BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — The evening of June 8 was pristine and harmonious for anyone lucky enough to be outside for a stroll. The sky sparkled with light. Happy little clouds bobbed along as if imitating the fluffy heave of the peonies beneath. It was the kind of night Vermonters have come to expect—the kind that makes visitors fall in love and never want to leave.
And yet, for the 45 or so people gathered inside Café Provence’s event space, the air was fraught with uncertainty and accusation.
The Moosamaloo Association and Vermont Huts Association, alongside the U.S. Forest Service, held a public information meeting that night and were joined by a group of concerned citizens in person and via Zoom about a proposal to build a hut on the east side of Silver Lake about 315-feet from the shore.
Brief remarks were made outlining the proposal (which can be found online at https://moosalamoo.org/hut), after which there was a spirited question and answer period where more than two dozen citizens were allowed to voice their concerns, each given five minutes to make their remarks.
The meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, was meant to be a respectful exchange of information between the two non-profit organizations, the USFS, and the general public.
For the most part, the meeting was peaceable enough, although there were moments when opposing viewpoints threatened to derail the affable pretense of the occasion.
The vast majority of attendees who spoke voiced their opposition to the proposal, citing a variety of concerns, including environmental destruction, unfair maintenance burdens to the towns nearby, questions about the functional accessibility of the hut, general fears of ongoing developmental creep, and an abiding concern for the lake’s population of loons.
Some who spoke in support of the huts countered the opposition with accusations of NIMBYism, with one businessperson urging the public to consider the potential positive economic impact of the hut and the hut system.
Reasons the associations gave for locating the hut, which can sleep up to 10 people and has an average occupancy of 6.6 people, at Silver Lake included the premise that it would encourage more use of the area during the seven months of winter (November through May) when the area is underused; that it would allow older residents and families with young children to enjoy camping near the lake without having to carry large backpacks with camping gear and without fear of bears getting into a child’s tent; and because it was set back from the lakeshore out-of-view and just south of the last of 11 existing campsites, it would have a minimal impact of the lake’s aesthetics. The cost to rent the hut varies according to the season, from $65 to $165 per night, which is split between up-to-10 campers, meaning the price per person could be as low as $10-$16 per night.
Others said they supported huts in general but countered that putting the hut near Silver Lake would spoil the lake’s pristine environment and implored the two associations to locate the hut elsewhere.
At one point, RJ Thompson addressed the crowd’s swelling opposition. “We recognize that there would be and is opposition,” he said. “If it feels lopsided here, that’s the reality of tonight. But we do have a lot of folks who support this work.”
The Vermont Hut Association currently has 11 huts in its network, primarily in central Vermont. The VHA recently built a hut at Chittenden Brook Campground on the other side of Brandon Gap off Route 73.
Several opponents of the Silver Lake site suggested a better location within the Moosalamoo National Recreational Area would be at the Moosalamoo Campground, one of four sites board members of the Moosalamoo Association had initially considered. The drawback of that location, Lynn said, is inadequate parking in the winter when the gates to the campground are closed at the Ripton-Goshen Road.
Another site that the associations considered was near the Goshen Dam area, but the USFS eliminated that site because it doesn’t have public restrooms. A site off the end of Brooks Road was similarly eliminated for the same reason.
“There are very practical and significant reasons the Silver Lake site was chosen, and we didn’t make that decision lightly,” said Lynn of the board’s six-month review of the various sites.
“We knew it would upset some people,” he continued, “but it’s the most economical to build there, and it’s the most beautiful site for campers. The question is, at what cost to visitors of the lake? It’s a legit question, and not all board members were 100% supportive at first, but were at the end of our six-month review.”
Plans for the proposed hut can be found online at https://moosalamoo.org/hut, and anyone looking to hear more details about the meeting can find the recording at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktgfBp3dEn8.
The Forest Service’s public comment period ends on July 11. Comments can be made c/o Phil MacAskill via mail by sending comments to USDA Forest Service – Rochester Ranger District Office, 99 Ranger Road, Rochester, Vt. 05767; or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s disclosure: Angelo Lynn, president of the Moosalamoo Association, is also the publisher-owner of The Reporter. He lives on Lake Dunmore and has been a member of the MA board for the past dozen years.