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Forest Service denies Silver Lake hut but affirms Moosalamoo is an appropriate site

GOSHEN/LEICESTER — After nearly a year of discussion, the U.S. Forest Service on Friday, Jan. 6, denied a proposal to site a hut for overnight hiker stays near an existing campground at Silver Lake in the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area (MNRA).

But Forest Service Ranger Christopher Mattrick, in his Jan. 6 ruling, said the MNRA was an appropriate area for a hut and he expected efforts to find a site to continue.

“Following a thorough review of the public comments, resource specialist input, and additional conversations with both VHA (Vermont Huts Association) and the Moosalamoo Association (MA), I have decided to discontinue the analysis associated with the Silver Lake Hut Project and not approve the special use request for the proposed hut design at the proposed location,” Mattrick, who is ranger for Forest Service’s Middlebury District, wrote in a statement released Friday. “Hundreds of comments were received regarding this proposal and strong opinions were expressed both in opposition and support of the proposed Silver Lake Hut Project.”

The Vermont Huts Association, in partnership with the Moosalamoo Association, last year proposed erecting a hut near the Goshen/Leicester town line. It would be 1.5 stories tall and capable of hosting up to 10 guests in a footprint that’s less than 600 square feet. Guests would use an existing Forest Service privy a few hundred yards from the hut site. It would be designed so that people with mobility issues could use the hut. And the VHA hoped to give underrepresented Vermonters opportunities to experience the national forest.

In announcing his denial of the permit, Mattrick explained that no environmental, historical, archeological or other reviews revealed substantive concerns to prevent the siting of the proposed hut at the location about 300 feet away from the southeastern shore of Silver Lake where the trail comes down from the Goshen trailhead. Nevertheless, he wrote, he agreed with many public comments that the putting the VHA hut there could impair the experience of visitors.

“The environmental analysis revealed no issues of substantive natural resource concern or extraordinary circumstances related to the project to warrant an EA (Environmental Assessment (EA) or EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), nor were any concerns related to compliance with the Forest Plan identified,” Mattrick wrote.

“Ultimately, my decision is based on a determination that although the placement of a hut within the Moosalamoo National Recreation Area (MNRA) would be a benefit to the public and the (Green Mountain National Forest), the proposed hut design and location might tangibly alter the experience of the users approaching Silver Lake on the Goshen and Leicester Hollow Trails, as well as the Silver Lake Campground itself.

“This being said,” he continued, “I strongly believe the MNRA is an appropriate location for a hut, and the Moosalamoo Recreation and Education Management Area allows this type of recreation offering and opportunity according to management direction provided by the Forest Plan. Additionally, the issuance of a special use permit is the appropriate mechanism to enable such a recreation opportunity following a thorough environmental analysis.”

Mattrick noted there “remains strong interest in pursuing such an opportunity in the MNRA by partner organizations and many members of the public. To this end, we will work collaboratively with interested members of the public, VHA, and MA to locate and informally review potential locations for a hut in the MNRA in advance of a formal special use permit review and environmental analysis under (the National Environmental Policy Act).”

Moosalamoo Association President Angelo Lynn lauded the decision and the process.

“When we initiated this application to site a hut within the MNRA, the board spent several months of thoughtful consideration to determine what we thought would be the best site,” Lynn said. “We knew it would be controversial, as will any site, but also knew there was a thorough public process that would draw adequate public comment and participation. As a board we believed in that public process.”

Asked if the Moosalamoo Association would pursue another site for a hut operated by the Vermont Hut Association, Lynn said it would.

“The public good of a hut within the Moosalamoo is undeniable,” Lynn said. “One goal is to develop a through-hiking trail and hut system in the Green Mountains similar to what New Hampshire, Maine and many other states have. The Long Trail is there, but Vermont has been lacking a hut system, a void the Vermont Hut Association is seeking to fill. Plus, this is just another way to get visitors and area residents out of their homes and into the woods. Huts like the one proposed will allow many more residents to enjoy overnight camping, particularly in the winter months when cold weather prevents most from venturing outdoors overnight.”

Lynn added that the MNRA was a crucial location that will link an existing hut at Chittenden Brook (just east of Brandon Gap) with an easy day’s walk to the MNRA before having to cross the 24,986-acre Bread Loaf Wilderness Area, the state’s largest wilderness area. The Long Trail traverses 17.3 miles through the heart of the Bread Loaf Wilderness from Middlebury Gap to Lincoln Gap and crosses 10 peaks above 3,000 feet, but a hut with services can’t be built within that designated wilderness area.

“In going forward,” Lynn said, “we encourage the public to be involved but to understand the process necessitates an interested party to first identify possible sites, which then leads to a Forest Service review of those sites for suitability, all before a permit can be sought.

“We hope misinformation about any upcoming proposal will be minimized as area residents more clearly understand the process and with, perhaps, renewed faith that the process works,” Lynn said.

He added that the Moosalamoo Association is a citizens’ group dedicated to working with the Forest Service to develop best uses of the MNRA for the public good.

“With the help of area residents and towns,” he said, “we look forward to finding a suitable hut site in the near future.”

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