Category Archives: Environmental Attitudes

What is the Environmental Impact of Huts? Lets find out!

by Sam Demas, July 2017

Dear readers,

I seek advice! How do we best advance research to assess the environmental impact of huts in comparison with other forms of overnight visitations in the front and back country?  This is the research gap we need to fill to help determine what, if any, environmental protection role huts might play in the nation’s recreational opportunity spectrum.  

The common wisdom is that huts/yurts limit the environmental impact of overnight visitations in the wild by concentrating use in a limited footprint and in a structure carefully sited and designed to minimize environmental impacts. Is this truism true?  Are huts effective in managing environmental impacts in areas of high density overnight use?  

Surprisingly, there is no recreational ecology research in USA to prove or disprove this assertion in relation to huts.   With the growth of hut systems in the USA and increasing pressure for overnight visitations, and with growth of hut systems in the USA, we need additional empirical data to guide us in conducting evidence-based evaluation of proposals for new hut systems.    

Appalachian Trail Shelter. It’s not uncommon for a shelter to have an area of disturbance in front of it that’s equivalent to a single medium to large campsite. Photo courtesy Dr. Jeff Marion

Research around the periphery of this fundamental question has  already been done.  In particular, Dr. Jeffrey Marion (USGS and Virginia Tech Field Station), a leading recreational ecologist, has studied the factors involved in designing and managing campsites to minimize environmental damage. He has also assessed the environmental impact of dispersed and designated camping by backpackers.  His findings show that a containment strategy effectively minimizes aggregate impact by restricting camping to a small number of designated expansion-resistant campsites.  Marion and his colleagues are currently gauging visitor impacts on the Appalachian Trail to enhance sustainability and improve visitor experiences.  This includes assessment of the condition of shelter and campground sites, many of which are heavily overused on the AT.  A prior study in Great Smoky Mountains National Park showed that camping shelters accommodated greater numbers of campers with substantially less resource impact than campers using traditional campsites.

Tent platform. The construction of tent platforms at many major alpine campsites in the Eastern Arthur Range in Tasmania has successfully focused camping pressure and so constrained or limited impacts – Photo Courtesy Dr. Grant Dixon, Tasmania

 The missing piece is research to extend this analysis to study the environmental impact of huts and yurts, and then to compare these with data from other options for overnight accommodations, e.g. dispersed and designated camping, and shelters.

To this end, I’ve written two grant proposals.  The first ($35,000) is with Dr. Marion and Dr. Robert Manning (Professor Emeritus, U of Vermont) to federal land management agencies for a two-year study. This would provide a comparative assessment of environmental impacts and user experience of back-country and front-country camping, shelters, and huts/yurts.   The methodology will include an international literature review, recreational ecology field studies, and assessing the experience of land managers and hut operators.  The second proposal ($4,000), submitted collaboratively with hut folks in the Northeast ,sought to identify best practices in environmental management for hut systems.

Neither proposal was funded.  The federal land management agencies are under siege, facing myriad challenges.  I need help identifying a foundation or other funding entity that might support this research.

Feeling stuck, but not discouraged, I appeal to you for assistance and/or suggestions:

  • who should we be partnering with?
  • what philanthropists, foundations and granting agencies should we approach?
  • should we undertake a crowdfunding campaign?  Anyone willing to help with this?
  • should we be taking a fundamentally different approach?

Please contact me or leave comments below.

With faith in science,

Sam Demas

July 2017


Adirondack Hamlets to Huts: a founders’ profile

Adirondack Hamlets to Huts

Duane Gould, Joe Dadey, and Jack Drury – The Adirondacks Hamlets to Huts Team

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.

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Harry Jeuken — A Farmer & his Lough Avalla Trail

Profile of a Traditional Farmer and Host of the Lough Avalla Trail

By Sam Demas

As I approached the Lough Avalla trailhead on Green Farm Road, Harry stopped his truck and greeted me with a friendly smile.  We chatted a bit, and I explained that I hoped to talk with him after walking the trail.  I was interested in his approach to farming, and about how hosting a National Looped Trail and being part of Ireland’s Walks Scheme fit into his vision of farming.  We hit it off immediately and quickly arranged to meet the next day when he had a little spare time.  Before driving on, he told me to be sure to check out the Fairy Ring, and pointed out the direction.

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Sean Byrne: Wicklow Way farmer, host, & advocate

The Byrne family has farmed in the Wicklow hills, along the Wicklow Way, for five generations. As a teen Sean helped out just down the road at a guest-house catering to hunters and fishermen on the beautiful Lough Dan. He also worked for his neighbors, the Guinness family, on their estate on the sublime Lough Tay. This farm boy gradually developed a gracious ease in working with people of all walks of life, a strong sense of the traditions of rural hospitality, deep knowledge of the land and the region, and a guiding commitment to preservation of the mountain uplands and way of life.  Photo above of Sean and Theresa Byrne.

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How the Methow Valley became a lodging and trails hub

How the Methow Valley become a world-class lodging and trails hub

By Sam Demas

With fabulous ski terrain and a great climate, Winthrop, WA on the east slope of the North Cascades, became a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts in the 1970’s.   Attracted by the consistent snow cover, great climate, and stunning natural beauty, young people began to move into the area. So did people representing big alpine ski resorts, with ambitions to create a destination alpine ski resort and to profit from an attendant real estate boom.   One could view the modern history of the Methow Valley as a tale of big alpine ski interests vs. environmentalists, with x-country ski enthusiasts, or “soft path” recreationists, as the “middle-path” saviors. While that’s part of it, it oversimplifies the story by painting a black and white picture of conflict and reaction. Instead, it seems that the values and visions of Methow Valley residents — old and new — gradually cohered and prevailed through a parallel effort to create a recreation hub and economic driver without turning Methow Valley into another Aspen.

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“Wilderness 2.0: what does wilderness mean to the Millenials?”

Authors Kim Smith and Matt Kirby published the results of their investigation of what the concept of wilderness means to people born after 1980.  They were interested to learn how factors such as anthropogenic climate change and a decline in exposure to the outdoors may have changed the meaning of wilderness for 21st century Americans.  They wanted to know: does the wilderness tradition still speak to Millenials?  Their paper “Wilderness 2.0: what does wilderness mean to the Millenials?” was published in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, April 2015.

Click here to read the article: Wilderness 2.0