Maine's dramatic, rocky coastline lures travelers worldwide. But secluded two hours northwest of Portland are dreamscape mountains, hillside waterfalls, crystal clear streams and a vast lake with pocket beaches. Once the domain of the diehard, an innovative venture has developed trails and paired backcountry exploration with hot showers, foodie-approved cuisine, private bunks, a gear drying room and other amenities not associated with roughing it.
Maine Huts & Trails offers a new model for minimal-impact development. The nonprofit's plan, said executive director Dave Herring: build a 180-mile backcountry adventure hut system. Two of the planned 12 huts are now open, with the third slated for year-end.
The year-round, multisport, ultragreen haven provides groomed trails winding through pure wilderness for hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers. Near the second hut, Flagstaff Lake invites canoeing and kayaking.
Wows abound: mist-shrouded peaks, beaver bogs, loons, half-frozen waterfalls. An 11-mile groomed trail crests and dips between the Poplar Stream Falls and Flagstaff Lake huts. Herring details eco-centric design approaches from minimal footprint to on-site solar, hydro and wind energy generation. A wood-fired burner supplies radiant floor heating for the huts and adjacent bunkhouses, which feature cozy rooms sized for individuals and groups.
Flagstaff Lake Hut is nearly invisible from the water. "Our ethic," Herring said, "is to build amid natural features without taking away from them."
Made-from-scratch meals tantalize guests with the likes of Maine blueberry fruit soup, Welsh cakes and gourmet chili. The beautiful tables are handmade by local artisans from cherry waste wood. The after-dinner tour of the green facility is a ritual.
A night's lodging with dinner and breakfast costs under $100 for adults and under $50 for children. Membership in the nonprofit -- $100 individual, $200 family -- comes with such benefits as one to two free stays and free use of canoes and kayaks.
Don Smith loved living in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, but hiking the Appalachian Trail between Georgia and Maine inspired him to relocate. "The land up [in the western mountains] is absolutely breathtaking," said Smith, noting that one MH&T trail crosses the Appalachian Trail.
Maine is the East's last great frontier," Herring said. His network "opens it to [people] who want to experience nature up close and personal while not leaving behind a warm bed, hot shower and good meal." The overarching mission? "Protect public access to unspoiled landscape."
Henry David Thoreau, that most famous of Maine sojourners, would surely approve.
Reach Robin Tierney at email@example.com
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