Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jack Drury Responds To Boreas Ponds Hut-to-Hut Concerns

Photo by Phil Brown 2016. View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds.Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State Message in January, indicated that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) “…will construct infrastructure at Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks and build trails as part of the ‘hut-to-hut’ system that links state lands to community amenities.

DEC is committed to expanding recreational opportunities for hikers, bikers, skiers, paddlers, horseback riders, hunters, anglers and others. Outdoor enthusiasts of all skills and abilities will be able to enjoy, for the first time, the most significant addition in the history of the Adirondack Forest Preserve,” according to the statement.

As one of the architects of the Adirondack Park “hut-to-hut” initiative working with the DEC and the NYS Department of State (DOS) I would like to address some of the misconceptions surrounding the governor’s announcement, which has raised red flags among some environmentalists and wilderness preservationists. I believe my record on supporting wilderness in the park over the last forty-five years stands for itself. I have trained a generation of outdoor leaders with a strong environmental ethic, a love for wilderness, and an understanding for the need to provide a range of recreational opportunities. I have written or contributed to half a dozen books on the topic.

The “Hut-to-hut” initiative I have been part of aims to support wellness, sustainable communities, and conservation by, among other ways, expanding the constituency that loves and wants to protect our wild lands. Our discussions with dozens of lodging owners across the Park appear to indicate a broad base of support for a system that utilizes existing lodging to the greatest degree possible. A survey by Paul Smith’s College hospitality students of nearly 100 existing lodging owners had 90% of them wanting to learn more about the possibilities of being part of a hut-to-hut system. Respondents cited the greatest benefits of such a system as increased promotion of their community, increased revenue, and increased occupancy.

In 2015, while already conducting a “hut-to-hut” study (Adirondack Community-based Trails and Lodging System – to be completed by January, 2018) for the NYS DOS, we were asked by the NYS DEC to conduct a similar, “fast-track” study for the Adirondack Five Towns region. Over four months we developed approximately twenty different conceptual routes in that region.

What is meant by hut? ​A hut is a generic term for an overnight accommodation along a destination trail. Some huts are sited in the backcountry where there is no or limited motorized vehicle access. These huts may be wall tents, platform tent, yurts, cabins or state-of-the-art ecolodges. Other “huts” can be located in the front country–communities–and include B&Bs, inns, and hotels. A​ hut-to-hut system is a chain of 3 or more accommodations intentionally spaced a day’s walk, bike, or ski apart. Hut systems are designed primarily, but not exclusively, for human-powered travel. Huts provide space for eating, sleeping, and social interaction. They can be self-service, meaning that you bring and cook your own food, or full-service, where meals and other amenities are included in the cost of an overnight stay.

The crux of the discussion is the location of these accommodations and whether there is any opportunity to have some sort of temporary accommodations on public land. Our directive from the DEC on the Five Towns project was to “think outside the box” regarding what might be required to make the destination trails and lodging system a reality. While we think exploring the use of temporary accommodations on Forest Preserve lands is a legitimate exercise given the current permitted use of temporary hunting camps, we recognize the need to ensure that all the concepts ultimately implemented are consistent with the “Forever Wild” Article XIV of New York State’s constitution. In addition, we must ensure that these concepts adhere to pertinent rules and regulations or recognize that, perhaps in some cases, existing regulations may need to be modified. Due to the unique nature of the Adirondack Park and its mix of private and public land, coupled with the protections granted to the NYS Forest Preserve, we prioritized the siting of permanent accommodations on private land and encouraged exploring the possibilities for siting temporary accommodations on state land.

The concern generated by our work and the governor’s proposal is understandable, but a number of things must be kept in mind. First, nothing specific has been proposed by the DEC; we don’t know exactly what the DEC has in mind. Once they share their proposal, it will be submitted to a standard public comment and subsequent approval process; everyone will be given opportunity to weigh in on its potential negative consequences and benefits.

At this point, there has been considerable conjecture and speculation (along with quite a bit of hyperbole.) Let’s wait and see exactly what the DEC proposes before we reject it out of hand. Land classification, with few exceptions, is a one-time opportunity. This is the only opportunity we will have to explore ​this ​opportunity at ​this ​location. Let’s explore it, not reject it without giving it a fair hearing.

Recent reports suggest that the DEC may recommend such amenities as permanent cabins and dining facilities, as well as full-service and “luxury” lodging on the Forest Preserve. We can affirm that we have never recommended any of those things, and would be shocked if the state proposed anything of that sort.

We are excited to see the Cuomo administration talking about the hut-to-hut concept. We truly believe that a community-based hut-to-hut system can have a tremendous economic impact on communities throughout the Adirondack Park and studies in other hut-to-hut regions of the country support this. Using existing lodging to the greatest degree possible and identifying opportunities to create primitive accommodations where gaps exist, an Adirondack hut-to-hut system will have travelers starting, ending, and passing through the vast majority of Adirondack towns, villages, and hamlets. This system will be attractive to New York State’s diverse population and the misconception that self-powered travelers don’t contribute to the Adirondack economy will be proven false, once and for all.

