchens-
-check all faucets, showers and toilets for leaks, drips, etc
-check stability of all ADA grab bars in all locations
-check fans and ventilation for smooth, quiet, efficient operation
-flush all floor drains
-check and clean all window wells and exit tunnels; stairs, railings and ramps
-carpets; inspect, clean and replace as needed -rubber floors and stair treads
-wood floors; sand and oil as needed
Incident response is described in the Annual Operating Plan:
AMC has a full time maintenance team available, either on-duty or on-call, year round 24 hours per day. Maintenance personnel are typically on-duty from 7 am until 4 PM and a call list is used if an off hours facility problem arises.
Maintenance staff conducts rounds at PNVC most mornings to ensure appropriate function of systems.
Field staff routinely monitors backcountry systems on a daily basis and report any problems to maintenance personnel. Maintenance staffs inspect backcountry systems when on site, typically every two weeks throughout the spring/summer/fall seasons and several times each winter at Carter and Zealand.
- Capital projects and repairs
Each year a list of capital projects is included in the Annual Operating Plan. These are carried out by the AMC Construction Crew and outside contractors as appropriate. These projects include upgrading of energy systems, repointing stone-work, and re-shingling of exterior walls and of roof. With eight buildings exposed to mountain weather conditions and high use during the summer, periodically each hut is renovated or re-built. These projects are planned years in advance and discussed with USFS as part of the permitting process.
Capital projects are generally funded by capital reserve funds developed through normal budgeting process. Occasionally during larger projects such as the Madison renovation or the Galehead rebuild funds are raised specifically to support construction costs.
- Permitting process/regulatory environment
Operating within the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) and NH State Park System, townships, and unincorporated territories, AMC has developed extensive experience in working with federal, state and local authorities. The bread and butter of public/private partnerships in operating hut systems are careful attention to regulatory requirements and cultivating close working relationships with the offices and individuals responsible for representing the public interest through regulatory authority. In addition to complying with legal regulations, AMC coordinates its activities with a broad range of other entities in areas such as environmental monitoring, search and rescue, weather monitoring and reporting, etc.
The operating permit issued by the USFS is probably the largest part of the regulatory environment within which the hut system operates. All seven huts under USFS permit are in WMNF Management Area 6.2. The Forest Plan classifies the huts as accepted inconsistencies within the Recreational Opportunity Spectrum class of Semi-Primitive, Non-Motorized (Bold and italics added to emphasize key classification terms used by USFS for hut systems). AMC officials meet with Permit Administrators twice a year for a Permit Administration Meeting to discuss the Annual Operating Plan and review operations and administrative matters.
Every 30 years the operating permit with the WMNF must be renewed. The most recent renewal was in 1999. Permit renewal process takes about 5 years to complete and entails development of a preliminary Environmental Impact Statement, subsequent development of a Final Environmental Impact Statement by AMC. Review of these documents by the USFS eventually results in USFS issuing a Record of Decision by the USFS. This document either approves or rejects the permit renewal, and outlines a set of mitigation and monitoring requirements that AMC must work on during the permit period. Progress on these mitigation and monitoring requirements is reported in the Annual Operating Plan, see p. 23-26 in particular.
The overall regulatory environment is outlined in the Annual Operating Plan. This document provides a substantive overview of primary regulatory and coordination categories required of hut systems operating within a National Forest. These include:
- Employment regulations (I-9’s, W-4’s, etc.) and personnel policies (Sexual Harrassment, Equal Opportunity, benefits, Workers Compensation, etc.);
- FCC licensing for two way radio system for backcountry facilities;
- Search and Rescue protocols and agreements;
- Property and liability insurance coverage required under the USFS permit;
- Safety Program (emergency procedures, personal protective equipment, staff training for health and safety, etc.) as required by law, and a Safety Officer and Joint Loss Safety Committee to review accidents and conduct hazard analysis as needed;
- National Fire Codes (esp. Life Safety Code No. 101 – NFPA);
- OSHA Standards for General Industry;
- Americans with Disabilities Act (AMC has a transition plan);
- Uniform Accessibility Standards;
- National Electrical Code;
- Safe Water Drinking Act (as administered by EPA and NH Dept. of Environmental Services); State water testing requirements based on classification of the huts as Transient Non-Community Public Water Systems; Staff certification to operate water treatment/distribution system (Operator Grade 1A); water test reports to USFS as required.
