Vermont may get a new backcountry hut in the Moosalamoo. Here's how to weigh in
The U.S. Forest Service is looking for feedback on a plan to put a new year-round backcountry hut at Silver Lake. It’s a beloved hiking destination in Addison County’s Moosalamoo National Recreation Area. While a lot of locals say they’re excited about a hut there, another coalition are concerned it will bring unwanted new traffic to their favorite place to recreate.
One of those locals is Galina Chernaya, of Goshen.
On a recent summer day, she hiked the Goshen Trail, a quiet footpath lined with tall beech and maple trees that leads to Silver Lake.
“In, like, July, August… here, you can see so many mushrooms,” she said. “And I mean good mushrooms, like King Boletes.”
The Goshen Trail is sort of like the back door to Silver Lake. You descend to get to the water, and it’s less popular than the Silver Lake Trail, which climbs past the Falls of Lana, rising up the hillside from Salisbury’s Lake Dunmore.
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Chernaya lives just a few minutes away from the Goshen trailhead. She hikes into Silver Lake most days and has been coming here since the early nineties.
During the pandemic, she and her husband relocated to the 160-person town full-time. They love the quiet, high up in the hills in Addison County.
And, she says, “It was all going great until I learned about this proposal.”
Silver Lake is the favored site for a proposed new hike-to, four-season backcountry hut. If approved, it would be roughly the 13th in the Vermont Hut system, a network that spans the state.
The building would have a loft and bunk beds to sleep 10, but no running water. It’d sit on metal piles instead of a permanent foundation, out of sight of the lake, above an abandoned USFS campsite.
Chernaya doesn’t want to see Silver Lake change, and she’s worried this hut – and the people it will bring – will alter the peaceful character of the place.
“[It’s] the place where I really can take a deep breath and decompress,” she said.
Chernaya has rallied more than 500 people to send letters to the Forest Service, asking them to pump the breaks and do a more in-depth study of how a hut would affect the plants and wildlife at Silver Lake.
The Forest Service says they are in the midst of doing site reviews for archaeological evidence and for environmental impact, as required by the National Environmental Protection Act. But Chernaya’s group would like to see them go further.
However, other locals support the project, and some of those supporters object to the way Chernaya’s group has characterized it.
Sue Hoxie is president of the Moosalamoo Association. They’re a small nonprofit conservation and recreation group that advises the Forest Service about how to manage the National Recreation Area, or NRA. They’re mostly local volunteers from the surrounding communities.
Hoxie says when they started thinking about a hut in the Moosalamoo, Silver Lake rose to the forefront as an ideal location.
“Silver Lake is a popular and well-used area,” she said. “And it really connects well to the trail network that’s within Moosalamoo NRA.”
There’s already an existing privy – one of the Forest Service’s conditions for approving a site for a new hut – and the trails aren’t used much in the winter. A wide path that has the feel of an old road winds around the lake, with 15 campsites off of it.
RJ Thompson leads the nonprofit Vermont Huts Association, which would manage the hut with the Moosalamoo group if it’s approved.
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This summer, they broke ground on another new hut at Grout Pond in Stratton. He says both that hut and the one at Silver Lake are designed to have as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible.
There are places in our lives that are just sacred, whether they be human made or natural.Ken Techacek
“If for some reason, you know, 10 or 15 years from now, we said, ‘boy that needs to go somewhere else,’ we could, in theory, disassemble it and unscrew those ground screws,” Thompson said. “And in a month or so, when vegetation regrows, you wouldn’t know that there was a hut there.”
While it’s common to hear a loon call at dusk at Silver Lake or find a lady’s slipper orchid, it’s not in a federally designated wilderness area – where a hut wouldn’t be allowed.
In fact, Hoxie points out: National Recreation Areas are federal lands set aside for conservation because of the recreation value they hold, for everybody. She says a hut would make it easier for young families or older people to spend the night at Silver Lake.
“People who would use the hut overnight could walk out their door the next morning and have access to miles and miles of trails, they can swim in the lake, they can fish, just all sorts of opportunities there,” Hoxie said.
And when it comes to recreation, there is something rare about Silver Lake as a backcountry destination: you can bike in. That makes it accessible for people who use a wheelchair or adaptive bicycle.
Jeff Alexander works with Vermont Adaptive.
“Just being able to get deep into the woods, to be able to spend time with mother nature, a little further out than normal trail systems – I think would be definitely beneficial for a lot of people,” he said.
The hut will have a ramp and ADA accessible beds on the first floor. The closest privy can be accessed on an adaptive bike.
Right now, there’s only one other truly ADA accessible backcountry hut in Vermont.
Alexander says this hut at Silver Lake would offer people with disabilities a sorely needed opportunity to spend a night in the woods with friends or family, the sort of opportunity that opens the door for real inclusion in the outdoors.
The hut’s location could still change. Other possible sites include the Moosalamoo Campground or Sugar Hill Reservoir.
Amey Ryan is a small business owner in Middlebury. She mountain bikes and hikes at Silver Lake, but doesn’t like to camp. She says she’d love to stay at a hut there, and thinks it would add to Addison County’s reputation as an outdoor destination.
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“I think the longer impact is that you’re introducing people to an area of the state that they might not have otherwise been to,” Ryan said. “And over the course of time they may return to the area, so that you’ve now exposed them to the cool town that is Brandon, or you know, if they come over to Middlebury or if they go to Rochester.”
Longtime Salisbury resident Ken Techacek was at a recent public meeting about the project, where emotions ran high. He hasn’t yet decided if he supports a hut at Silver Lake, but he says he trusts the Moosalamoo Association and Forest Service’s process.
He was struck by the deep care held for Silver Lake by everyone in the room.
“There are places in our lives that are just sacred, whether they be human made or natural …” Techacek said.
He says it’s easy to feel a sense of pride and responsibility for them – especially when you live close by. And it’s tough when your favorite trailhead gets crowded.
Techacek says, “I don’t think I have any more right to the Silver Lake Trail or Silver Lake, than somebody who lives in Vergennes or St. Albans or even New York City.”
The Forest Service is taking public comment on the project through July 11th.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles @AbagaelGiles.