Courtesy of Merck Forest and Farmland Center
Merck Forest and Farmland Center cabin
If there’s anything better than a day in the backcountry, it’s two — or three, or more, and a network of cabins in which skiers, snowshoers, mountain bikers and hikers can hunker down for the night before tackling another section of trail. The Alps have such a system, as do the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada and the Presidential Range of New Hampshire.
But the Green Mountains of Vermont? Not so much. As Devin Littlefield writes in a blog post: “When I first moved here, the trails were looking bright and fresh. There was lots of great new terrain to let the outdoor wild-child in me let loose with — mountain biking, backcountry skiing, trail running, you name it. The one thing that I was most surprised about, though: lack of backcountry accommodations.”
So, in August 2016, Littlefield — who hails from Maine — partnered with University of Vermont grad and endurance athlete RJ Thompson to create the Vermont Huts Association
. The new nonprofit is dedicated to creating a four-season hut network in order to enhance recreational opportunities across the state, no matter the weather.
Next Thursday, October 19, at 8 p.m., the duo will host the Vermont Huts Association launch party at Outdoor Gear Exchange
in Burlington, with the aim to recruit members who can help support the mountain mission.
“Vermont has some cabins in the backcountry and side country that can be rented out for exclusive use, but there’s not a ton of them, so this is a need we’re filling,” says Thompson, who has been training to break the speed record for hiking the Long Trail. “There’s been no real trailside network of accommodations.”
So far, the association lists three huts on its website: Bolton Valley’s Bryant Camp, Hadsel Mares Camp in the Northeast Kingdom, and Rupert’s Merck Forest and Farmland Center. But Thompson and Littlefield are now scouting 12 potential hut locations between Killington and Stowe, and they need a little help from outdoorsy friends to raise funds for hut building.
Membership fees of $35 for an individual and $65 for a family earn signees discounts on new huts as they come online and early access to reservations through a booking platform when the system officially rolls out next July. Vermont Huts aims to recruit 230 members by the end of the year, and some 600 by 2020.
In the meantime, the organization, which has a five-person board of directors, is collaborating with the Catamount Trail Association
, Vermont Mountain Bike Association
, Green Mountain Club
, the Vermont River Conservancy
, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
and others to share the hut system across nearly every type of outdoor athlete.
“We’re working across multiple agencies to create new points of access for the public to experience the natural world and foster a deeper appreciation for the environment,” says Thompson, who is VHA's executive director. “It will be easier and more affordable for visitors and locals to stay where they play.”
Update 10/13/17 8 p.m.: This article was amended to correct Devin Littlefield's home state and note key collaborators with the Vermont Huts Association.