Photo: View of Gothics from Boreas Ponds by Phil Brown (2016).

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Jack Drury is co-owner of Leading E.D.G.E., a professional development firm, professor emeritus of North Country Community College having founded the college's Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program and has been an Adirondack guide for 45 years.

35 Responses

  1. Jim S says:

    This article makes me more nervous about eroding protection for the forest preserve than before. When I hear existing regulations may need to be modified I naturally react with horror and disgust. Keep the huts off of the forest preserve. I like the idea of huts on private land.

  2. Justin Farrell says:

    Thanks for the futher explanation of your idea to help diminish protections to the forest preserve. Seems clear that the DEC is fine with being one of its own worst enemies, and you are ok with that.

  3. Paul says:

    Great story I read recently in one of my many ski magazines about these guys skiing Tuckerman’s ravine and staying in the hut near there. Been there myself many years ago what a great place. There is nothing not Wilderness about it. It would probably fall under “luxury” since it has a roof. This “debate” is pitting people who care about the same things against each other – too bad!

  4. Tyler says:

    Once you allow huts on the Forest Preserve, next come the rollercoasters, zip lines, and — oh wait! True Wilderness Advocates would never jeopardize the protections that Article XIV grants the Preserve.

    True Wilderness Advocates see value in wild places being kept wild in an increasingly civilized, modernized, and glamorized world.

    Keep glamping on private land. Don’t jeopardize the one thing that makes the Adirondacks more special than the Whites, the Green Mountains, and the Poconos: wildness!

  5. Geogymn says:

    ” A​ hut-to-hut system is a chain of 3 or more accommodations intentionally spaced a day’s walk, bike, or ski apart”

    Can’t this be accomplished without building on forest preserve land?

    I have a hard time understanding why people can’t see the value of having a lonely spot on the map.

  6. Geogymn says:

    Jack Drury is co-owner of Leading E.D.G.E., a professional development firm, along with Broadwing Adventures, an Adirondack guide service.

    Jack, I don’t know you and I’m am sure you are a good person with good intentions but do you think there may be a conflict of interest between your livelihood and a land ethic here?

    I appreciate your viewpoint and don’t mean to discourage discussion. We need to hear both sides to transcend our current understandings.

  7. rc says:

    True Wilderness Advocates need to understand that if you don’t expand your base, the uber-rich will be the only ones left who can afford to recreate in wilderness. And their in their fickleness they may soon pick another sport, in another area, and you’ll be left wide open for – wait for it – legislators to moan about the “undeveloped lands sitting fallow and unused”.
    And why not put a road in?
    And a few Stewart’s? And you’ll of course need emergency services. And cell towers. And And And.

    I’ve seen the hut-to-hut system in Europe. It has somehow worked for years without destroying the environment. It’s egalitarian in practice and it allows more people to use what we all should use more, with a minimum footprint.

    • Jim S says:

      Reducing protection for wilderness in order to make it more popular is a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

    • Greg says:

      I am so entirely sick of this “only rich people can afford to hike” argument. You can recreate in the wilderness with a pair of sneakers and your old high school bookbag.

      I drive to the trailhead in my Corolla and put on a pair of cross country skis that cost me $400 all-in. Then I see people with $50k trucks pulling $10k snowmobiles in their $5k trailers, and yet somehow I’m the uber-rich.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    Hut-to-hut systems are great solutions to water and soil impacts for their ability to focus users into a small footprint with adequate sewage treatments. They are also excellent at introducing people to nature and wildness not encountered in urban and suburban settings. The huts in the Alps and the White Mountains are long-established systems that have provided excellent services to adventurers for eons; but…

    … the issue in the Adirondacks is not about whether the hut-to-hut concept is viable, rather it is about what damage will be done to the constitutional protections that have made the Adirondack Park what it is today. The Adirondacks are not the Alps where the wild characteristics were destroyed in the 1600s or the Whites where land-use planning is almost entirely directed by the US Forest Service; and the hut system grandfathered into the federal management.

    The Adirondacks offer a version of wild landscape different from anywhere on the planet. This is the result of the state constitution’s strong protections of a concept based on effective wide-scale land-use regulations and early application of the theories of wilderness protections.

    A hut-to-hut system, while with some merits, is not worth the erosion of the Adirondack Park’s core management directives…

  9. Big Burly says:

    ah Jack,

    your goodness and out of the box thinking to improve the outdoor experience in the DAKs certainly has brought out commenters who have small minds. Knowing you for several years, to have people malign your ethic and love for this region makes me sad.

