CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine — The snowy trail was already packed down by 8:30 a.m., the thin crust broken by the boots of those who had arrived at the trail head early Wednesday so they could take their time trekking three miles to the opening celebration of Stratton Brook Hut, the newest backcountry lodge in the Maine Huts & Trails network.
Nestled between Sugarloaf Mountain and the Bigelow Range on a granite outcropping 1,880 feet above sea level, this beautiful, energy-efficient “hut” is the organization’s first alpine lodge.
“This [hut] is special to us because it completes our first phase and allows for a full five-day, four-night adventure,” said MH&T executive director Nicole Freedman, who greeted attendees as they entered the warm lodge to enjoy hot drinks and snacks.
Stratton Brook Hut is the fourth of 12 planned backcountry eco-lodges in western Maine. In 2008, the first hut, Poplar Stream Falls Hut, opened to the public, followed by Flagstaff Hut in 2009, and Grand Falls Hut in 2010. The hut-to-hut network currently consists of 80 miles of trail, the end goal being 180 miles of trails, which would be the longest groomed ski trail in America.
“I think this is our best hut yet,” said Freedman. “We’ve been able to take lessons learned from the other huts — the changes are from the tiniest detail.”
Stratton Brook Hut was made possible by a generous donation from Clem and Rolande Begin, longtime Carrabassett Valley residents. And the bunkhouse, which houses 42 guests, was donated by Severin Beliveau and Cynthia Murray-Beliveau of Hallowell. Both families are longtime supporters of MH&T.
“We trust that their name on the door and the fleur-de-lis on the floor will remind all who come to this place of the couple who made it possible,” said MH&T founder Larry Warren. “Their legacy to this place and this community will touch generations to come.”
“It’s important to me to give money to Carrabassett Valley,” said Clem Begin in between congratulatory handshakes. “Maine Huts & Trails brings different types of tourists year-round. Not everybody can ski downhill, but they can cross-country ski or snowshoe.”
And not everyone likes to pitch a tent. These “huts” help people unplug from their daily lives to enjoy multiple days in the wilderness, while enjoying excellent amenities. Each hut features comfortable beds, cozy social areas and hot showers. The staff caters to visitors with hearty, home-cooked meals using locally sourced organic ingredients, as well as snacks for their activity-packed days of hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing and fishing. And visitors can have their gear shuttled from hut to hut, allowing them to travel unencumbered.
Each hut is strategically placed near stunning natural features, be it a waterfall or pristine lake. From Stratton Brook Hut, guest are surrounded by stunning views of the western Maine mountains — Sugarloaf to the south and the Bigelow Range to the north.
It is also the most energy efficient of the four huts, though each hut has been certified as a “Green Lodging Environmental Leader” by the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection.
“Solar technology has advanced with each hut,” Freedman said. “[Stratton Brook Hut] is actually tied to the grid, which means when we produce energy, we can be selling it back to the grid. I think it’s a great sort of example of future energy systems in Maine and the country.”
To conserve heat, the walls, roof and floor are heavily insulated and the windows are made of triple-paned glass. An efficient gasification boiler warms the lodge and bunkhouse through a radiant floor heating system. And the hut’s composting toilets conserve water by using just 2-3 ounces of water per flush, and they send all solid waste to be broken down into compost.
“It’s probably the best insulated building in Carrabassett Valley,” said contractor Dutch Demshar, a longtime Carrabassett Valley resident who volunteered four of his retirement years to build the four current MH&T huts, following the designs of architect and nature photographer John Orcutt of Kingfield.
“One of the most impressive things in this journey in building at this particular location is the commitment and the capacity of local people to contribute what they can to make this happen,” said Orcutt. “And its happen all the way along the line. Suppliers, contractors, people all from this area, have bent over backwards to contribute more than just what’s being paid for in the construction of this hut, and it shows in the craftsmanship, all the way through.”
Labor and supplies for the project were found locally, feeding the western Maine economy and ensuring that the building be purely a Maine construction, from the artwork to the plumbing.
“I particularly love the open floor plan of the eating area and lounge area,” said Freedman, “and the courtyard between the eating area and bunkhouses. I think it will be a really nice seating area in the summer.”
“It’s designed for the site — the idea of putting the living room and the dining room together allowed us to make a big open space that we thought was appropriate for the big open site,” Orcutt said. “We think it will accommodate big daytime groups that come up; and we expect to see a lot of daytime visitors.”
The Stratton Brook Hut can be reached by a 2.9-mile trail, which starts in a small parking lot off Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley, just north of Sugarloaf Access Road. But those enjoying multiple days on the hut-to-hut network may hike (or ski) from the nearest hut, Poplar Stream Falls, which is 9.1 miles to the east by trail.
In addition, MH&T is working with Bigelow Preserve to get a trail approved that will span between Stratton Brook Hut and the preserve’s Fire Warden’s Trail, which leads to a long loop trail for advanced hikers. And also nearby is the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, where visitors can rent equipment, take lessons and enjoy another network of trails for biking, skiing and hiking.
“The thing I am most excited about is reservations are up over 200 percent, news about this hut is getting out and we have people who have signed up to do the extreme, ultimate adventure of four days and four nights,” said Freedman to those gathered in the courtyard for the ribbon cutting. Though the temperature was in the teens, the sun was shining and the wind calm.
Also a speaker at the ceremony, Bob Peixotto, chairman of the MH&T board, emphasized how far the hut-to-hut system has come in a short period of time.
“In July of 2004, there was an article in the Maine Sunday Telegram that was the lead story in the outdoor section, had a picture of our founder Larry Warren, with the title of ‘A Wild Idea,’ and I recall the article having a bit of a skeptical tone,” said Bob Peixotto, Chairman of the MH&T Board. “Here we stand 8.5 years later on this beautiful spot at the conclusion of Phase 1, and oh my word, what we have accomplished.”
Since 2008, MH&T has hosted 15,000 guests from 27 countries, including New Zealand, Russia and Jamaica. In April, Outside magazine named MH&T “The Best Winter Adventure Lodge,” and just last month, Backpacker magazine listed MH&T as one of the top 11 hut opportunities in the world.
“The skepticism is gone, the optimism is here, and so is the energy and pride,” Peixotto said.
For information and to book your stay, visit www.mainehuts.org or call 265-2400.