I just returned from the public informational meeting about the “hut” which is proposed to be built at Silver Lake, and I find myself both more opposed to the project than I was before I attended, and somewhat disillusioned.
First, the reasons that I initially opposed the project were all confirmed, in spades. The proposed structure isn’t really a “hut,” any reasonable person would categorize it more as a small two-story house; one with living areas and multiple bedrooms, propane heat, and a kitchen. It is clearly a form of creeping development and seems markedly out of place in the beautiful, quiet and relatively pristine Silver Lake area. It will require road access for a propane truck, and I can think of few things more out of place and jarring on a peaceful hike to Silver Lake than a large diesel-powered propane truck laboring by on its way to deliver fuel.
To see all this in a broader perspective — it was quite in vogue 50 years ago to “develop” parks and natural areas to draw in visitors, and national and state parks in those decades were built up with gas stations, hotels, amphitheaters, stores, and the like, and then with concomitant support infrastructure — small power plants, wastewater treatment plants, etc. Fortunately, we have realized the error of our ways, and this development in our parks has largely been halted, and in many cases is in the process of being actively reversed.
This proposal for Silver Lake, however, is going in the wrong direction; the proponents of the project are on the wrong side of history here. Our problems today aren’t that too few people use our parks and natural areas, but that there is too much development and habitat destruction outside of these places, and our natural areas are our last vestiges of wild and untouched land, places where one can actually find solitude and untrammeled nature. As someone said at the meeting, we won’t realize what we have until it’s gone.
All this being said, however, it was other aspects of the meeting that I found even more disturbing than the overall misguided nature of the proposal. For a start, the Forest Service, which was hosting the meeting for the ostensible purpose of gathering public comment, seemed to be far from a neutral arbiter. Their representative claimed to be undecided, but to this observer, and I daresay many in the crowd, he seemed to be a proponent of the project, perhaps even an avid one. I fervently hope that I can take him at his word, and that he will be able to evaluate this project dispassionately.
Then, the project is being proposed (and pushed) by the Vermont Huts Association and by the Moosalamoo Association. And the president of the Moosalamoo Association is none other than Angelo Lynn, whose opinion I normally respect but don’t in this case, and who is also the publisher/editor of the Addison Independent. As such, I am curious as to whether the newspaper will publish this letter. If not — we have ANOTHER problem, where one of our main mediums of public discourse is being cut off or slanted toward a particular bias or point of view.
But assuming this is published, we then have a third problem, which was elucidated by one of the speakers who is an accountant. Groups like the Vermont Huts Association classify themselves as nonprofits, or 503(c)(3)s. They may meet the letter of the law on this matter, but they are clearly money-making businesses that pay their employees and seek to grow. If memory serves, this accountant had looked up the group’s public tax filings, as they reported something like $100,000 in revenue last year, and one of their employees, who was present, stated that he earns $65,000 a year, which included a recent raise for “doing a good job,” which I assume to mean successfully expanding this organization’s presence. So, this is an association, and they said as much at the meeting, that is essentially trying to build more and more lodging facilities on public land.
Worse, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, another speaker spoke at length about how she was unable to gain access to or reserve huts operated by this group. It turns out (and this was confirmed by the representative there), that members of the Vermont Huts Association are given a week of advance time to book stays in these lodging facilities before times are available to the public. Anyone can join and become a member, but only by paying an annual $35 membership fee. The speaker spoke of trying many times, and ultimately being unable to successfully book a stay in one of these buildings, even after paying the membership fee.
So, slowly, over the course of the long meeting, the full and increasingly dismal picture of what is happening here began to emerge. What we have here is a money-making business that is the very definition of a special-interest group, that has made it their business to learn the ins and outs of applying for and gaining Forest Service approval for its projects, for the nearly exclusive benefit of members of their own organization. All of this, on sensitive public land, at our expense and detriment.
Thus, the disillusionment.
Many in the crowd who opposed the project (which seemed to be the vast majority), seemed to think that moving the location of this building to the Moosalamoo Campground would be an acceptable fix. I disagree — this project should be rejected entirely, and I would urge the Moosalamoo Association to take a good hard look at the long arc of history, and see the value in protecting what we have in the Moosalamoo area, and to consider that the best way to protect it could well be by doing nothing. Or, as another speaker mentioned, maybe we Vermont voters need to become actively involved here, and take steps to reclassify this area as wilderness, a step that would surely give it more protections.
The meeting was recorded, and the video will supposedly be made available by PEG-TV in Rutland, on their website. For those of you who feel that I might be misrepresenting these matters, I urge you to watch it and decide for yourself. And if you see what I saw, I urge you to get involved and let your voice be heard. The Forest Service comment period is open until July 11, emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.