More hut-to-hut hiking in the USA?

Americans love to hike their 167,00 miles of trails located on federal and state lands. We are building new trails to meet demand, and trail use is projected to continue increasing. But how do Americans feel about placing hut systems on some fraction of their trails? How do we feel as a nation about hut-to-hut hiking, skiing and biking? No one knows. It’s worth talking about.

In the USA there are a dozen or so hut-to-hut systems. While popular with those in the know, hut systems are not yet part of the consciousness of most American outdoor enthusiasts and recreation professionals. There is almost no discussion about huts as part of our growing outdoor recreation and education infrastructure, and we know little about how they operate. Why does this matter?

First, population growth, along with demographic, lifestyle, and health trends are creating increased pressure for access to the outdoors. How can we accommodate more people on our trails without damaging the environment we are trying to preserve? The irrepressible impulse of Americans to connect with the outdoors is a significant challenge to parks and recreation managers. Hut systems are an environmentally responsible way of supporting human use of the back-country.

Second, we seem to have created a hiking paradigm of extremes: backpacking vs. day hiking — with nothing in-between. Of the 35,000,000 American “hikers”, 3% identify as backpackers, and 97% as day-hikers. Backpacking is great for the few of us who are strong enough to carry the weight, can afford the equipment, and highly resourceful and skilled. But lets talk about the 97%.

What are we doing to meet the needs of the “day-hikers” who are eager to go beyond 1 – 5 hour hikes that start and end at a car?

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