Maine Huts & Trails’ lodges will be open this winter, for visitors who are willing to carry their own food and sleeping bags. Photo courtesy of Maine Huts & Trails

Maine Huts & Trails will keep its four lodges open this winter on a self-service basis to people who want to experience the forests and mountains of western Maine and are willing to carry their own food and sleeping bags.

The nonprofit’s board met Monday and reaffirmed its commitment to keeping its lodges open, but with the understanding that guests will need to bring their own food and cook their own meals in the lodges’ kitchens rather than having meals prepared by staff.

Visitors also will have to provide their own bedding to stay at the lodges, which will be staffed by a volunteer caretaker.

The scaled-back experience comes amid talk that the lodges would have to be closed this winter unless the organization could raise $500,000 to pay staff salaries and prepare huts and trails for the winter season.

“We have now come to a critical moment in our still young history. By the end of our first decade, rising costs of required improvements to infrastructure and increased staffing needs were outpacing revenue from the backcountry experiences our guests have always enjoyed. As a result, our ability to open the huts and groom the trails during the upcoming winter season is in jeopardy,” Maine Huts & Trails wrote in a recent blog post on its website.

But Bob Peixotto, chairman of Maine Huts & Trails’ board of directors, said the organization met its fundraising goal. At Monday’s meeting, the board committed to keeping the lodges open for the winter season, which typically begins in December.

“We met a very significant fundraising milestone that will allow us to remain open for the winter,” Peixotto said. “We saw an incredible outpouring of support from across the state.”

Peixotto said the organization still needs to raise another $500,000 to remain viable on a long-term basis. Maine Huts & Trails has served 78,000 guests from 48 states and 18 countries since it was established 11 years ago, he said.

Maine Huts & Trails Executive Director Wolfe Tone said the organization’s business model has not been sustainable and that it needs to do business differently. The revenue collected for bunks, meals and merchandise has not been enough to sustain its operations. The organization has had five executive directors since 2012 and has come up short in its revenue projections in each of the past six years. Tone was hired about one year ago.

Tone said Maine Huts & Trails likely will hire a full-time development director to apply for grants, as well as state and federal funds that are available to nonprofits.

“We’re going to keep going,” Tone said following Monday’s meeting. “But we are going to do self-service experiences this year. You bring your own food and have a great time. It’s a great experience and a lot of fun.”

To stay at a lodge, guests will need to make reservations online in advance, Tone said. Reservations ensure that lodges won’t become overcrowded and will allow Maine Huts & Trails, for safety purposes, to monitor each party’s arrival and departure. To reach the huts, guests will use trails that are maintained by the organization.

Tone said his staff is setting new lodging rates for the coming winter season.

Maine Huts & Trails maintains four lodges that are connected by 80 miles of trails in western Maine. The huts are strung out along a trail network that runs from the Carrabassett Valley in Franklin County to West Forks in Somerset County.

The backcountry lodges have bathrooms with running water and hot showers. They feature bunk rooms, renewable energy-powered heating systems, leather furniture and vaulted ceilings. In the past, guests were served food prepared in commercial kitchens by teams of seasonal caretakers. The four huts have a total capacity for roughly 168 people.

A seasonal labor shortage forced Maine Huts & Trails to close two of its lodges last summer. Poplar Ridge and Grand Falls were closed from mid-June to late October as a result. The closure did not affect Flagstaff Hut, the largest and most popular, or Stratton Brook Hut.

 

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