Wow. Last year was a wild ride! From a tremendously successful winter at our first hut to developing relationships that have led to nearly a dozen emerging hut opportunities, it’s safe to say we made the most of 2019. Read on for a brief recap of some of these milestones and learn what we’ve got in the hopper for 2020.
2019: Proof of Concept Realized
When Vermont Huts formally launched in late 2016, it was the culmination of a decades-long conversation that had been brewing throughout the state. Those passionate about a Green Mountain hut network believed that if Vermonters had places to stay where they played – especially in winter months – the end result would be longer days in the forest coupled with more opportunities for reflection on a long day in the mountains, and life in general.
But how would those ideas and beliefs actually look in practice? We now know the answer is, without a doubt, extremely successful and highly popular. The Chittenden Brook Hut, which opened at the end of 2018, saw a 100% occupancy rate from January 1, 2019 – April 15, 2019. We were thrilled to see such a strong desire to utilize this new public resource, and it validated months of planning and hard work. But perhaps more importantly, it confirmed the notion that Vermonters are hungry for more huts, and so we’ll aggressively pursue our mission of statewide connectivity in 2020.
Our little organization now boasts seven partner hut destinations across the state of Vermont, plus our very own Chittenden Brook Hut.
End of Year Campaign Success
2019 was the first year we launched a dedicated end-of-year fundraising campaign. With a goal of $15,000, it seemed a bit aggressive for our young organization. Fortunately, the Outdoor Gear Exchange offered to match every donation up to $5,000, which provided extra motivation for our steadfast supporters to generously contribute to the campaign. Weston Backcountry also provided a match incentive up to $500. When the ball dropped at midnight on January 1, 2020, we had raised over $14,000, falling just a few-hundred dollars short of our goal.
Given it was our first go at such an effort, we’ll call that a success! We want to once again thank everyone who contributed to the campaign, and we especially want to thank our friends at Outdoor Gear Exchange and Weston Backcountry for continuing to support our growing organization!
What’s on Tap for 2020?
The new decade brings new opportunities. Throughout 2019, as a result of numerous site visits all over the state, we have accumulated a pipeline of 11 potential hut projects and growing. That includes a mix of existing huts on private and public land as well as two locations where we would construct new facilities.
Not all of those projects will come to life in 2020, and some may never be fully realized due to a number of factors (bad site, structural integrity, etc…). However, with that many opportunities, we will have a busy year to say the least. It is our goal to construct and open at least one new hut before the end of 2020, and we wouldn’t rule out two. It is also likely that we welcome at least two more private hut operators into the network before the end of 2020. Given the various permits and approvals required before we can break ground, it is still premature to announce the potential location(s) of these huts, but we’ll let you know as soon as all of our ducks are in a row.
In addition to bringing these opportunities to life, we will continue to work with our partners in recreation at the state and federal level, as well as our friends at the Catamount Trail Association, Green Mountain Club, and Vermont Mountain Bike Association to ensure our efforts align, particularly on the Velomont Trail efforts.
F.O.R.E.S.T. Program Set to Launch
In addition to new huts, we’re excited to announce our FOREST program (Fostering Outdoor Recreation, Education, Sustainability, and Teamwork) is no longer a concept, but a fully-developed, two-night hut and outdoor experience for underrepresented youth to learn more about their natural environment and acquire important wilderness survival skills this February.
In collaboration with Addison Central Teens, Catamount Trail Association, and School of the Forest, with support from VHCB and RiseVT, the program will provide essential gear, instruction, meals, transportation, and two nights at Chittenden Brook Hut – all free of charge! Participants will also receive XC ski instruction to ensure they are able to confidently reach the hut and navigate the surrounding trails with their instructors and chaperones.
We hope this pilot program will set the foundation for future FOREST program opportunities at our other hut locations. It is our goal to grow this program to a point where we are able to offer it at all of our huts at least five times per year.
Economic Impact Study
We know recreation is a critical part of Vermont’s economy, and a number of studies have proved such. However, we are yet to understand the economic potential of a cohesive statewide hut network in Vermont. Which is why we are excited to begin working with the town of Rochester, the Velomont Trail, and SE Group to wrap our heads around just what kind of economic impact we might create by developing a statewide hut network tied together by an end-to-end mountain bike trail aka the Velomont Trail.
It is our hope that the findings of this study will help to guide future hut and trail development decisions, not just for our own recreational enjoyment, but also to strengthen rural communities across the state in a sustainable, healthy, and relatively low-impact manner. Stay tuned for updates on this front as we will be rolling out public surveys and gathering user group feedback. We hope to wrap up the study and share its results before the end of this summer.
If you’re still reading, thank you! Now go play in the snow 🙂