JP Internship: Grand Falls Hut

Grand Falls – a short 0.2 mile detour from the main ski trail

An eight-mile ski in followed the meandering Dead River north, deep into the Maine woods. With each passing river bend, civilization drifted farther behind and a peaceful mind settled more deeply upon me. The trail wound through spacious groves of leafless Poplar trees silhouetted by the piercing blue afternoon sky, overlooking shimmering crystal cold water. Occasionally, thick swaths of pine engulfed the trail allowing needles of sun to pierce through the canopy lighting the woody tunnels. Just two miles from the hut, Grand Falls cascaded 40 feet into a pool below, billowing mist above the sun-kissed treetops into the evening sky. The stunning hydraulic display perforated the otherwise serene landscape.

The entrance to Grand Falls Hut backlit by the morning light

Grand Falls Hut felt like a shrine erected to honor the impressive and remote natural landscape around. Its grand southern wall filled with windows capitalized on heat from solar gain and views of the pine-covered hills across the river valley. After the long ski in, I graciously devoured the meal that Adam and Erin, the hut crew working at Grand Falls, served.

From left to right: Eli, Adam, and Erin

Longtime workers at MH&T, Adam and Erin had the operation at the hut wired and were passionate about continuing to provide and improve the educational and rejuvenating experience for guests. Adam gave me an impressively comprehensive sustainability tour of the hut, and Erin detailed her work on various Maine farms. In particularly, she described a CSA farm that MH&T recently partnered with to provide winter root vegetables at the huts. The mutually beneficial relationship gave the farmer additional income during what had been a below average year for CSA members, and stocked the huts with locally grown, in-season food. Both Adam and Erin believed that local food sourcing was one of the most important and impactful practices of MH&T and advocated for its further development. This could mean increasing the amount of food purchased from local sources as well as increasing guest/public awareness and education of these practices.


JP Internship: Flagstaff Lake Hut

An evening view of frozen Flagstaff Lake and the Bigelow Range from near the hut

Interested in an easily accessible off-the-grid hut experience in a beautiful and historically fascinating location? Flagstaff Hut is the perfect place to go. A gentle two-mile trail winds from the trailhead along the eastern shore of Flagstaff Lake to the hut, nestled overlooking the pristine water. Flagstaff Lake is Maine’s largest manmade lake, enlarged by the damning of the Dead River in 1950 for the purpose of regulating water flow for hydroelectric power. At the hut, stunning evenings gift the visitors as the sun sets over the water and behind the Bigelow Range. During summer, the area can be readily explored using canoes and kayaks available at the hut, but this time of year cross country skis and snowshoes provide the best form of adventure on the frozen lake.

From left to right: Colby student Eli, hut staff Phil, Jada, Conor, and Megan, and Colby student Lena

Like all of the other Maine Huts & Trails employees, the hut crew at Flagstaff provided enthusiastic company and welcoming service during my overnight. They served a hearty meal of homemade pizza crisped to perfection, a refreshing winter kale salad, and moist chocolate cupcakes. Over the meal, we chatted about the food sourcing at the huts and all agreed about its importance as an educational subject. The hut crew was enthusiastic about guest interest in the topic and encouraged the idea as the focus area for my internship. Here’s a little more info:

Lena enjoying the breakfast of local scrambled eggs, vegetarian sausage, and blueberry pancakes

MH&T’s local and sustainable food sourcing helps build a sustainable community in Maine and enhances the dining experience at the huts. Buying food from local, typically smaller, farm operations means greatly reducing the carbon footprint associated with distribution of food since it travels less distance from farm to table. Sourcing from these sorts of farms also supports local business and stimulates the economy in the area. Additionally,  well-run organic farming operations have huge environmental benefits including sustainable soil management, lack of pesticide and fertilizer use, and erosion control, compared to traditional industrial style farming. Eating locally grown, organic food also tastes so much better! From sweet winter carrots to tender grass-fed beef, MH&T provides an amazing eating experience for their guests by sourcing as much local and organic food as possible.


