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Thread: Maine Huts and Trails not opening two huts for full service this summer and fall

  1. #16
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Looks like they will have 4 huts open for self service this winter with volunteer caretakers.

    https://www.pressherald.com/2019/11/...n-this-winter/

    Hopefully they will figure out a new business model, as at some point revenue has to match expenses.
    Thanks for the update. Will be interesting to see how the self service model works.
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

  2. #17
    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Looks like they will have 4 huts open for self service this winter with volunteer caretakers.

    https://www.pressherald.com/2019/11/...n-this-winter/

    Hopefully they will figure out a new business model, as at some point revenue has to match expenses.
    Those huts have a lot of sophisticated systems for volunteer caretakers to manage: wood fired boilers, solar arrays and batteries, composting toilets and circulation systems for hot water to out buildings. Never a dull moment! And then there are the "guests."

    Big job.
    Nobody told me there'd be days like these
    Strange days indeed -- most peculiar, mama
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  3. #18
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    Just got back from caretaker training this weekend at Flagstaff. Pretty interesting to see behind the curtain on what it takes to actually run one of the huts. As of now, all 4 are open for self-service. $50 a night for non-members, bring in your own food and adult beverages and pack out your trash and clean up after yourself. They've slimmed down operations to the bare minimum to make ends meet. They are still grooming the trails between the Huts, but definitely they need someone with marketing skills. We snowshoed in yesterday morning and out this evening. It was a nice, crisp 8* when we left tonight. The huts are free for day use, but they started asking for donations, and similar to the AMC huts, depending on the caretaker, there will be fresh baked goods for sale.

  4. #19
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egilbe View Post
    Just got back from caretaker training this weekend at Flagstaff. Pretty interesting to see behind the curtain on what it takes to actually run one of the huts. As of now, all 4 are open for self-service. $50 a night for non-members, bring in your own food and adult beverages and pack out your trash and clean up after yourself. They've slimmed down operations to the bare minimum to make ends meet. They are still grooming the trails between the Huts, but definitely they need someone with marketing skills. We snowshoed in yesterday morning and out this evening. It was a nice, crisp 8* when we left tonight. The huts are free for day use, but they started asking for donations, and similar to the AMC huts, depending on the caretaker, there will be fresh baked goods for sale.
    Thanks for the update. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your effort.
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

  5. #20
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    Battery problems at Grand Falls, so that hut will be closed all winter.
    Last edited by Peaks; 01-18-2020 at 01:48 PM.

  6. #21
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    Are you sure its Flagstaff and not Grand Falls?. They announced Grand Falls would be closed awhile back. That would mean two of the four huts will be closed. I would understand Grand Falls as logistically its more difficult to access but Flagstaff hut is less remote. That is a bummer but not unexpected. Batteries and in general off grid power systems require babysitting. It would be difficult to have a rotating cast of volunteers trained to do the necessary maintenance. Batteries have a finite life 10 to 12 years (optimistically) and quite costly to replace. Its real easy to accidentally to draw too much power from them just a couple of times and loose 1/4 to 1/3 of the potential life of the batteries. Let them run low on electrolyte and they also lose 1/4 to 1/3rd the life. Same thing if the batteries are not equalized routinely. This requires the batteries to be intentionally overcharged typically using a generator and that requires fuel. If this is not done every couple of months, the batteries lose discharge capacity and then its even easier to draw too much power out of the remaining capacity. Flooded lead acid batteries are still being used as lithium ion chemistry is still substantially more expensive than lead. Dependent on the capacity of the battery bank, its a potentially a 20K cost for replacement. Talk to anyone living long term off grid and battery life is usually becomes an obsession after the first expensive premature battery replacement. The usual observation is that off gird batteries rarely die of old age, they normally are murdered by neglect.

    For those not familiar with the Flagstaff Hut (I have not been to Grandfalls), its a pretty complex building, far more complex than a typical AMC hut. Operating it without power would be difficult as it was designed to be heated with a central wood boiler and that boiler needs power to run as the kitchen and bathrooms need running water. It does have foam flush composting toilets but even they need some power to run and I expect the compost ability would substantially slow down if not kept warm. It has a solar electric array but early winter is historically the cloudiest months so its dependent on a standby generator that requires fuel to run (not sure if if diesel or propane, most likely propane). Given the financial situation of MHT, it would be hard to envision that the wood and backup fuel was put in place for this winter.

