AMC’s Greenleaf Hut. Photo by Herb Swanson
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) last year submitted a proposal to the New Hampshire division of Parks and Recreation to build a new backcountry hut in Crawford Notch State Park. AMC vice president for outdoor operations Paul Cunha states that the hut, to be named Sparkling Cascade, would be similar in style and capacity to the Lonesome Lake or Greenleaf huts, with full service accommodations for approximately fifty people during the summer and early fall. It would also be open during the winter months for self-service lodging, which entails the visitor bringing his or her own food and bedding. “We believe this proposal serves the mission of AMC and the mission of New Hampshire State Parks, as we provide new outdoor recreational opportunities for the public,” states Cunha.
The proposal has sparked quite a bit of debate in the outdoors community, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue. Proponents state that the creation of a new hut would encourage people to get into the backcountry, thus improving backcountry stewardship and environmental awareness. Supporters also cite that a new hut would provide economic benefits to the local economy. AMC reports that the hut system provides $17.9 million in spending by out of state hut guests, with 73% of that money going to businesses other than AMC. Sparkling Cascade would add to that number.
Opponents state that there are already enough backcountry huts and that another would add additional foot traffic and negative environmental impact to an already congested area. The high price tag that goes along with a one-night stay in the AMC hut system is also a negative, say opponents. At the time of this writing, the rate for one Friday night in July at Lonesome Lake Hut was $110 per person, including dinner and breakfast. However, self-service accommodations in winter were considerably lower at $27, giving skiers and snowshoe hikers that do not own all of the necessary winter camping gear a viable option for a night in the backcountry. Cunha states that lodging fees support many AMC functions. For every $1.00 that AMC receives from its White Mountain huts and lodges, after direct costs of serving guests such as food, staff, and supplies, AMC spends $1.25 to cover North Country operations as well as mission programs such as trail maintenance, research, conservation, and school programs.
Cunha states that at this time, AMC is taking public input into consideration as they revise their proposal and are awaiting direction from New Hampshire State Parks regarding the next steps in the process. “AMC has a long history of providing backcountry hospitality in an environmentally responsible manner, and we are driven by our longstanding commitment to environmentally sustainable systems and operations. AMC intends to perform periodic assessments of the terrain, vegetation, and water sources near the hut to ensure resource damage is not occurring.” In the meantime, the debate is sure to continue between those who want to increase visitors and economy, and those that want to preserve the rugged character of one of New Hampshire’s great wilderness areas.