A seasonal labor scarcity has forced a nonprofit to shutter half the backwoods lodges it operates in Maine’s western mountains.

Maine Huts and Trails will close two of its overnight lodges this summer and fall as it concentrates on improving trails and equipment with a reduced workforce.

Seasonal businesses across the state have struggled to find enough workers with a unemployment rate below 4 percent for 40 consecutive months and an aging workforce.

Wolfe Tone, executive director of the Kingfield-based organization, said three key full-time staff, including the hut operations director, left for family and health reasons at the beginning of the season. The organization also struggled to find enough candidates for a full roster of seasonal trail workers and hut caretakers.

At the same time, a rough winter damaged trails and roads already due for significant maintenance and repairs, Tone said. Those compounding issues forced the difficult decision to close part of the operation this season.

“I put first and foremost our guest experience,” Tone said. “I was worried we weren’t going to be able to support it across four huts the way we wanted to. I was also thinking about the well-being of our staff and the workload they have to carry.”

The huts are strung out along an 80-mile trail network that runs from the Carrabassett Valley in Franklin County almost to West Forks in Somerset Valley.

The buildings feature bunk rooms, renewable energy-powered heating systems, leather furniture and vaulted ceilings. Guests are served food prepared in commercial kitchens by teams of seasonal caretakers. The huts accommodate between 32 and 44 guests.

Maine Huts and Trails will close two of it most remote huts, Poplar Ridge and Grand Falls for the season, from mid-June to late October. Guests who have made reservations will be offered spots at one of the open huts, a voucher for future stays or a refund if no other accommodation works, Tone said.

Flagstaff Hut, the largest and most popular, and Stratton Brook Hut, close to mountain bike trails in Carrabassett Valley, will stay open and so will the full trail system, Tone said. Nightly rates per-adult are $99 at Stratton Brook and $138 at Flagstaff.

By having Maine Huts and Trails pull back and focus on the work it needs to do, Tone hopes to have the organization ready to reopen at full strength for winter guests.

“We are sincerely trying to preserve the guest experience, have the best summer we can and be in a strong place coming into next season,” he said.

Trail workers earn $12 to $14 an hour depending on their skills, and seasonal hut staff earn $11 to $13 an hour, with hut masters and returning crew being at the higher end of the scale, Tone said, noting that hut workers receive tips as well as room and board.

Maine’s hospitality industry has for years contended with an acute labor shortage that has forced businesses in busy coastal tourist towns to cut back hours and stretch workers and owners to the breaking point.

Labor shortfalls are also blamed on skyrocketing construction costs that recently forced the Maine Department of Transportation to cut $59 million from its annual highway budget.

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