Maine Huts & Trails’ grand opening of its third hut will take place next weekend beside the chatter of Grand Falls on the Dead River.

That’s fitting, because there has been a lot of chatter the past two years about this leg of the massive, 180-mile, 12-hut wilderness project.

The Grand Falls Hut originally was going to be set beside the Grand Falls deer yard, which is zoned as an important wildlife area by the state.

State wildlife biologists entered the discussion, a compromise was reached, and the hut and trail leading to it in this sensitive area were moved.

But the lengthy process raised the question: How will the remaining nine huts and 150 miles of the trail be built, since it all goes through or near sensitive wildlife areas?

Well, when the Grand Falls hut opens for business next Saturday, the feeling on both sides — among the eco-tourist enthusiasts at Huts & Trails and from the state’s regional wildlife biologists — is that wildlife concerns will be at the forefront next time.

“I think it’s a great example of a nonprofit and government agency coming together to create something that in the long run will benefit both wildlife and recreational resource protection,” said Huts & Trails executive director Dave Herring.

“We wanted to make sure whatever plan we executed that (Inland Fisheries and Wildlife) would stand alongside. We worked alongside them and tried to understand the mass deer yard.”

When Huts & Trails put in a permit to build a bridge over the Dead River, in unorganized territory, it alerted state wildlife biologists to the project.

The biologists were concerned about the impact the trail could have on the 714-acre deer yard.

In the winter in northern Maine, where the snow regularly piles up 4 to 6 feet, whitetail deer use historic, naturally occurring “deer yard” areas to congregate for shelter, warmth and protection from predators, such as coyotes.

In the permitting process for its bridge, Huts & Trails was under no legal obligation to move the trail or hut. It did so, Herring said, to meet an “ethical obligation” to not cause a major impact on wildlife in the area.

After talking with state biologists, Herring said his staff decided to put the hut on the opposite side of the Dead River from the deer yard, and reroute a mile of the trail to the side of the deer yard instead of deep into it.

The trail still skirts the deer yard and threatens to disturb wintering deer, but state biologists said the compromise greatly minimized disturbance to the whitetails.

“The location of the third hut is not our top third or fourth or fifth choice, but the hut is a prime example of a major compromise,” Herring said.

Herring said it’s a good compromise, and the Huts & Trails staff will use it as a learning tool.

“There were a lot of things we learned in this first phase, and one was to get as much information as possible before we begin planning. We thought we were following the rules,” Herring said.

To date, the Huts & Trails system covers about 30 miles and brings Nordic skiers, hikers, snowshoers and mountain bikers to three huts where meals, refreshments, bunks and rooms can be had at half the price of a traditional sporting camp.

The trail system starts near Sugarloaf Outdoors Center in Carrabassett Valley and runs six miles to the Poplar Stream Hut, where it then covers another 12 miles to the Flagstaff Lake hut, and finally winds 13 miles through the woods to Grand Falls.

Herring said the nonprofit is going to take a few years off from trail building and just focus on the activities and amenities offered at these three huts.

The group will partner with rafting companies, area guides and wellness services to lure nature lovers to the huts to relax and enjoy this wild mountain region.

Wildlife biologists see merit in the project and think that through collaborating it can evolve with minimal impact, but they’re concerned, too.

“I think it could be a good project if they avoid impact to sensitive areas,” said regional wildlife biologist Bob Cordes. “This may be naive on my part, but I think we will come to an agreement before they cut the next trail. Through the whole 180-mile section, there are a lot of deer yards.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]