JP Internship: Stratton Brook Hut

Stratton Brook Hut in the morning sun

Sparkling solar panels caught the last of the day’s light as Stratton Brook Hut lay illuminated by the golden, late-afternoon sun. Snow from three days prior still blanketed the roof of the impressively insulated building, a visible demonstration of its efficient design.

After the three-mile ski in, Benji and Hannah, the hut staff on duty, cheerfully greeted me while bustling around the kitchen preparing dinner. A warm wood stove drew me over to the cozy lounge area where I chatted with other guests, recounting our days in the woods. Following a lively and tasty dinner, Hannah gave an educational presentation on snow science and the history of snow travel for the guests at the hut. She described how temperature and humidity dictate a snowflake’s shape upon its formation, and detailed how different modes of snow transportation evolved to match snow conditions in different areas. The guests, being a diverse group of snow travelers with snowshoers, fat-bikers, and cross-country skiers, engaged enthusiastically in the presentation.

Maine Huts & Trails and Chewonki workers embodying their new partnership on the porch at Stratton Brook Hut

This unique informative experience was part of the new partnership between Chewonki and Maine Huts & Trails, which provides year-round employment to four Chewonki workers and aids MH&T in their educational mission. Mike Spurrier, the Hut Operations Manager, was staying up there with Keith Crowley and Johnson Whippie, Chewonki workers overseeing the new partnership with MH&T. This assorted crowd of outdoors workers at the hut gave me multiple valuable perspectives on potential focus areas and presentation methods for my project this January.

Right now, I’ve narrowed down the focus area to the local/sustainable food sourcing methods of MH&T or their sustainable energy systems. Today, abundant sunshine and light winds usher me off to Flagstaff Hut. I’m looking forward to seeing another hut and gathering further information from staff and guests. Cheers!


JP Internship: Poplar Hut

Crossing the frozen Carrabassett River on the snowshoe in to Poplar Hut

The tranquil murmur of Poplar Stream periodically emerging from its ice-blanket drifted through the still winter air as we snowshoed along Larry’s Path. At Poplar Hut, scents of Moroccan spice and fresh Anadama bread wafted through the main building while the friendly hut staff engaged my numerous questions.

My first overnight at the Maine Huts was marked by moments like these. The serene and rejuvenating natural beauty of the western Maine winter and the rustic feel yet modern facilities of the hut made for an authentic overnight experience. Caleb and Rheanna, the warm and welcoming hut staff, prepared a delicious meal that all ten of us – staff and guests – ate family style around a long wooden table. Lively conversation filled mealtimes, during which I learned about the other guests staying at the hut, all of whom were first time visitors to the Maine Huts & Trails system. After dinner, Caleb and Rheanna gave a comprehensive tour of the hut during which they described all the eco-friendly technologies and practices used there. These included local and sustainable food sourcing, utilization of local businesses and resources during the building process, energy systems powered primarily by solar including a brand-new set of batteries, and a recently repaired hydro-electric station soon to be running.

From left to right: Colby student Catharine Christie, hut staff Rheanna and Caleb, and intern Eli Hanschka

In the morning, the hut staff cooked up a delicious breakfast of apple-chocolate chip pancakes and an egg and veggie scramble. We then packed up a trail lunch provided by the staff and trekked back along the main ski trail. The silhouette of Sugarloaf and the Bigelows hung majestically behind the leafless trees, adding humbling dimension to the already-beautiful landscape.

After this taste of the MH&T experience I’m excited to get back out to the huts. Next week, I’ll be staying at Stratton Brook Hut and Flagstaff Hut and at each visit, I’ll be honing in on my focus area for the main project of the internship this January. Many thanks so far to the staff at Poplar Hut, the team in the office at MH&T, and my faculty advisors at Colby. Cheers!


