Maine Huts and Trails under new leadership
KINGFIELD - It's been three months to the day since Nicole Freedman took over as the Maine Huts and Trails executive director after David Herring left the position. Under Herring's six-year tenure, 45 miles of trails linking three huts from Carrabassett Valley to The Forks were completed.
With a long-term plan of developing 180 miles of non-motorized trails that connect 12 huts or lodges from the Mahoosuc Range Reserve on the New Hampshire border in a northeast march across western Maine to Rockwood on Moosehead Lake, Freedman's resumé leaves few doubting in her ability to accomplish the non-profit's ultimate vision.
"We're going to make it a world class destination," Freedman said. She added, "We'll be a model organization that's inviting and welcoming so everyone will want to come back."
Freedman, a three-time national bike racing champion and member of the 2000 Olympic cycling team, is credited with turning Boston's ranking as the worse city for bicycles into one of the best after just five years on the job.
With a degree in urban planning from Stanford, she served as director of bicycle programs for the city of Boston. Under her leadership, Freedman developed a broad-based 50-mile network of bike lanes with maps and racks available, a citywide bike share system, organized local professional bike races and coordinated a low-income community benefit bike program.
"We did everything," she said. "We turned it around in a short period of time." She credits Boston's Mayor Thomas Menino as the reason for the bike program's success. "He was 100 percent committed to the project. When the mayor's completely committed to a project, it will succeed," Freedman said.
She expects her experience in developing a bike program to translate into the same success at Maine Huts and Trails.
"So far, I've found out it's not that different," she said of the projects. "Both involve working in a start-up organization and both are making activities in the outdoors accessible to everyone," she said. "There's tremendous potential here."
Among her top priorities is for the Huts and Trail experience in Maine to be well-known for its smiling and helpful staff, excellent lodging amenities, well-developed signage and trail maps. Twenty full-time equivalent employees work at the huts while another six people work full time in management administration. Canoes and kayaks are available at the huts, bike and ski rentals are a stop off in Kingfield, as part of a growing business partnership with the local community. The idea of offering rentals and lessons at the huts is something to be explored, she said.
This summer's construction of new mountain bike trails will complete the first phase or a roughly a quarter of the entire hut system plan. At the same time, an increasing number of visitors are arriving from Boston and New York with an active development of the Montreal market underway. It all adds up to a real asset to the local community and its economy, Freedman noted.
So far, winter has proved the more popular season with many nights at full capacity as skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts explore the 50 miles of groomed trails that connect the huts. Each hut or lodge can accommodate and serve meals for 40 to 45 people. The Poplar Stream Falls hut in Carrabassett Valley opened in 2008. A year later, the Flagstaff Lake hut opened and in 2010, the Grand Falls hut at West Forks. A typical night's stay for one adult is $79 with a full breakfast and dinner included. Staying three or more nights, children, off-season and group rates are less. A day-trip stop for lunch is also available.
Year round occupancy is on the rise, Freedman noted, as word gets out, along with the development of more trails to accommodate non-motorized everything at no cost to use.
As a new resident of Kingfield, Freedman said the move from Boston to rural Maine was an easy one for her.
"It's stunningly beautiful here," she said. "I can just go out and it's right there."