PINKHAM NOTCH — The Appalachian Mountain Club has announced that it will be closing its high mountain huts for the season as well as other facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, both Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the Highland Center at Crawford Notch are still slated to open July 1.
Nina Paus-Weiler, AMC digital media and communications manager, announced Thursday that “Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins in Maine will be closed for the duration of 2020, as will our full system of high huts in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Paus-Weller, who is based out of the club’s headquarters in Charlestown, Mass., said: "These are painful conclusions for staff, volunteers, members and visitors alike. Please know that we come to them with our collective health and safety as our top priority.”
Chris Thayer, AMC director of North Country programs and community relations, said it was a difficult decision given the history, heritage and popularity of the huts.
"It has been both heart-wrenching and heartbreaking to read the comments on social media of not only our OH (Old Hutmen) members but also those who looked forward to serving the public this summer as hut 'croo' members," Thayer told the Sun on Friday. "But the safety of our staff, members and the public is paramount."
He said the club annually hires about 50 people to work in the AMC hut system in the White Mountains. Thayer estimated that the impact of the loss of lodging revenue to be "in the millions."
The club operates the huts under special-use permits from the White Mountain National Forest for seven of the huts and from the state of New Hampshire for Lonesome Lake in Franconia.
Spaced a day’s hike apart, the eight High Huts of the White Mountains from west to east are Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, Madison Spring (the oldest, first opened in 1888) and Carter Notch.
Lonesome Lake, Zealand and Carter Notch operate on a caretaker self-serve basis in winter.
All of the AMC facilities closed in mid-March due to the pandemic.
The huts are staffed by a team of five to nine caretakers, mostly college students who work during the full-service summer season. “Croo” members work 11 days on, three days off. During their 11 working shifts, croo members must make four trips down to get perishable food and other supplies, carrying heavy loads. Normally, at the beginning of each season, fuel and supplies are flown into the huts by helicopter.
Becky Fullerton, AMC archivist, notes this is the first tie that all of the huts have been closed at the same time, although many of the huts were closed intermittently during World War II, when they were staffed by couples and families with the shortage of "croo" men during the war as the huts were staffed by all male crews until the 1970s.
Paus-Weiler said that the AMC had planned to open limited public operations in early June but abandoned those plans given “increasing uncertainty” about the club’s ability to do that safely, “following public health trends in the communities where the club operates."
She said: "We have now made the difficult decision to extend the full closure of all club facilities and staff-led, in-person activities to July 1, 2020."
She added that volunteer-led events remain canceled until June 4. Over the next two weeks, volunteers and staff will assess “if and how to move forward at that time.” She said updates will be posted in mid-May.
She said the AMC will continue to monitor the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other government entities concerning the coronavirus and public health.
“All decisions about bringing facilities back online will be made in alignment with their guidance under the expectation that many services will need to be adapted to new and evolving health and safety protocols, including adjustments to lodging and food-service operations," Paus-Weiler said.
According to the AMC, canceled and closed until July 1 are:
• All AMC facilities, shelters, campsites, trips, programs and activities; guests and participants may rebook for later in the season or 2021, receive a credit to be used within two years or receive a full refund.
Closed for the remainder of 2020:
• All AMC High Mountain Huts; guests may rebook their trip for 2021 or move their existing reservation to another AMC facility. Guests with a lodge-to-hut trip may move their entire visit to a lodge, receive a credit to be used within two years or receive a full refund.
• AMC’s White Mountain Hiker Shuttle.
• Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins (Maine); guests may rebook for 2021 or transfer their reservation to another available AMC location, receive a credit to be used within two years or receive a full refund.
August volunteer-led camps and cabins should reach out to their camp registrars for site-specific cancellation policies.
To contact the AMC, call (603) 466-2727 or go to email@example.com.