COZY INTERIOR A Maine Huts and Trails wilderness "hut." CREDIT MAGGIE CAREY/NATURE CONSERVANCY
Eventually, the folks at Maine Huts and Trails, a non-profit that operates in western Maine, hope to establish a 180-mile trail system between the Mahoosuc Range and Moosehead Lake. The trail, cut into the state's backcountry woods, will be connected by 12 "huts" — really, beautiful lodges surrounded by smaller sleeping cabins — that are about a day's hike apart from each other. So far, two of these huts are complete, and I stayed at one of them last weekend, as part of a Nature Conservancy weekend getaway.
It was a two-and-a-half-mile snowshoe hike in from the trailhead to the Poplar Stream Falls Hut, along a well-groomed (if exhaustingly uphill) trail. Along the way, Bigelow Mountain and Sugarloaf loomed in the distance. When we arrived, we entered the large main lodge, which houses a kitchen (staffed by friendly outdoorsy-types), a summer-camp-like dining room, an upstairs game lounge, as well as bathrooms (composting toilets!) and showers (with hot water generated from the hut's off-the-grid energy system, which combines solar and hydro power). The entire facility is warmed with radiant heat. It was snug and welcoming; later on, our sleeping accommodations, in a small cabin with four bunk beds, were equally cozy.
Our dinner, prepared by the kitchen staff, was extravagant (ham, sweet potatoes, peas, and bread), and our breakfast was a similarly satisfying spread of scrambled eggs, sausage, and blueberry pancakes. (Dinner and breakfast are provided for overnight guests, who pay between $55 and $85, depending on the season and whether they're MHT members; lunch is available to purchase for day visitors.) An enjoyable game of Apples to Apples upstairs topped off the day.
Maine Huts and Trails executive director Dave Herring, who was on hand to give our group an overview of the organization's mission and achievements to date, hopes to break ground on a third hut in 2010. But first, he needs to continue spreading the word about what he describes as the perfect vacation for intergenerational families, large gatherings of old friends, or business groups. Indeed, with a capacity of 42 people, the huts are a great place for any collection of people who want to appreciate the outdoors without giving up the amenities of a hotel or personal camp.
One of the organization's biggest challenges will be bringing Maine's western and inland wilderness to the public-recognition level of, say, New Hampshire's White Mountains, or New York's Adirondacks. But with eco-tourism, you need the interest before you can build the infrastructure (as much as the infrastructure would help build awareness). Do your part in reversing this chicken-and-egg scenario by visiting mainehuts.org.