The Appalachian Mountain Club is a little over ten years into its bold Maine Woods Initiative in the heart of the 100-Mile Wilderness, where the club now owns 66,500 acres of conservation land.
Through this ambitious project the club is hoping to make a long term positive impact on the region’s economy and environment through enhanced outdoor recreation opportunities, natural resource protection, community partnership and sustainable timber management.
By all accounts, a decade into the effort the AMC can celebrate many successes, which I outlined in an article last summer in the Maine Sunday Telegram Outdoors section.
Over the course of these ten years I’ve made a handful of visits to the AMCs property in the big woods between Greenville and Brownville Junction, skiing from lodge-to-lodge in the dead of winter, snowshoeing along Henderson Brook, hiking on to Gulf Hagas and the AT, canoeing the Little Lyford ponds, bird watching wherever, and generally just living large in one of my favorite areas on the planet.
And always is it ever a treat to hole up for the evening (or two or three) in one of the restored log cabins, enjoy a hearty meal at the lodge, and fall fast asleep to the warm glow of the crackling woodstove, or in summer, to the loons and the crickets. It’s the real deal, and if you haven’t yet made a trip in there, well, you should.
I haven’t managed a foray into AMC’s MWI lodges this winter and it’s looking now like I won’t, but there’s still a good month of winter season left up there, so maybe this is your chance, eh?!
I caught up with AMC’s public affairs honcho Rob Burbank recently to get the skinny on the skiing and the lodges and whatnot this winter, plus what’s up for the spring and summer season…
SKI AND STAY IN WOODSY COMFORT
“We’ve had a great season,” said Burbank. “The snow is back and the road is plowed and in good condition.”
Little Lyford Lodge and Gorman Chairback Lodge are in full service mode right now. The lodges opened for the winter in late December and will remain open until March 16, when they’ll shutter for mud season. Both lodges will open again on May 15 and remain so through October 26.
Every overnight visitor has a lot of cool things to look forward to, like your own private cabin with some simple but oh-so-nice amenities, and family-style meals with other guests.
“But there are a few special things you might not expect but will be pleased to find,” Burbank noted. “Like a wood-fired sauna, so you can ski in the cold and then relax in the steamy heat after.”
There are hot showers too, as well as gear shuttling so you can travel in with only a light pack on your back.
With 80 miles of trails and two lodges, there are a variety of ski trips you can do. You can go from Little Lyford Ponds to Gorman Chairback on Long Pond or vice versa. Or you can add in a third privately-owned facility that partners with the AMC, the wonderful West Branch Pond Camps, where owner Eric Sterling will take very good care of you.
My first winter trek up into the AMC lands was an absolute killer (in a real good way), when my wife and I skied in sub-zero temps for 4 days from Medawisla Camps (it’s currently out of service, but plans are to reopen in several years) to West Branch Pond Camps to Little Lyford and then out (Gorman Chairback wasn’t part of the mix then). It was a brilliant ski trip (temps dipped to -37F on the third night) and one of the sort that I’d like to do again.
You can, of course, quite simply trek into one lodge and make it your comfy-cozy base camp for a few days and call it good with side trips each day. This is a great option particularly at Gorman Chairback.
“We’ve got a stacked loop trail system there,” said Burbank. “Three concentric rings of trails allow you to go out for several lengths of ski tours, depending on the amount of time you want to be out.”
There are plenty of great trails in and around Little Lyford as well.
If you’re not up to ski trekking in on your own you can sign up for a guided trip, a real nice option.
A few other things to note, per Burbank. Both lodges have snowshoes available for use (free). Little Lyford is dog-friendly, with a number of cabins where dogs can stay inside with their owners ($10 extra). There’s no charge, of course, for service dogs. And at Gorman Chairback guests are provided with linens (not so at Little Lyford, where you’ll want to bring a sleeping bag).
Enjoy extended stay savings (oh, to have such time!)… stay 3 nights and get 10% off; 5 nights and get 20% off. Nice.
COME SPRING AND SUMMER
The snow won’t last forever, so come spring and summer, Burbank recommends a visit for the fly fishing, which gets really good around the third week of May.
“We’ve got two dozen trout ponds, and at least three hold native brook trout,” said Burbank. “And you’re not likely to see another person while you’re out there.”
Canoes, kayaks, PFDs and paddles are all provided to guests, and most if not all the remote ponds have the gear stored right there at each.
And if you don’t fish, well, surely you’ll want to hike. Like to Gulf Hagas, the AT, up Indian or Third Mountain. The choices are many and all good.
MORE INFO: Appalachian Mountain Club, 603-466-2727.