Monday, December 22, 2014

Adirondack Hut-to-Hut Style Effort Underway

AMC Highland CenterA new group is exploring the possibility of creating a network of trails that would link with new and existing lodging facilities in the Adirondack Park.

The concept is based on hut-to-hut systems that are popular in other parts of the world, including New Zealand and Spain. Closer to home, the Appalachian Mountain Club runs huts for hikers in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

The Adirondack Park-wide Community-Based Trails and Lodging System (ACTLS) project was created by Joe Dadey and Jack Drury, two Saranac Lake-area residents with backgrounds as wilderness recreation educators. In addition, the pair will be joined by a part-time worker, Duane Gould of Saranac Lake. ACTLS would use existing trails, and potentially new ones, to create the networks.

“This whole project is motivated by our desire to help improve the tourism economies of the towns and villages in the park,” Dadey said. The concept was originally studied in the fall of 2013 by Paul Smith’s College seniors under the direction of Dadey, a former professor at the college.

Earlier this month, the ACTLS project received a $220,000 regional economic grant from the state to study the feasibility of creating the networks. The grant was submitted through Hamilton County, but is a park-wide initiative.

In 2015, the group plans to hold a series of meetings around the Park with the public and stakeholders. They plan to inventory and map existing trails and related lodging facilities, in addition to studying new possibilities.

They are looking at using lodging on both private and public lands, in addition to linking the trail networks to communities. ACTLS would create a nonprofit to manage and possibly create facilities. It could also coordinate overnight reservations.

The proposed lodging facilities would range from temporary yurts to existing five-start hotels. However, Dadey said he would like a majority of the facilities to be affordable, perhaps $35 per night, if possible. They would be within a day’s hike of each other and provide meals or kitchens for users.

“These circuits and traverses will be diverse enough to provide people with a variety of experiences, both in length, and in the type of recreation,” Dadey said. He noted the trails will be for human-powered activities, such as hiking, paddling, and skiing.

Ultimately, Drury said, the idea is that a visitor would be able to step out of their hotel door and walk down the street to a trailhead. From there, they would be able to do a multi-day loop or traverse to another village.

“It’s all about connecting communities,” Drury said.

ACTLS has prioritized where they would like the structures, new and existing, to be located. Private lands are at the top of the list, followed by private easement lands, existing buildings on the Forest Preserve, and temporary yurt-like structures on Wild Forest lands. The latter two uses are currently not allowed.

Dadey and Drury mentioned the Great Camp Santanoni, or at least a structure on the property, as a potential place on the Forest Preserve where they would propose lodging. However, there are other backcountry buildings they would like to inquire about, including the one owned by the Open Space Institute on Preston Ponds in the High Peaks Wilderness. They would also look to link existing wilderness facilities, such the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Johns Brook Loj in Keene Valley, with others.

Although ACTLS would look to change some rules that environmentalists might view as weakening protections for the Forest Preserve, Drury and Dadey believe the result would be that more users get to experience the backcountry and appreciate it.

“We’re looking at this as broadening the constituency so that down the line, 50 to 100 years from now, people will still feel passionate about the Adirondacks and still feel inclined to protect it,” Dadey said.

 Photo by Mike Lynch: The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 




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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

15 Responses

  1. A ‘hut-to-hut” style system is an excellent idea IMO.

  2. Bill Ingersoll says:

    This group would do well to study the history of the so-called “closed cabin amendments” of the 20th century, all of which were roundly rejected. These were serious proposals for Article XIV amendments to allow lodging services in the Forest Preserve. Nothing that the current group is proposing therefore strikes me as new or groundbreaking; they are just hopping on the same old merry-go-round that Robert Moses spun almost a century ago.

    So this may just come down to a $220,000 grant that will produce a simple inventory of existing lodging services located near state land. How’s this for starters?

    *Cabins at Chimney Mountain (Indian Lake)
    *Garnet Hill Lodge (North River)
    *Falls Brook Yurts (Minerva)
    *Adirondack Mountain Club (North Elba & Keene Valley)

    …and just about any motel, inn, or b&b within walking distance of any trailhead.

    $35 a night, really? So we’re talking subsidies?

