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.