The good folks at Maine Huts & Trails are pretty excited about this, their 6th winter season in operation. Three backcountry huts – Stratton Brook, Poplar Falls and Flagstaff Lake – are all open and in full-service mode. The fourth hut at Grand Falls is will open for full-service on Fri Jan 17.
Maine Huts & Trails experienced its best winter season ever during 2012-13, with more than 4,000 guests visiting the huts. Flagstaff, perhaps because it has the easiest access, was the most popular hut. All told, the huts received 7,200 guests last year, summer and winter combined.
“We’ve been busy,” said Charlie Woodworth, Executive Director of Maine Huts & Trails. “There’s been tremendous growth over a short amount of time.”
Building four remote huts and some 50 miles of multi-use trails has been the focus over these first six years, and with that, getting the word out and getting visitors onto the trail and into the huts for overnight stays.
“We’re stopping construction for now,” noted Woodworth. “We’re going to take a step back now and try to strengthen our business model.”
A big part of that effort involves getting creative in getting more kids outside.
Woodworth told me that MHT has been facilitating connections between its business members and youth groups around Maine, which has resulted in 33 school groups enjoying an opportunity to come out to the huts for an overnight visit.
Building brand recognition and increasing its summer visitation are also important tasks, as well as trail development for mountain bikers.
There’s been a great commitment by MHT, the Town of Carrabassett Valley and the local chapter of NEMBA, the New England Mountain Bike Association, to expand the network of single and double-track trails in and around the Stratton Brook and Poplar Falls huts, the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center and the Narrow Gauge Trail.
“There’s great potential for hut-to-hut riding on the horizon.”
Back to winter…
MHT has implemented a gear shuttle service for guests who don’t want to ski in with a pack on their back.
“People have been asking for it,” said Woodworth.
Hut visitors should be able to pack pretty light anyway, as the huts provide heated bunk rooms, bedding (you’ll still want a light sleeping bag in winter) and hot showers. You really only need a change of clothes, footwear and toilet kit for the huts, and maybe a headlamp and book, plus a warm jacket for the trail.
But if the shuttle appeals to you, then by all means, it’s there to be used.
The new Passport Program is a great incentive to visit the huts multiple times each winter.
“We wanted to get people to come back and visit the huts more than once in a season, and this gives them a nice discount.”
Passport rates are $299 for members, which makes your stay just $75 per night, a great price which includes lodging, dinner, breakfast and a trail lunch. For non-members it’s $349.
The skiing, the lodging, the food, the hot showers – all that good stuff aside – what I really find to be the true joy of a visit to the Maine Huts is meeting other people at the huts, talking around the woodstove, in the library, around the table at meal time. I never fail to meet some fun people and share some great stories and experiences.
“It’s who you meet at dinner,” said Woodworth. “The people are always interesting and the conversations are rich.”
If you plan to be a regular visitor to the Maine Huts & Trails system you should consider becoming a member. It’s $55 for individuals and $75 for families. The big benefit is that you get 20% off your lodging every time. Do the math and you’ll see that you’ll get your membership $$ back in just one visit by a family of four, a good deal indeed. Plus you’ll get a month’s head start on reservations and an invite to the free twice-yearly member BBQs.
“If you like what we’re doing, please join and help support us,” said Woodworth. “The huts, the public access to trails, the people-powered recreation, the conservation, it’s really something to get excited about.”
I couldn’t agree more Charlie. Big congrats on 6 years!
See you up at one of the MHT huts this winter I hope!
MORE INFO: Maine Huts & Trails, (207) 265-2400.