Maine Huts & Trails Sustainable Energy and Waste Systems

Hello, my name is William Thao, and I am studying Environmental Policy at Colby. At Colby, I am a member of the Mock Trial team and participate in a couple of environmental clubs. I am from Minnesota, so I am excited to be spending the summer in Maine!

Enjoying the view from the Vista!

My name is Sarah Bash, and I am going into my junior year at Colby. I am a physics and philosophy double major from Bethesda, Maryland. On campus, I am a member of the woodsmen team and multi-faith council, and I am excited to join hall staff as one of the community advisors this coming fall.

We are the sustainable energy interns working with Maine Huts & Trails this summer through the academic partnership with Colby College. Our objective is to analyze the energy and waste systems at Maine Huts & Trails, which include wood gasification boilers, solar panels, and composting toilets. So far, we have been deepening our understanding of how these systems work and using data we have gathered to calculate their respective efficiencies. With this data, we hope to make recommendations to Maine Huts & Trails for possible investments in potentially more efficient or sustainable options. In the past few weeks, we have visited Poplar Hut, Flagstaff Hut, and Stratton Brook Hut to get a first-hand look at the systems.

At the beginning of the summer, we traveled to Poplar Hut with Professor Whitney King, our supervisor at Colby, and Merrie Woodworth, the Youth and Educational Programs Coordinator at Maine Huts & Trails. We were lucky to squeeze in a visit before the hut closed for the summer. We began our walk to the hut by crossing the Poplar Stream as it raged into a small pond, and we continued onto the service road where we ran into Poplar Hut’s kind caretaker. He accompanied us to the hut, where we looked at the sustainable energy and waste systems. Like all the other huts, Poplar Hut is heated by a wood gasification boiler connected to a radiant floor heating system, which produces significantly fewer emissions than a standard wood stove. For electrical power, solar panels provide solar energy to the off-grid hut. We also got to see the composting toilets for the first time, which use a special lubricating foam instead of water. These toilets are more sanitary than standard flush toilets because the composting process separates liquid and solid waste into components that no longer carry human pathogens. The composting tubs below the toilets have a highly effective drainage system, which helps keep the compost clean and dry. Added bacteria, fungi, and earthworms promote aerobic decomposition in the tubs, further decreasing the volume of the waste produced. Each hut only accumulates about fifty gallons of compost every four or five years. After walking through the hut, we learned a bit about Poplar Hut’s hydroelectric system that is currently under repair. We walked to the nearby dam that powers it and looked at some of its components. While familiarizing ourselves with the Bigelow Preserve after our visit, we saw a moose munching some of the vegetation on the side of the road! We got out of the car, and stood in the street for a while, admiring its overwhelming beauty. It was the first wild moose either of us had ever seen.

View from Flagstaff Lake

Next, we visited Flagstaff Hut during staff training, which gave Merrie the opportunity to introduce us to the entire hut crew as well as a few of the year-round staff. The atmosphere was energizing, and we had a lovely time meeting the passionate and knowledgeable members of the Maine Huts & Trails staff. It was evident that everyone there cares deeply about the Maine Huts & Trails mission. We had a great conversation with John Winter, the Huts Manager, during which he shared invaluable information about Flagstaff Hut’s solar power system, describing how and why it has changed over the years. Flagstaff Hut has twenty-seven solar panels, which power the electrical load of the hut. When solar energy cannot meet the demand of the electrical load, a propane generator turns on to provide additional energy. This generator is used in the summer to provide hot water for showers and domestic use. Flagstaff Hut also uses a wood gasification boiler and composting toilet system. Flagstaff Hut is perfectly nestled in the Maine woods by the lake, which provides a relaxing atmosphere in the outdoors. Before we left, we walked to the shore and admired the Canadian mountains across the lake as Merrie told us the story of Benedict Arnold sailing through Flagstaff Lake in 1775 to conquer Quebec City.

Heading into the mountains from the Airport Trailhead

This week, we hiked on the trails to Stratton Brook Hut. Our adventure began in the vast field of the Airport Trailhead with an open view of the Bigelow Mountain Range. During our hike, we saw Sugarloaf Mountain from Crommet’s Overlook and many vibrant wildflowers along the trails. The pleasant breeze and shade from the tree cover made it easy to maintain a chipper outlook throughout our long and beautiful hike. We caught the occasional tick scuttling up our pants, and thankfully none found a home on our bodies. As we entered Stratton Brook Hut, we were greeted by Aaron, a member of the hut crew, and chatted with him about our hike as we devoured our lunches. He showed us the energy and waste systems in the basement and pointed out where we could see the solar panels on the roof. Unique to Stratton Brook Hut, there are three solar panels solely for solar hot water in addition to thirty-three solar panels for electricity. While this hut is connected to Central Maine Power, the solar panels generate enough electricity to feed additional power back into the grid. For waste and heating, Stratton Brook Hut has the same systems as the other huts, a composting toilet system, and wood gasification boiler. As the afternoon arrived with some slight rain, we said our goodbyes to Aaron and departed from the hut. Before leaving the mountain, we visited the Vista and admired the beautiful view of the mountains.

We have enjoyed visiting the huts and learning more about sustainable energy and waste systems. We look forward to continuing our research and helping Maine Huts & Trails with their sustainable systems.

-William and Sarah