- Food Service Regulations required by NH Division of Public Health Services, Bureau of Food Protection; cooperation with routine unscheduled inspection of foodservices facilities; restaurant license for all full service huts.
- Construction Crew Manager holds and Installer Permit from the NH State Dept. of Environmental Services (DES), Water Division. Septic systems maintained in accordance with NH DES.
- Communication link to Search and Rescue authorities (NH Fish and Game Dept., USFS, medical control); Huts Manager serves as Search and Rescue coordinator.
- Surface water quality monitoring per AMC facility permit requirements.
- Vegetation monitoring within hut permit boundaries as required.
- Firewood collection plans as required.
- Certificate Holder for scheduled airlifts conducted by contractor.
- Property and Liability insurance related to airlifts.
- Flight communications in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
- Trail work conducted in accordance with USFS standards.
- Hut supply: how do you get supplies in and waste out?
Perishable foods and other necessities are packed in by croo members during the summer season. Prior to and after the summer season scheduled airlifts are used to transport supplies, equipment, waste and material to and from the huts. See p. 20-21 of AMC Annual Operating Plan for details on airlift protocol, flight paths, communications, staff training, and emergency plans.
- Policies and hut ethics
- Pets are not allowed in AMC huts because they are food service establishments. Dogs are allowed on USFS trails, but must be under voice control of owner or on leash.
- “Alcohol should be used in a manner that is safe and courteous to oneself and to other guests.”
- Guests receive instruction in hut sustainability practices and leave no trace practices.
- Huts are seen as an escape from the trappings of everyday busyness of modern life. Use of personal technology (e.g. phones, computers, tablets) is discouraged, and guests are not allowed to charge cell phones in the huts.
- As a communal setting, hut ethics place great importance on mutual respect and courtesy behavior among all guests.
- Trail design
The huts are connected by a 64 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail covering the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. There are alternate trails between some huts and one can cut off up to 10 miles from the AT route by taking some of the alternate routes. Each hut is accessible from the ones on either side, and also from spur trails starting at trailheads with parking lots that are located along motor roads in the region.
- Trail building and maintenance
The AMC’s Trails Department is responsible for maintenance of 288 miles of the Appalachian Trail. This does not necessarily include all the trail segments that connect the huts. Trail maintenance is performed by the Trails Department with the assistance of volunteers. Trail work on the White Mountain National Forest segments are conducted according to USFS standards.
The AMC’s experience with trail design and building dates back to 1919 when the first trail crew was created. Trails are designed “with an eye toward both aesthetic appeal and minimizing potential environmental impact” of hikers. Their essentially conservationist approach to trail design and building is explained in AMC’s Complete Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance (AMC Books, 4th edition, 2008). Written by the staff of the AMC’s Trails Department, this book (the first edition of which was written by legendary AMC trail builder Robert D. Proudman), the book first lays out in detail the steps in visioning, planning and laying out a new trail. It continues with chapters on estimating costs, work safety, trail construction and erosion control, building materials, bridges, trail maintenance, ski trails, and user education considerations.
Read the book! There is nothing of value I can add here.
4. Data, policies and practices relating to environmental impact of hikers and huts?
AMC’s Research Department at Pinkham Notch conducts a range of ongoing and one-time environmental monitoring activities. These are conducted in partnership with other institutions and independently. Their commitment to understanding how use of the trails and huts impacts the environment is extremely strong, and their programs for translating the results of research into management practices are exemplary. The elements of this research program are outlined on p. 16 – 19 of the AMC Annual Operating Plan, and related monitoring activity is described on p. 23-34.
The AMC partnered with various other conservation organizations to increase the population of Dwarf Cinquefoil in the White Mountains. Dwarf Cinquefoil is an endemic species to the White Mountains. After years of effort Dwarf Cinquefoil was removed from the endangered species list.
AMC has conducted research on the acidity and particulate matter in clouds near Lakes of the Clouds Hut since the 1970’s. This is one of the longest running records of cloud acidity in the country and has contributed to policy changes by the EPA over the past decade including the current push to lower the levels of Ozone emitted from industrial facilities.
The AMC conducts a vegetation study every five years in accordance with their Special Use Permit. This study monitors plant communities located around the huts to ensure the health of certain rare species and communities. This study is conducted by the staff biologist.
- Governance, Staff and Management:
The AMC has a Board of Directors that oversees full the range of its programs. Organizationally, the AMC huts are in the Division of Outdoor Program Centers, under the direction of Vice President Paul Cunha. The AMC Staff Organization Chart is included in the AMC Annual Operating Plan.