    And the state paid money for somebody to come up with this?

  3. Gillian says:

    I’m not a fan of trying to change wilderness designations to make this work, but I do think this is an idea that could bear fruit.
    Right now people who might want to hike “hut-to-hut” or town to town have to do all their own research on lodging options and the trails that tie them together (mileage, difficulty, etc). Okay for those of us from the region, but not so easy for people coming in from out of the area.
    If the group could lay out a variety of different multi-day options and provide a site where people can find related resources all in one spot, that could be very valuable. For instance, I hiked from Upper Works to ADK Loj to JBL to Keene Valley this summer. It required getting a shuttle from Keene Valley to the trailhead on the first day and arranging lodging for four nights at three different locations.
    It would be great to see routes like that developed and listed in one spot and see local business owners come up with solutions to help travelers do more. Would a B&B owner 5 miles from a trailhead provide drop-off or pick-up? How about a shuttle from a local airport? Is there somewhere for people to store extra luggage while they’re out on the trail?
    Right now, several of the canoe outfitters offer lists of multi-day canoe trips, giving details on routes, distance and difficulty. Why can’t we have the same for multi-day hiking trips?

  4. John M says:

    I may be the odd man out, but for me that kind of pre-trip planning is part of the joy of any trip. That and knowing that what I’m attempting isn’t a run of the mill excursion that anyone pays a few bucks for and does on a common basis.
    That said , if a hut to hut system were feasible in the Adirondacks I think it would be very popular, But, I don’t know that it would work within our park, with the forever wild provision.

  5. dwgsp says:

    Twenty plus years ago there was a touring company that ran Hut to Hut ski trips in the Adirondacks. I remember meeting one of their guides while I was staying at the Minerva Hill Lodge, which I believe may have been their base. I wonder what happened to that company, and if there are any lessons to be learned from their demise.

    • Dick Carlson says:

      That was Adirondack Hut to Hut Tours and yes they did use Minerva Hill Lodge. Also Garnet Hill, the Chimney Mt. Cabins and another private cottage in Speculator. It was run by Walter Blank. The company was sold but the new owner died in an accident.

  6. Randy says:

    I see both sides of this. Bill is right about the current restrictions in the park, but similar plans have worked on the Appalachian Trail using B&Bs, huts, etc on and off private lands (shuttles, etc). Why not attempt to put something together using exisiting infrastructure? If you want to thru-hike the NPT you can use a tent/tarp/lean-to AND existing commercial facilities like campgrounds, motels and B&Bs along the way to have a very diverse mix of accomodations. Same for paddling the St Regis Chain, if you plan it right. I agree that $35 a night might be a pipe dream unless it’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars. What I’d hate to see is promoting hiking “motel to motel” with all the attendant luggage, litter, etc

  7. Steve says:

    I was shocked that we are spending a quarter of a million dollars to inventory trails and lodging. Doesn’t google maps already have an inventory of lodging? And DEC already has the trails mapped. Someone is getting a nice check for nothing!

    I have done hut to hut hiking out west and have considered doing it in Europe. Those places mentioned in the article, like New Zealand, are much different than the southern Adirondacks. I have a hard time believing more than a couple dozen people are going to walk from one motel to another in Hamilton county. It’s not like the Alpine hut to huts they have in the alps. The high peaks maybe, but how many people are really going to do this?

  8. We’d like to elaborate upon some of the points in Mike Lynch’s article about our Adirondack Community-based Trails and Lodging System project. The ideas mentioned in the article are just that, ideas. The specific locations for lodging identified in the piece were offered as examples of the fact that private in-holdings do exist in the Park and that such in-holdings may allow for, in select places, the design and creation of appealing self-powered circuits and traverses that hop scotch across public land and yet provide lodging (both frontcountry and backcountry) on private land.

    We don’t want people thinking that we are making plans at this point for specific public or private land locations. We noted some specific places only as conceptual examples of what may be possible. Our future meetings with the public this coming year will help us collectively identify possible locations that could serve as lodging sites. The ideas expressed in the article are the types of things we would like to explore as part of our project.

