Summit Huts emerges with renewed energy
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit Huts Association is emerging from a quiet period and is again talking about adding huts to the system. The organization “lost its way” three years ago when its reputation as a steward of the environment was shattered in an ugly battle to build the Lewis Hut near Copper Mountain, board president Rich Rowley said.Now the organization is emerging with repaired community relations and renewed energy that includes talk of adding huts within a thee- to five-year time frame. It is eyeing the B&B Mine property north of Breckenridge that is slated to be become open space. “It would be nice to connect (Breckenridge) with the Montezuma or Keystone area,” Rowley said. He said two structures are needed to comfortably make the traverse on that side of the county. A project like the Section House, a historic cabin on Boreas Pass redone to sleep 12, is the type of development the board wants to pursue. Rowley said the organization does not plan to build new structures like the three-story Janet’s and Francie’s cabins that are currently the backbone of the system.
About 127,000 nights are sold annually at the organization’s three locations for around $28 per person a night. Members use a lottery system to make reservations in the spring for the next season, but the huts are so popular it is difficult to reserve a bed without membership or unless a midweek stay is an option.”We’re almost maxed out,” Rowley said about occupancy. As the U.S. Forest Service finishes its travel management plan – the portion of the White River forest plan revision that assigns use to forest segments – Rowley said the board will begin to pursue new hut locations, which could include summer use for mountain bikers or hikers. Repaired relations; trimmed expensesThe Lewis Hut was put to bed three years ago amid heated public discussions when the Forest Service – formerly an ally of the organization – lambasted the plan and groups like Colorado Wild denounced the organization.
Its executive director quit and nearly all the board members left. Rowley, who is the remaining board member from the Lewis Hut era, became president. He recruited new members who somberly considered the organization. “We looked at our relationship with the community, the Forest Service and other backcountry users and said maybe we lost our focus,” Rowley said. U.S. Forest Service employee Paul Semmer, a planner with the Dillon Ranger District and a longtime volunteer for Summit Huts, was the most outspoken against the Lewis Hut, disagreeing mainly with the proposed location in wildlife habitat. “He was right,” Rowley said Friday. “We approached it poorly. I think we learned a lot and we’ve repaired a lot of those links.”Besides the public relations nightmare spurred by the Lewis Hut, the organization had underlying problems such as an annual deficit of $10,000 and declining membership. For the last few years, the board and staff increased membership by 60 percent, expanded volunteer programs and added the Backcountry Ball – an annual fundraiser set for Oct. 23 this year that is expected to again raise about $10,000.
Operations manager Mike Zobbe scrutinized every expense and stepped up to “beg and plead,” he said, for donated services. Trimmed expenses, combined with the successful fundraiser, helped the organization realize a $14,000 profit last year. The board also added educational programs in the schools – funded in part by Summit Foundation grants – to improve relations and help the community realize the huts are amenities for locals as much as out-of-town visitors.With finances under control, membership up, an improved relationship with its partners and a better community image, Rowley said the board is ready to pursue more hut locations, albeit it in a more demure manner. “We’re not going to be as aggressive as last time,” he said. “We really were in shock,” after the Lewis Hut, “so we’re not going into a new hut that way again.”Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at email@example.com.
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