James Wrigley, Huts Manager, is responsible for hut operations. Reporting to the Huts Manager is one year-round staff person, the Hut Field Supervisor. In addition the Program Manager for Cardigan and Huts is a full-time position focused on interpretive programming. This person works part-time training and managing the hut naturalists. A long-term seasonal worker (9 months) serves to assist the Program Manager for Cardigan and Huts in training and managing the hut naturalists. This position is the Backcountry Education Assistant.
Hut personnel are assisted in maintenance activities as needed by the AMC Pinkham Notch Construction Crew of approximately 10-12 FTE (plus seasonal workers), which is also responsible for other AMC facilities, including but not limited to the Joe Dodge Lodge and Pinkham Notch Visitor center, and the Highland Center.
Hut personnel are assisted in logistical operations by a Purchasing and Logistics Manager and Assistant. These full time year round positions manage 4 seasonal positions in the summer months. This group manages ordering food and supplies, parceling it out for various AMC departments and delivering it to huts. These positions support not only the huts but also the trails, shelters and education departments.
In addition, seasonal hut croos are hired to work in the huts from about June 1 – mid-August. Each of the eight huts has a croo of 5-10 croo members, many of whom are college students. There are a total of 49 croo members in the eight huts. Getting a croo job is very competitive: there are about 200 applicants for 15-20 positions (the remaining positions are filled by returning hut croo).
The croo work schedule is generally 11 days on, 4 days off. Pay is approximately $2,500 per season.
There is a long tradition of croo from one hut making raids on other huts to steal revered objects, which are in turn raided by other croo.
Volunteers provide a helpful supplement to the AMC’s paid hut crew. These programs include Information Volunteers, Volunteer Naturalists and Alpine Stewards.
The Information Volunteer program is the most successful of the volunteer programs relating to the huts. Every weekend throughout the summer most huts have an information volunteer or “info vol”. The info vol arrives at the hut on Friday night and stays through Sunday morning. During their stay the info vols sit behind the front desk at the hut and perform an array of tasks. These volunteers check people in to the hut, dispense trail advice, sell shirts and souvenirs, serve soup to hungry hikers and generally chat with those passing through. In addition to the satisfaction that these volunteers get from helping those that are passing through the hut they also receive a free night stay on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Volunteer Naturalist program provides educational programing while the hut Naturalist is on their days off. This means that the volunteer will arrive at the hut on Sunday and stay until Monday or Tuesday giving programs after dinner about the natural surroundings of the hut. These volunteers usually have some sort of expertise in a specific field that prepares them for giving a program at the hut. Due to the fact that the stints are early in the week, this program sometimes struggles to fill it’s stints during slower parts of the season.
The Alpine Stewards Program is located mostly on the top of Mt. Lafayette and along the Franconia Ridge. These volunteers stay at Greenleaf Hut on weekends and hike up to the Ridge during the day to educate hikers on how to minimize their impact upon the fragile alpine environment. While staying at the hut on Friday and Saturday night these volunteers offer a program to supplement the program from the Naturalist. This program has begun a pilot program on Mt. Washington as well.
- Summer interns: None
6. Reservations, Rates, Marketing, Memberships:
On the AMC website guests can check availability online of individual huts or across all the huts during a specified period of time. Guests can then reserve space in the huts either online or by telephone. The online reservation form allows one to join AMC and secure the member discounted rates. The rather lackluster reservation software is a commercial product known as Maestro.
Rates vary by season, whether one is a member or not, and by number of nights booked. The AMC website offers a means of selecting a hut and dates (or a package deal), determining the rate, and booking online. Some examples of rates:
Adult in self-serve season:
Member rate: $29 per night
Non-member rate: $35 per night
Adult in full service season:
Member rate: $96 per night
Non-member rate: $114 per night
Child rates are lower; lower rates are available for special packages, longer stays, etc.
Marketing of huts appears to be primarily through AMC website and publications. Special deals are offered throughout the year on Guided Programs, Volunteer Programs, and Chapter Trips. The AMC Public Relations department helps promote the huts through use of social media and traditional media channels. There is very limited advertising outside AMC’s own channels.
AMC membership ranges from $25 per year for Seniors and Under-30, to $50 for Individual Membership, and $75 for Family Membership. Membership entitles one to various newsletters, AMC Outdoors, and discounts on lodging and purchase at AMC retail sites. Subscriptions to Appalachia Journal are separate.