    One of the goals of the developers and financial supporters of the huts was to make them world class, they visited hut systems around the world and set the bar high that these huts would be "better". In order to offer the amenities they felt they needed to attract high end clientele, they built huts that require 24/7 caretaking and a certain base operating cost which is somewhat independent of the number of guests. They are now in a situation that any reserves appear to have been spent and in order to run they need cash flow. They are now in chicken and egg situation where in order to survive they need guests but in order to get the guests they need money and reserves to make it through the lean periods.

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peaks View Post
    Battery problems at Flagstaff, so that hut will be closed all winter.
    Sue still has caretakers scheduled for Flagstaff. hmmm...

  8. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Are you sure its Flagstaff and not Grand Falls?. They announced Grand Falls would be closed awhile back. That would mean two of the four huts will be closed. I would understand Grand Falls as logistically its more difficult to access but Flagstaff hut is less remote. That is a bummer but not unexpected. Batteries and in general off grid power systems require babysitting. It would be difficult to have a rotating cast of volunteers trained to do the necessary maintenance. Batteries have a finite life 10 to 12 years (optimistically) and quite costly to replace. Its real easy to accidentally to draw too much power from them just a couple of times and loose 1/4 to 1/3 of the potential life of the batteries. Let them run low on electrolyte and they also lose 1/4 to 1/3rd the life. Same thing if the batteries are not equalized routinely. This requires the batteries to be intentionally overcharged typically using a generator and that requires fuel. If this is not done every couple of months, the batteries lose discharge capacity and then its even easier to draw too much power out of the remaining capacity. Flooded lead acid batteries are still being used as lithium ion chemistry is still substantially more expensive than lead. Dependent on the capacity of the battery bank, its a potentially a 20K cost for replacement. Talk to anyone living long term off grid and battery life is usually becomes an obsession after the first expensive premature battery replacement. The usual observation is that off gird batteries rarely die of old age, they normally are murdered by neglect.

    For those not familiar with the Flagstaff Hut (I have not been to Grandfalls), its a pretty complex building, far more complex than a typical AMC hut. Operating it without power would be difficult as it was designed to be heated with a central wood boiler and that boiler needs power to run as the kitchen and bathrooms need running water. It does have foam flush composting toilets but even they need some power to run and I expect the compost ability would substantially slow down if not kept warm. It has a solar electric array but early winter is historically the cloudiest months so its dependent on a standby generator that requires fuel to run (not sure if if diesel or propane, most likely propane). Given the financial situation of MHT, it would be hard to envision that the wood and backup fuel was put in place for this winter.

    One of the goals of the developers and financial supporters of the huts was to make them world class, they visited hut systems around the world and set the bar high that these huts would be "better". In order to offer the amenities they felt they needed to attract high end clientele, they built huts that require 24/7 caretaking and a certain base operating cost which is somewhat independent of the number of guests. They are now in a situation that any reserves appear to have been spent and in order to run they need cash flow. They are now in chicken and egg situation where in order to survive they need guests but in order to get the guests they need money and reserves to make it through the lean periods.
    The huts run primarily on Propane generators in the Winter. The generators automatically come on if the charge starts to get too low. It runs for two hours minimum and then until the batteries are fully charged. If you manually start the generator, it will shut off when the batteries are topped off and not run for the minimum two hours. Normally, the hut staff will start the generators manually during high usage times, like at sundown, before dinner when everyone takes a shower. The well pump is a huge energy draw. The maintenance crew (think its down to two people?) takes care of the batteries so the hut staff, or caretaker, has very little to do with them. Basically, the caretaker fills the Tarm wood boiler, cleans up the ashes, makes sure overnight guests clean up after themselves and cleans. There is a phone number to call if its anything too technical.

    The huts business model was initially to be run as a hospitality service, but not enough traffic to keep that going. Now, its more like an RMC camp, with showers and warmer. The costs are pared down significantly.

  9. #24
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    I stayed there two winters ago. The Huts are more like lodges, really comfortable. I would like to finish by skiing all the way to the Forks sometime.

  10. #25
    Senior Member ChrisB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by egilbe View Post
    ...The huts business model was initially to be run as a hospitality service, but not enough traffic to keep that going. Now, its more like an RMC camp, with showers and warmer. The costs are pared down significantly.
    The AMC is dogged in its efforts to drive traffic to its Maine facilities: email, advertising and incentives are the norm.

    Sugarloaf survives as a destination resort relying on condo owners / renters and deep-pocket corporate owners. Saddleback/Rangley face their own financial struggles and challenges.

