New shelter expands tourism options in Green Mountain National Forest
BRANDON — On Sept. 28, the Chittenden Brook Campground in Brandon saw something unusual: a large, construction-size crane wielding one of two halves of a pre-fabricated building in the middle of the Green Mountain National Forest.
The crane was there to install the new Chittenden Brook Hut, the fifth in a network of backcountry buildings under the umbrella of the Vermont Huts Association. Once completed, the Chittenden Brook Hut will be the first new building the organization has built for its network.
The Vermont Huts Association is a Stowe-based nonprofit founded in August 2016, with the goal of creating a hut-to-hut system across Vermont modeled after those in New Zealand and Europe. According to the nonprofit’s website, the organization has identified 32 potential huts connected by 923 miles of trails across the state that it believes could be connected to facilitate year-round recreation in the Green Mountains.
In some cases, this has involved retrofitting and adapting existing huts for year-round recreation. In the case of Chittenden Brook, the nonprofit collaborated with the Green Mountain National Forest to plan and permit a brand new remote front country structure. Association Executive Director RJ Thompson said Holly Knox, Recreation Program Manager for the National Forest’s Rochester and Middlebury Ranger Districts, was an invaluable partner in moving the project forward.
At 660 square feet, the Chittenden Brook Hut will sleep 10 people in bunks once it is completed this fall. The kitchen will be outfitted with pots, pans and utensils for 10 and a propane stovetop. There is no running water; guests will treat water from the adjacent stream or use snowmelt in the winter. Unlike other Vermont backcountry huts, the building is insulated and outfitted with a propane stove for heat. Reservations opened for the hut Sept. 15, with the opening night scheduled for Dec. 1.
According to Thompson, the hut is already starting to pay for itself. Funded through a combination of fundraising, grants and lodging expenses, Thompson expects the building will cost about $75,000 to build and install. By the end of September, the hut was booked every weekend from December through mid-April. At $155 per weekend and holiday night and $110 per weekday night from October to Memorial Day, Thompson says those funds are starting to add up.
THE CHITTENDEN BROOK hut is the first newly built hut installed by the Vermont Hut Association; the previous four huts have been renovations of existing structures. The hut in Chittenden can be reached by road in the summer, or by a 2-mile ski in the winter. Current plans call for more backcountry ski trails to be expanded in the area of the hut on the east side of Brandon Gap.
Independent photo/Abagael Giles
The Chittenden Brook was designed and built in Waitsfield by students at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School, using primarily sustainable, locally sourced materials. “We wanted to partner with another nonprofit and they were looking for a client for their semester program,” Thompson said.
Part of the hut’s allure is its proximity to the Rochester/Randolph Area Sports Trail Alliance (RASTA) Brandon Gap Backcountry Area, a popular backcountry ski trail system that often fills the parking lots at the top of Brandon Gap on snowy winter days. The new hut is also just 1.8 miles off of The Long Trail.
In the winter, the hut is a 2.5-mile skin or snowshoe from the Bear Brook Ridge ski trails, which are part of RASTA’s network. It’s also adjacent to a 7.5-mile network of trails designed for hiking in the summer and back-country skiing in the winter.
In the summer, the hut can be accessed by car and is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act with a ramp. In the winter, visitors will get to the hut via a 2.3-mile skin or snowshoe from the parking area.
The hut is also located right off of the proposed Velomont Trail, a 130-mile network of mountain bike trails that, if approved in the pending Robinson Integrated Resource Project, would run from Killington to Stowe. Additionally, RASTA President Angus McCusker says his organization is working with the Green Mountain National Forest and has applied to develop new backcountry glades in the vicinity of Chittenden Brook Campground at Round Top and Corporation mountains. If approved, that project would double the acreage of the existing Brandon Gap Backcountry Area.
SETTING UP THE HUT
Each half of the Chittenden Brook Hut was installed separately on Sept. 28 via what Thompson called a “team effort.” The Forest Service’s website advises that the campground’s access road “cannot accommodate trailers over 18 feet,” and yet Reggie Fields, owner of Grantham, N.H-based Field and Sons Transportation Inc., was able to maneuver the building on a trailer at least that long with less than an inch of room to spare — side to side — over the last bridge to the campground.
Richard Hutchins of Barre-based Hutch Crane Services designed and implemented the system by which the 75-ton Hydraulic Truck Crane lifted each half of the cabin off of the trailer, swung it through the trees, and lowered it onto an 11-piece GoliathTech, concrete-free helical screw pile system. Engineer Kricket McCusker coordinated the building’s arrangement on the piles, as Thompson and other workers pulled it into position using a mix of ropes and pushing with their hands.
“It was cool to see a big, heavy building in the sky and to swing it around using just a rope,” said Thompson. The second half of the building took about half an hour to install.
Over the next few weeks, a deck will be built and finishing touches like the concrete countertop and wood panels carved by hand to be the silhouettes of Vermont’s high peaks will be installed in the hut’s interior.
Angus McCusker, who was also present at the hut’s installation, called the hut’s installation, “a sigh of relief. It’s been a long time in the works.”
“This is just incredibly exciting,” said Thompson, gesturing to the hut. “To think about all of the stories, adventures, the great meals that will be shared here for years to come.”