7. Guest transportation services:
- To the trailheads
The Hiker Shuttle operates daily from the start of the full service season through Late September, and on weekends and holidays from Late September through Columbus Day Weekend. The website provides schedule and offers transportation alternatives designed to reduce automobile traffic within the WMNF region by helping to plan a car-free trip to the White Mountains. Concord Coach Lines (bus service) offers a connection with the Hiker Shuttle. The website offers carpooling tips.
- Guided trips
- Guiding services: There are not guided trips offered outside those offered by AMC itself.
- Snowmobile or ATV: Motorized traffic is not allowed on the trails.
- Horses and pack animals: Horses and pack animals are not allowed on the trails.
- Car access to huts: None
- Search and Rescue (SAR)
AMC is actively involved in Search and Rescue operations throughout the White Mountains. In an average year the AMC’s Search and Rescue Team will participate in over 60 incidents. The AMC has personnel on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week throughout the year to coordinate AMC’s rescue efforts.
All staff that work in the backcountry are certified with Wilderness First Aid at minimum. These backcountry staff are generally the first responders to incidents throughout the summer months providing care to hikers that are lost, injured, having a medical emergency or who are in over their heads.
New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game is ultimately responsible for Search and Rescues throughout the State while the USFS is in charge of the Cutler River Drainage (Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines) from December 1st through June 1st. AMC works with both of these authorities closely during rescues. There are also various other volunteer teams throughout the region that participate in Search and Rescue including units that are specially trained in technical rope rescues, K9 rescue and swift water rescue.
Like Colorado, New Hampshire has a Hike Safe card program which exempts holder of cards $25/person) from rescue cost reimbursement – except for intentional or reckless conduct; for details visit their Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) site.
- Hiker safety
AMC offers a variety of outdoor safety courses, has useful handouts at its visitor centers, and provides useful link on its web site to Ten Essentials for a Safe and Pleasant Hike. The AMC worked with NH Fish and Game and the USFS to develop a Hike Safe Program to educate hikers on how to safely plan and execute a hiking trip.
- Emergency procedures in huts
Fire and other emergency procedures are described in the AMC Operations Manual in Chapter 3. This includes floor plans and notes on operation of emergency equipment for each site. Following is the Fire Safety overview from the AMC Operating Manual:
Two facilities have burned in the last sixty years, and there have been numerous close calls averted only by quick-thinking hut people. Prompt and prepared action is the best defense against disaster.
AT THE START OF THE SEASON AND MIDSEASON:
- Check all fire extinguishers, and familiarize yourself with their use and location. They all need to have current date tags.
- Familiarize yourself with and check smoke alarm system. Note locations of all smoke detectors. See the Fire System Plan.
- Place a full box of baking soda on the shelf over the stove for fighting grease fires.
- Designate a meeting spot near the hut in case of fire and mention it at dinner talk.
- Post evacuation plans in bunkrooms.
- Post “No Smoking/No Flames” signs in bunkrooms.
- Check that all exits are unobstructed and clearly marked.
- Re-read Propane Safety, and locate emergency gas shut-offs valves.
WEEKLY AS PART OF POWER REAM:
- See Test Fire Alarm System
- Check fire extinguishers. See that they are full, have the proper tag, and are hung in their proper location as shown on Fire System Schematic. Let CC/SH know if extinguishers need to be recharged or replaced.
- Tour the hut and eliminate potential fire hazards.
- Check all propane appliances before going to bed:
- pilots – lit
- burner knobs – horizontal
- propane lights – valves in off position
- Keep cellars and storage areas clean.
- Keep areas clear around all gas appliances.
- Keep everything off the tops of freezers and water heaters. This insures that nothing will obstruct the exhaust stack or fall behind and catch fire.
The first priority is to prevent harm to the guests and crew.
- If a fire is too big to fight immediately and completely:
- Grab the portable radio, spare batteries, and get everyone out.
- Designate someone to turn off the main propane shut-off and then to further shut off propane tanks at the rack. Be prepared! Be familiar with these gas valve locations inside and outside.
- Get everyone together at a central, safe place. Account for all guests
- Call 19 Front Desk, if you haven’t already. Or call 20 Observatory.
2.) If the fire appears controllable:
- Have someone do everything above under 1!
- Start with any extinguisher, and aim at the base/heart of the fire.
- Have another person:
- Take a moment to size up the fire; what is actually burning? How to best attack it?