    As Mike wrote in his article, we will prioritize siting new lodging facilities on private lands, working with private lodging owners, and exploring where the gaps in lodging (and trails) exist. In the spirit of “making a thing a thing” such as the Forty-Sixers and the Saranac Lake Sixer programs, we will work with Adirondack residents to design self-powered experiences that can achieve “brand recognition” unto themselves and be attractive to locals and visitors alike. It is our intent that these circuits and traverses with their various modes of lodging will provide novel opportunities for people to experience the natural and cultural history of the Adirondacks. These hoped-for trails and lodging experiences are consonant with efforts in the Park to reinvent the Adirondacks’ wellness economy, to help get the next generation into the woods, and to bring global recognition to the Park.

    Regarding lodging and the Forest Preserve, we want people to understand that our intent is not to promote the building of permanent structures on Wild Forest lands (or any other land classifications for that matter) but to explore what might be possible, if anything, should the routing of select circuits and traverse indicate strategic locations on public lands. Are there existing buildings on public lands in strategic locations that could be utilized? Would some form of removable structure (wall tent or yurt) be possible on a temporary seasonal basis similar to temporary hunting camps during hunting season?

    The idea central to our project is the connection of communities with trails and lodging and finding the gaps that, if filled, would allow us to create a Park-wide system. The ability to market such a system could have a considerable positive impact on the economies of communities throughout the Park.

    We envision many new places of lodging being built that would be “self-service” lodges wherein people would bring their own food and prepare their own meals. The intention here is to keep the lodging and these experiences affordable to as wide a range of people as possible, hence the roughly-estimated $35 per person per night figure. Other lodges, existing or new, could be full-service and provide tasty dinners and hearty breakfasts and cost considerably more as is the case in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Maine. Determining the particulars of all matters associated with this project is the reason why we will hold meetings across the Park to help us access the knowledge, creativity, and perspectives of people living inside the Blue Line. We will also seek the input of people who live outside the Park and care deeply about it.

    Adapting the concept of hut to hut travel in the Adirondack Park will be challenging and unique at the same time. While the backcountry hut models seen in many parts of the country and world are not applicable to the Adirondack Park, the mix of private, public, and easement lands can provide opportunities for creative problem solving in providing unique world class self-powered travel and lodging experiences. We hope that the project’s outcomes will epitomize the very best of how effective public-private partnerships perform.

    A wide base of support for our project has been found across the Park. This effort parallels and will support existing initiatives put forward by the DEC, APA, ESF, and the Adirondack Strategic Planning process.​ We are excited about this opportunity to work towards making the Adirondack Park an even better place to live, work and play.

    Jack Drury & Joe Dadey

    • Kelley says:

      I think this is a wonderful ideal and can’t wait to see it happen! It’s about time students hardworking Capstone project has a chance to become a reality!

  9. scottvanlaer says:

    We call them lean-to’s here. They are free, no reservations required.

    • Gillian says:

      Leantos are not comparable to inns – it’s apples to oranges. There are a lot of people who might like a long hike during the day but want to take a shower, sleep on a real bed and eat real food at night. The whole concept of hut-to-hike hiking means you don’t have to carry your own food or all the camping gear a backpacking trip (even one using leantos) necessitates. It makes long-distance hike accessible to a much wider demographic.

      • scottvanlaer says:

        I know. I was stating that tongue-in-cheek. If the huts are on private land I am all for it. I would not want to see commercialization on Forest Preserve or any structure to the size or degree that could accommodate “shower, sleeping on a real bed or eating real food.”

        In my mind’s eye I envision something like tent platforms which was a disaster on the Forest Preserve just a generation ago. The state has even gone so far as removing most of their interior outposts from the Forest Preserve. Lets not take a step backwards by adding more structures to our wild forest lands. This is a great project to focus on the other 3.1 million acres. I can attest people do love Johns Brook Lodge.

  10. paul k says:

    Well it’s about time, as far as lean-to’s go, there are alot of lousy one’s in the park, hut to hut would bring about a wonderful change and choice for hiking in the Dacks…..if you build it they will come…..

  11. says:

    I am trying to find a site to submit a proposed name for the hut to hut project.
    Can I do this on line ? Thanks its a great idea that has been successful in many places for many years. Janet Pacciano

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