Sometimes we don’t fully appreciate what we have until we lose it.
By Michael Snyder
Last December, when the Mt. Mansfield Stone Hut was destroyed by fire there was a massive reaction on social media. Skiers, riders and enthusiasts of all stripes shared memories of winter nights spent in the hut’s simple bunks and snapshots looking out its windows across the Green Mountains.
In the months since the hut burned, many people have volunteered both time and money to rebuild it. Those efforts are appreciated and the Stone Hut will be rebuilt, thanks to a significant financial commitment from the responsible parties and fundraising done via the Vermont Parks Forever foundation. Optimism reigns.
But it’s not the only mountain shelter that deserves our support and attention.
At present, 10 of Vermont’s 52 state parks feature cabins, excellent alternatives to tent camping, and many with views of ponds or lakes. There are more than 60 shelters along Vermont’s Long Trail, the oldest long-distance hiking trail in America. Some are simple tent platforms or lean-to structures. But others, like the U.S. Forest Service’s Skyline Lodge near the shores of Skylight Pond sleep up to 14 and the Green Mountain Club’s Taft Lodge can sleep 24 in the shadow of Vermont’s highest peak. These “lodges” are maintained by caretakers and volunteers and are supported by endowments from organizations and private citizens.
This past winter, in partnership with the state, the Green Mountain Club began a fundraising drive to restore the historic Bolton Lodge and Bryant Camp near Bolton Valley and both are expected to be opened again for winter use.
More than just cabins or waypoints along the trails or in the woods, these and other huts help Vermonters and visitors gain a greater appreciation of and access to all the Green Mountains offer. They are key elements in Vermont’s great tradition of vigorous outdoor life.
Imagine a hut system similar to Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division huts or the Maine Huts and Trails system, where you could spend a weekend or weeks hiking or skiing from one hut to the next.
With the increase in approved backcountry ski glading and trail maintenance on state and federal lands, (and the great work that organizations such as the Backcountry Alliance, Rochester Area Sports Trails Alliance, the Catamount Trail Association, the Green Mountain Club and others have done) the vision of a hut-to-hut trail system with year-round access may not be far off.
But building and maintaining our huts and parks takes time, money and collaboration. Ever since Vermont’s first state park, Mt. Philo, was donated to the state in 1924, our department has worked closely with conservation-minded donors to protect and enhance Vermont’s most treasured scenic, productive and wild places and to encourage appropriate access to them.
We’d like to keep up that tradition.
Michael Snyder is the Commissioner, Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation as well as a forester, skier, hiker and avid outdoorsman.
Eds. Note: If you loved the Stone Hut and want to help rebuild both that hut and Vermont’s other buildings and parks, consider contributing to VermontParksForever.net.