- Choose additional, proper extinguishers (see below.) Work quickly. Aim at the base of the flames, using a sweeping motion. Frequent short bursts are better than one continuous stream.
If the fire gets too big to fight, get out.
CHOOSING THE PROPER EXTINGUISHER
FIRE TYPE A: Wood, Paper, and Cloth. Use any type of extinguisher, including water.
FIRE TYPE B: GreaseàGasoline. Use baking soda for small kitchen fires, or a dry chemical extinguisher. Do not use water.
PROPANE FIRES: Turn off the Propane! Water will work same as TYPE A
Information not available.
10. Use of hut system: demographics, survey data, trends over time, etc.:
- The majority of guests are from New England.
- The typical guest is male, 55-65 years old.
Additional information not available.
11. Occupancy rates:
Information not available at this time. What I know so far is:
- Occupancy in July is 80%, in August is 90%, and is less full in June and September.
- There are more adults in September
- Fall weekends are full, but weekdays light.
|Occupancy: total bed nights at AMC huts – aggregate figures|
|# bed nights:||44,000||42,000||40,000|
|# bed nights:|
12. Economics: Information not available at this time. More later.
- Key revenue sources
- Key expense categories
- Profit/loss, or break-even point?
- Economic impact on the surrounding communities
AMC conducts surveys to determine the economic impact of their guests on the economy of the region. Need to describe how this data is gathered and what the results show.
The huts are a self-sustaining part of the AMC organization. They do not receive significant outside support, except for major capital projects such as renovations and construction.
Major partnerships include: U.S. Forest Service and N.H. State Parks. Other partnerships include Randolph Mountain Club; Mount Washington Observatory; a range of search and rescue partners, notably NH Fish and Game Department; Mt. Washington Auto Road; and the Appalachian Trail Conference.
15. Educational programs:
AMC runs a wide range of educational programs. The focus here is on backcountry educational programs that take place specifically in association with the hut system. However, it is impossible to entirely separate from the work in the huts the educational programming at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.
Each hut croo includes one seasonal worker who serves as resident naturalist and does interpretive programming. In addition, volunteers do programming at the huts. This work takes place under the direction of Nancy Ritger, Senior Naturalist.
Hut-related educational activities include:
- Three very popular “Junior Naturalist Activity Books” (for ages 5-8, 9-12, and for Winter season) that lead kids through a series of fun projects that can result in their earning a certificate and patch signifying membership in the Junior Naturalist Program.
- Green Tech tours at the huts teach guests about the sustainable systems used in energy generation and waste management.
- After dinner talks (and skits) that get guests moving and talking around environmental concepts and issues.
- Educational displays in the huts.
- Night sky astronomy programming, with a large telescope in each hut.
- A library in each hut with identification guides, AMC publications, and books relevant to hiking, and the ecology of the area.
- Efforts to make huts more kid-friendly and encourage the next generation of trekkers include a range of games and fun activities during busy periods.
In addition to these hut-based programs, Pinkham Notch Visitors Center maintains a very lively series of programs on topics ranging from safety (e.g. avalanche, first aid, etc.) to natural history (geology, flora and fauna, ecology, astronomy), to hiking, paddling, snowshoeing, etc. One current emphasis is on family camping and outdoor-based activities. AMC will work with schools and organized groups to tailor educational opportunities to specific needs.
[For historical perspective: a two-part article “Huts as Classrooms” by John B. Nutter and W. Kent Olson (see Spring and Fall 2013 issues of the OH Association publication The Recusitator) provides a series of personal reminiscences on AMC’s educational programming. These pieces amount to an informal history of educational programs (with particular reference to the 1960’s and 1970’s) that grew up around the AMC huts and their ethos of educating visitors about the mountain environment and inspiring them to protect it. This includes the gradual expansion of hut naturalist activities, the development of programs such as Youth Opportunities Program and Mountain Classroom, the development of a research program focused on monitoring and mitigating environmental impacts, and the expansion of the AMC publishing program with a focus on practical guides to hut and trail siting, design and operation that exemplify the goal of living in concert with nature to the extent possible. For a look ahead, see AMC’s Vision 2020: A Trail Map for the Next Decade, which includes strategic initiatives related to education and outdoor recreation and leadership training.]