    A consequence it seems to me of the thinning veneer of civilization and decency.

    Your ideas are great. Stick with it.

  10. David Thomas-Train says:

    The privately run hut-to-hut concept is a great one. The place for it in the Adirondacks is on private land, not in the Forest Preserve that is owned by all the people of New York. The state would not be able to effectively such a system, and private enterprise has no place on our public lands.
    Hut systems on private property would be additional incentives to retain those lands as open spaces.

  11. drdirt says:

    Thank you for your involvement with this endeavor. A ‘hut-to-hut’ system should bring all sides of the classification issue together, as it is a win-win for the Park. In fact, a well devised system will most likely become a factor in the final land classification decisions. All ADK outdoor enthusiasts revel in the beauty and serenity of our Park in their own way, and obviously have their own opinion when it comes to wilderness/access issues. Hopefully, your work will help get us all working in tandem on a great new project..,.,,..,
    By the way, I hope a ‘hut-to-hut’ trail for extended paddleing trips will be part of the system.

    • Jim S says:

      I believe in the merits of the hut to hut concept. It will likely draw more people to hiking in the Adirondacks, however altering the constitution of the state of New York in order to make money from a forest preserve goes against why the park was created. Keeping huts on private land and allowing hiking through the forest preserve is the way to do it. There is so much private land available that it boggles my mind that people who truly love the Adirondack wilderness want to eliminate the protection that makes this place unique.

  12. william Kelleher says:

    I have been going up to long lake for years now and people just don’t get, you bring it in you take it out. Over the years it has been getting worst, from both hikers and canoers. I feel hut to hut is going to need trash pick up.

  13. Nick Rose says:

    well stated Jack, people should avoid “choosing a side” on this issue as the concept is round at this point with no sides.

  14. Todd Eastman says:

    The bidding process for concessionaires operating on state-owned property are an issue for providing high-quality services…

    … how does the hut-to-hut concept retain the vigor of the vision through the years as the contracts keep coming up for bid?

  15. Russ B says:

    Temporary lodging accomodations on public land are called campsites. Designate a couple and be done with it.

    • Alex says:

      Right. Get a group campsite, use tents, problem solved. Pick the right place and you can use horses, or maybe llamas.

      This just seems like group camping with a guide. Hardly a revolutionary idea. And much better than groups without guides.

  16. Charlie S says:

    Todd Eastman says: ” The Adirondacks offer a version of wild landscape different from anywhere on the planet. This is the result of the state constitution’s strong protections…”

    Bear in mind that in the mid 60’s the state of New York extended the agreement to allow the railroad that leads to the Tahawus mine. Initially they allowed the railroad to be built during World War 2 to haul out titanium. The agreement was written to cover only the time of the war emergency. They extended it for a short time after that but then (in the mid 60’s) they extended the agreement for 100 years…a violation of New York’s constitution.

    This is one item. There have been recent things but my mind slips and I forget. Surely some of you Adirondack scholars know of handful’s of instances where NY State has devised schemes to change its constitution to convenience a corporation or some connected person’s enterprise. Nothing is guaranteed Todd…is why we need to be vigilant in our passions to protect this magical haven which is “different from anywhere on the planet” as you say.

    What with all of the reports and blurbs put out over the past some years I cannot help but feel a sinister nature coming out of New York’s DEC and the very people who are supposed to protect our natural heritage, especially the Adirondacks. It’s all about industry and money with them and time and expense are on their side. It feels almost as if they’re expecting to catch us sleeping or waiting for the right moments to ‘have their way.’

    • Paul says:

      The same NYS and DEC that has added and is adding tens of thousands of acres of newly protected lands (including new wilderness lands) to the Forest Preserve. The same NYS and DEC that has been able to add almost 1 million acres of private lands in the Adirondacks under conservation easement to prevent development. These are not “reports” or “blurbs” but facts. Yes very sinister. No matter what the state and the DEC does they will always get a bad rap.

  17. Charlie S says:

    Big Burly says: “commenters who have small minds.”

    Small minds because why Burly? Because they’re a lot more futuristic and skeptical than you? It’s healthy to have doubts by the way…..a sign of intelligence.

  18. Charlie S says:

    drdirt says: “Hopefully, your work will help get us all working in tandem on a great new project…”

    Count me out. I do not wish to be convenienced for the sake of convenience. I go to the woods for the lull,the rusticity. Tree to tree is me not hut to hut. Truly I feel the Adirondack wilderness needs to be protected from sheep and the leisure class.

  19. Dave says:

    “Recent reports suggest that the DEC may recommend such amenities as permanent cabins and dining facilities, as well as full-service and “luxury” lodging on the Forest Preserve. We can affirm that we have never recommended any of those things, and would be shocked if the state proposed anything of that sort.”

