By Ramona du Houx
Governor John Baldacci assisted in the ground breaking of the first hut of the Maine Huts and Trails project at Western Maine’s Poplar Stream Falls in the Carrabassett Valley last September. The hut is the first of 12 that will be built along what will be a 180-mile recreation corridor stretching from Bethel to Moosehead Lake.
“It’s just the beginning. We’ve just barely written the first chapter of the story,” said Maine Huts and Trails Executive Director Dave Herring. “We want people from around the world to come and enjoy this unique trail.”
Poplar Stream Falls is located on land leased from the Penobscot Indian Nation. Working with the Governor’s Office, Chief Kirk Francis and Larry Warren came to an agreement.
“The Penobscot Indian Nation wholeheartedly supports this project. This gives us a great opportunity to partner with people who share the same core values as we do towards nature. We’re extremely proud to be a part of this, and to be a presence in the area. The ecotourism is important, but the most important part of this entire project is the friendships that we are forging,” said Penobscot Governor Francis.
Larry Warren, a founder of Western Mountains Foundation and visionary of the Huts and Trail system, has worked on this project for over 20 years. Over $4.2 million has been raised for the project. He walked through western Maine’s hills and valleys for years and developed the trail. The ground breaking was a milestone for him. “I’m thrilled that it’s happening. Western Maine has to transform itself from the industries of the past to the industries of the future,” said Warren. “We believe that nature-based tourism, experiential education, and quality destination resort facilities will create significant opportunities.”
“This is a great project for economic development, which will grow eco- tourism and many other types of economic development down the road,” said Brain Hodeges, business specialist for the Department of Economic and Community Development. “I think companies are looking for green opportunities. We certainly think there will be a lot of trickle down effect from new tourists coming to the area, staying for longer, and making use of local services, in addition to about 50 jobs over the next five years.”
People could hike, boat, snowshoe, or ski the trail system, stopping to rent the huts for the evening and continuing their trip the next day. The huts are “huts” only in name. The architectural rendering showed them to resemble stylish cabins. The dozen huts, to be open year round, will be about 12 miles apart, with sites on ponds, lakes, rivers, and in the foothills. They are modeled after Maine’s traditional sporting camps, with a main building with attached porch that houses the kitchen.
A stay at a hut, able to accommodate 40 guests per night, could include two meals, cooked onsite with propane, and shower facilities.
“What’s not to like about this project?” asked Governor Baldacci praising the work of the Trail volunteers and staff. “You have people working together to take advantage of economic development and tourism done in a responsible manner. Maine has already protected and conserved some of the most spectacular pieces of land in the country with Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin, and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Now we are witnessing doors opening to another awe-inspiring part of Maine for future generations to experience and enjoy. The trail system also fits in perfectly with the state’s Take It Outside initiative, which encourages young people to experience and appreciate the natural world.”
Maine Huts and Trails was founded by Mainers who share a vision for preserving Maine’s beautiful, remote areas. Their goal is to preserve some of Western Maine’s best backcountry for the purposes of conservation and environmentally sensitive economic development, and ensure public access for generations to come.
“For years I’ve come here and visited the falls with my friends. Larry has put a beacon of light on the really special things we have in this area, and I know from my own personal enjoyment of the area people will love it,” said Olympian Seth Wescott. “Larry and I share the same vision for Western Maine.”
“It’s a world-class initiative,” said Karen Tilburg of the Governor’s Office. “It’s going to be a way for people to get to know Maine and the many different aspects we offer. Today is a tremendous beginning. When it is all completed, it will attract visitors from around the world.”
With ecotourism on the rise, Maine will be ready to accommodate—with this trail system that will also provide informational pamphlets, history, and educational guides
“Building this trail throughout Maine and making it accessible to people who aren’t hard-core campers is great,” said Adam Lee. “It will get people back out into the woods. It also shows a way forward for the kind of growth we need in the state.”
Thomas Dodd, age seven said, “I think it’s great to see Larry’s dream come true. He followed his dream to make it all happen.”