16. Research programs:
AMC was founded by academics and scientific research has been part of its mission since the beginning. Of particular note in relation to huts is the leadership of AMC over the past 40 years and translating the results of research on environmental impacts of trails and shelters (aka “recreational trampling” literature) into practical guidelines for planning and building and maintaining these. Examples of this key contribution include AMC publications such as: Guidelines for backcountry facilities: design and maintenance and AMC’s Complete Guide to Trail Building and Maintenance. The current research program are briefly described on the AMC website:
The AMC conducts original science research focused on land and river conservation, air quality, mountain forest and alpine ecology, and climate science. In addition, AMC prioritizes high quality data collection for cartography, producing the most accurate and precise maps for recreation. See AMC web site on research based policy development to learn more about the following core areas of research and map making services:
- Wind Power Siting
- Air Pollution Monitoring
- Forest and Alpine Ecology
- Conservation Mapping
- Mountain Climate Research
- Cartographic Services
17. Founding/origin stories:
While much has been written about the AMC and its huts, writing a proper history of the AMC in general and of its hut system is a challenge that will reward the efforts of the right person. I will not go into the history here. It is simply too big and too important a topic for me to do justice to in an “Operational Profile”. For historical background, A Century of Hospitality in High Places, The AMC Hut System 1888-1988 (AMC Books, 1988) provides the closest thing to a history of the huts. See also information on the AMC website.
Suffice it to say that a group of early AMC members who were familiar with hut systems in Austria and Germany became convinced that American deserved a hut system in the Appalachian mountains. As interest in alpinism increased in New England, accidents and deaths followed, building pressure to expand and develop a chain of mountain shelters in the late 19th and early 20th century. Standards of comfort and safety gradually increased and the system grew and developed. From 1922 – 1958 legendary hutmaster Joe Dodge took the nascent hut system to entirely new levels of organization, efficiency, and standards of mountain hospitality. As the huts improved and time went on, more and more people walked the walk. Use burgeoned in the 1960’s and 1970’s in response to larger social, environmental, recreational and economic trends, and has continued to grow ever since. How and whether a nation of our size and diversity can get by with just one premier hut system is a big and interesting question. How AMC can help answer this question is yet another.
18. Lessons learned by the managers of the system:
Paul Cunha cites the following key lessons learned:
- Community support and involvement is important. Keep the community in the loop when making changes and provide opportunities for local folks to develop a sense of ownership in and engagement with the hut system.
- Hut managers and developers must understand the regulatory environment and be prepared to work very hard to jump some very high hurdles in securing approvals. Learning how to work with regulatory officials at all levels is critical.
- Because the same set of rules and standards used in front country development applies equally to backcountry operations, it is very expensive to build and maintain backcountry facilities. New approaches may be needed to establish a next generation of hut systems in the U.S.
19. Observations by Sam:
As the first and largest U.S. hut system and the nation’s premier mountain-oriented conservation club, AMC is in a unique position to provide leadership in fashioning the future of huts in America. Two relatively recent AMC strategic priorities may point in the direction of a new generation of hut systems for the USA:
- a commitment to “bringing the trails to the people” (i.e. developing trails and associated amenities in proximity large population centers, and
- The Maine Woods Initiative to permanently protect 100,000 acres (including a 25,000 acre ecological reserve) while addressing regional economic needs through outdoor recreation, resource protection, sustainable forestry and community partnerships. This is the largest investment in conservation and recreation in AMC’s 130 year history.
AMC’s generosity of vision and of sharing professional knowledge bode well for its playing a leadership role in updating and re-inventing the impulse to hut-building that it originally brought to America. No other organization picked up on AMC’s lead at the time, but if the time is now ripe for huts in America AMC can and should play a key role.
20. Challenges and opportunities:
- The AMC huts are at capacity in summer season and the WMNF plan does not allow for expansion. Need to come up with a new strategic vision with the next forest plan in 2024.
- Balancing the need for revenue to support the full range of infrastructure and services that make for a safe, enjoyable and educational hut experience with the need to keep rates affordable.
- Developing increased participation in the hut experience in the shoulder seasons.
- State Parks cooperation as a possible expansion partner.
- Increasing participation in educational programs.
- Maine initiative offers potential for front country hut to lodge connection, and connection to back country trekking and skiing opportunities.
21. Additional Resources:
- Web site: http://www.outdoors.org/lodging/huts/
- Contacts: Paul Cunha: email@example.com and James Wrigley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Document written by: Sam Demas with invaluable assistance from James Wrigley, Hut Operations Manager and Paul Cunha, VP for Outdoor Operations
Completed April 20, 2015