    Makes me wonder about the viability of "far North" hiking-related facilities, especially during the winter season. Snowmobilers seem willing make the long drive North but not hikers and XC'ers.
    Last edited by ChrisB; 01-08-2020 at 08:45 AM.
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  11. #26
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    [QUOTE=Peaks;452028]Battery problems at Flagstaff, so that hut will be closed all winter.[/QUOTE

    Corrected: Grand Falls, not Flagstaff. Sorry for the confusion

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    The AMC is dogged in its efforts to drive traffic to its Maine facilities: email, advertising and incentives are the norm.

    Sugarloaf survives as a destination resort relying on condo owners / renters and deep-pocket corporate owners. Saddleback/Rangley face their own financial struggles and challenges.

    Makes me wonder about the viability of "far North" hiking-related facilities, especially during the winter season. Snowmobilers seem willing make the long drive North but not hikers and XC'ers.
    Lot warmer on a snowmachine and easeir to get around. Winter hiking numbers are much less then summer numbers of course. This goes for the whole USA.

  13. #28
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    Ironically, the one hut that is easiest to get to on a snowmobile, Grand Falls, is closed. It had a water pipe burst and soaked the charge controller/heat controller, in the basement. Its been jury-rigged to so-so work, but no one is confidant that its foolproof.

  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by ChrisB View Post
    The AMC is dogged in its efforts to drive traffic to its Maine facilities: email, advertising and incentives are the norm.

    Sugarloaf survives as a destination resort relying on condo owners / renters and deep-pocket corporate owners. Saddleback/Rangley face their own financial struggles and challenges.

    Makes me wonder about the viability of "far North" hiking-related facilities, especially during the winter season. Snowmobilers seem willing make the long drive North but not hikers and XC'ers.
    Time may take care of this...

    If I was in the market to buy a second home as a base for winter activities, I would definitely head far North.

  15. #30
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    Warning thread drift !!- I have read some interesting theories on a large rural recreational real estate crash related to the baby boom. Currently the boomers as a class have plenty of assets and are investing in rural second homes and recreational properties. Many of the boomers were brought up where the family had a camp or knew someone who did. I know when I was growing up, lakefront within an hour or two was readily available and affordable to the middle class, boomers grew up with that expectation and have continued it. Most economic studies show the next generations following the boom have far less assets. Nature does not grow waterfront and if anything the boomers have driven the price up on these properties as they have assets and access to cheap credit. The problem is the market is pricing itself out of the potential future market. Already in my area a lot of multi-generational family properties are being sold outside the families as the older generation of boomers is aging and looking to cash out their assets in order to pay living ,medical expenses and eventually assisted living and nursing homes. The next generation of the families just dont have the cash to buy them out. There are still affluent younger boomers grabbing up properties but the typical buyers are retired or near retired couples frequently blended couples whose children have long since grown up. They hope to reestablish the multi-generational second home in the mountains but the reality seems to be far more likely that they join the community for a few years and then sell out to a new unrelated buyer when age catches up with them. I have seen this up close in Randolph NH over the last 20 years and I dont see it changing anytime soon. My limited discussions with hikers of younger generations is they are uninterested in being tied down to one vacation location. They tend to pick different destinations and think they can get the "best" of a location in a limited trip. Sure some owners are doing well off of Air B&Bs but its mostly due to limited supply and big demand for short term experiences.

    Fast forward 15 to 20 years and unless there is a major shift in social trends, the number of new younger buyers are going to dry up while the number of sellers will increase as the boomers age out. This sets up a long term potential that second homes become a depreciating asset. Banks do not tend to lend money on properties that are going to depreciate unless the buyers are in with a lot of skin (or they sell the paper and the government bails out the market )

    Even more drift - Of course there can always be a Black Swan event where the general population do not want to live in cities. With current or near term technology there is no need for many to go to traditional offices. One possible borderline Black Swan scenario is a major terrorist event in a major city, suddenly dispersed living starts to look attractive. No longer a Black Swan is AGW due to climate change. Its highly likely living along the coasts in coastal cities is going to prove increasingly difficult. A warmer atmosphere means more hurricanes and given the news out of Greenland and Antarctica there could be a substantial increase in sea level in the next 20 years to the point were major infrastructure in coastal cities is underwater. When several blocks of waterfront Boston, New York and Portland are consistently underwater and large amounts of Florida are uninhabitable their desirability will decrease. Of course individual energy use and environmental impact is far less for city dwellers than country dwellers so a carbon diet is going to encourage city living.

    To tie it back into the thread, there should eventually be demand for experiences like MHT and AMC 100 MW trips but it may take awhile and MHT looks like it may not make it.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 01-20-2020 at 03:58 PM.

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