    You didn’t recommend them, and you would be shocked if the state proposes them. But you don’t say that you would oppose them. Would you?

  20. Justin Farrell says:

    Quoted from the article:
    “we were asked by the NYS DEC to conduct a similar, “fast-track” study for the Adirondack Five Towns region.”

    Any chance a member of the NYSDEC can chime in to verify this quoted statement, and possibly clarify the agency’s intent?

  21. Tom Leustek says:

    Switzerland has perfected the hut-to-hut concept. And the Swiss treat their wild lands with reverence. Maybe it’s a concept that we should consider, as long as most of ADK remains wilderness, which is essential, and can be enjoyed by the purists. My observation of the Adirondacks is that the further out that you go, the less likely you are to encounter drunken “yahoos.” We need to keep places where “yahoos” don’t go.

  22. Boreas says:

    I don’t really oppose the HTH idea in general. But one difference that may be different in the Park is that there is considerable road access in the HPW area. Since virtually any destination in the HPW is accessible within a day hike, is there going to be that much of an attraction that new leanto’s couldn’t accommodate? Perhaps the HTH idea would work better in more remote areas of the Park less accessible by roads and with fewer amenities.

  23. Keith Gorgas says:

    Good article, Mr, Drury, even if some peoples minds are too small to take in what you wrote. The protections put on State Land were done when there were far fewer acres in the hands of the State, and at that time, tent platforms, or platform tents were deemed compatible with the concept of “Forever Wild”. On a very basic level, I find the attitude that we all must pay for State Land, and then pay payments in leu of taxes on that land, but we don’t all have an equal say in how that land is used to be abhorrent. Words like compromise and share are not in the Elitists dictionary.

    Keep up the good work, Jack Drury..

    • Boreas says:


      Who do you consider the “elitists” to be? People who want development and convenience structures in a wilderness setting, or people wanting to preserve what NYS wisely set aside a century ago? The term “elitist” is both overused and a double-edged sword. Seems nowadays everyone with a differing opinion is an elitist. All it does is inflame calm debate – or is that is your intention?

      I am not sure what you are trying to say with your second point – equal say in the Park. This seed money from the state to investigate developing something like a HTH system in the Park wasn’t given much of an opportunity for public input before we heard the results of the group(s) involved with the initiative. That seems kinda one-sided to me. Now that the public is being made aware that the already over-used HPW seems to be the focus of the HTH system, differing opinions are being met with monikers of “elitists” and “small-minded”. People looking to preserve wild places have opinions too, and as you say, deserve an equal voice. Trying to shout them down with name-calling only makes you appear narrow-minded.

      The HTH initiative is a very good opportunity for the Park if done correctly. Let’s take the time to have a civil discussion about when, where, and how it is implemented before jumping in and developing areas that may not be well suited for it. There is no rush here. ‘Look before you leap.’

      • Paul says:

        “set aside a century ago”? Isn’t this particular debate about some land that was bought a few years ago and hasn’t even been classified yet? Article 14 allows for even intensive use classifications. Seems to me that areas like this that are already developed (roads, dams, etc.) would be a place that is maybe well suited for this kind of thing. As opposed to areas than areas that are not.

        • Boreas says:


          Your fact-checking point would be true if this initiative were only considering a hut in the the BP or Mac tracts. A HTH system within either that does NOT connect with HPW and other trail systems is what you are considering? This isn’t what the HTH discussion is about. Mr. Drury intentionally made no mention of any specific area. This is because no firm proposal has been made yet. But other advocates HAVE mentioned possible routes through the HPW and other trail systems. Some have suggested new connector trails. These are all suggestions and not definite proposals. But as long as speculation abounds, so will all sorts of comments. I am just trying to keep it civil and productive and not turn it into another brawl.

          Again, I don’t yet have strong feelings either way, as it is only a concept at this point. As I mentioned, when, where, and how are all critical points. Do it thoughtfully, or don’t do it at all is all I’m saying.

          • Paul says:

            That is a good point. I think I was thrown a bit by the title here. Yes, it is all just a suggestion. I feel bad for Jack here some make it sound like it is more at this stage. But some folks don’t even want to consider ideas that they personally don’t like. Personally I don’t like this idea for the Adirondacks but it is something that I would be interested in learning about. Like they say if you can’t change your mind are you sure you have one!

            • Boreas says:


              I think part of the ill will being demonstrated here stems from the inconsistent direction of the APA and DEC. It wasn’t that long ago that DEC removed many leantos and even some remote ranger cabins from the backcountry as non-conforming structures. Heck, they even tore down the nice new lodge at BP. When people who are used to seeing the DEC removing structures and now see them considering adding structures it sends the message that there is no clear indication that conservation is still the mandate of the DEC. I believe this is what is causing much of the rancor against new development ideas in this area of the Park.