Could a trail system be the key to aiding a region’s long-term economy while immediately benefiting its people by bringing them outdoors? It’s an idea that struck Benton MacKaye, the Appalachian Trail cofounder who envisioned a corridor of locally owned businesses dotting that path. More than 100 years later, it’s still an idea with legs—or so hopes a duo of planners in New York.
Joe Dadey, 57, spent eight years teaching ecotourism at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks and traveling the world with students. After hiking hut-to-hut on New Zealand’s Kepler Track in December 2012, Dadey wondered if a similar system could benefit New York’s Adirondack Park and its surrounding communities.
In 2014, he reached out to Jack Drury, 68, a writer and environmental educator. The two began working together and, in December of that year, they received a grant from the state, funding three years of project development. The result, which they submitted to New York’s Department of State in December 2017, is the Adirondack Community-Based Trails and Lodging System (ACTLS), a proposal that spans the entire 6.1-million acre Adirondack Park and seeks to connect 102 municipalities. Its plan identifies 59 multiday hiking routes that will include overnight facilities every 8 to 12 miles.
“The hut–to–hut concept being explored would leverage these investments into solid new economic opportunities for countless communities and businesses within the Park,” says Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
It’s a model that’s proven effective elsewhere. “AMC’s hut system in New Hampshire and its new system of lodges and trails in Maine have brought economic vitality to surrounding rural economies,” says Walter Graff, senior vice president of AMC. “The concept of using existing infrastructure and engaging directly with local communities is the right direction and will have the greatest chance for success.”
Although Dadey and Drury refer to ACTLS as a “hut-to-hut” system, it strays from the traditional concept of a backcountry experience. ACTLS focuses primarily on pre-existing frontcountry locations ranging form upscale cabins to five-star hotels. The idea is to cater to an audience not already utilizing Adirondack Park’s backcountry campsites and shelters.
One local business owner supporting the plan is Jim Rucker, of the Garnet Hill Lodge, in North River, N.Y. “I’ve skied in Norway [where] there’s an incredible network of trails you can hike or ski between towns. Something similar in the Adirondacks could be really great,” he says. Rucker has been working with Dadey and Drury for the past year on the North Creek Indian Lake Circuit, the first route sketched out by ACTLS. Set to open later this year, the four-day, family-friendly itinerary will include Gore, Peaked, and Balm of Gilead mountains, with the option for overnight stays at Garnet Hill, in addition to other inns and farms.
Also in the past year, Dadey formed the nonprofit Adirondack Hamlets to Huts (AHH), which he describes as a “one-stop-shop” where hikers can book lodging along the designated routes. The AHH Trails Center in Saranac Lake, N.Y., currently offers trail advice, conservation and wilderness skills workshops, and merchandise, with proceeds supporting the development of ACTLS routes. Future plans include volunteer trail-maintenance events. With the submission of the plan in December, phase one of ACTLS has come to a close, but Dadey says the work is just beginning: “It’s a long-term project that’s going to go well into the future. We’re just going to work with the state and other entities to create one route at a time and make them high quality.”