Jan Plan Environmental and Experiential Education Internship

Hi, my name is Eli Hanschka and I’m studying Geology and Environmental Science here at Colby. This January Term, I will be working on the Maine Huts & Trails Environmental and Experiential Education internship, offered through the partnership between Colby College and Maine Huts & Trails (MH&T). This is an environmental and sustainability based internship that aims to aid MH&T in their mission and provide valuable feedback on their experiential and educational offerings.

The internship will consist of a series of visits to each of the four backcountry eco-lodge huts operated by Maine Huts & Trails as well as report findings and analysis to be conducted on campus at Colby. During the first week, my faculty sponsors, Merrie Woodworth of MH&T, and I will determine a focus area that narrows in on a specific aspect of the MH&T organization. Focus areas could be but are not limited to: public outdoor educational experiences, technical operation of the huts as off-the-grid facilities, social management of the huts, and organizational promotion of a sustainability and conservation ethic. Subsequently, I will complete two hut visits each week, for a total of eight hut visits, with the intention of learning about and becoming familiar with the facilities, staff, and educational offerings of MH&T. At each visit I will conduct research on my focus area. Back on campus, I will analyze and organize this research into a final project that I will present to the Colby faculty sponsors and the MH&T staff at the end of the internship. The final project will be a web-accessible presentation or piece of media, such as a PowerPoint, short video, or website page, that MH&T can use to further their mission.

During this internship, I hope to learn about the sustainable practices and technologies used in each of the eco-lodges and expand my knowledge of what goes into creating a livable facility that is completely off the grip and self-sufficient, from energy systems to waste management. Additionally, I hope to gain a deeper understanding about the outdoor educational opportunities offered by MH&T and how they help to foster a robust environmental ethic in the public. Along these lines, I hope to get a sense of how Maine Huts and Trails uses public outdoor recreation to promote a sense of our responsibility for proper environmental stewardship.

Two Class Trips Already Making a Positive Impact for Students

One September 15 Professor Denise Bruesewitz and her Environmental Science Capstone class used Flagstaff hut as an off-the-grid resource to work on  field data collection techniques on the shore of Flagstaff Lake, and for each student research team to develop a core set of principles that will establish their team dynamic for the semester of collaborative research. She also wanted the students to participate in the energy tour of the hut, because part of our class project is to make carbon and nutrient budgets of the farm we are studying in our class this year.   Read the student reflections for both trips in the Archive section of this web page.

The next weekend, September 22, 2017, Professor Michael Burke took his Environmental Imagination class  to the Stratton Brook Hut.   The course was created under the auspices of the Center for Arts and Humanities, as one of the first Environmental Humanities courses sponsored by the Center. The focus of the writing intensive course is the ways in which humans have imaginatively constructed views of the non-human/nature, in literature, philosophy, art, religion, music, and architecture. At this point in the semester, the class had read excerpts in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, with some particular attention given to Thoreau, John Muir, and Mary Austin, as examples of types of nature writing.

The goal of the trip was to expose them to the Maine in which they hopefully will continue to reside for the next four years, and to give them material for a nature writing assignment which was to be generated by the experience, and due ten days later.

Colby’s newest academic partner

In 2017 Colby College and Maine Huts & Trails (MH&T) established an academic partnership to create outdoor learning and recreation opportunities for our students, faculty, and staff. The goals of this partnership include extending the classroom from the Colby campus into the Maine woods, engaging students in experiential learning with an eco-tourism enterprise, and increasing our capacity for forest and fresh-water research activities.  MH&T seeks to support academic research and systems assessments that will inform their environmental stewardship practices to improve efficiency of off-the-grid energy systems, the development of local economies, and enhance their strategies for education and environmental stewardship. Through this academic partnership we are able to fund a total of 100 overnight visits during the 2017/18 academic year.  In addition, the Colby community is eligible for reduced rates on membership and use of the MH&T resources.