Nulhegan Confluence Hut and Trails

By Noah Pollock
Vermont State Coordinator & New York/Vermont Regional Field Coordinator

Nulhegan Hut construction 2016

The arrival of winter has slowed—but not completely stopped—the completion of a new amenity for paddlers: a hut along the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s Nulhegan River in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

This year I’ve been managing the construction of a 14′ x 16′ cabin near the confluence of the Nulhegan River and the East Branch Nulhegan River, on a 70-acre parcel that was conserved by the Vermont River Conservancy (VRC). Like NFCT’s other state coordinators, I “wear hats” with other organizations and it is always wonderful finding projects like this that are natural partnerships.

One way to level a stone.

While project development and fundraising is being led by VRC, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail has provided critical hands-on support. Last summer, NFCT interns and volunteers literally built the foundation for the hut. The stewardship team also constructed a moldering privy, a campsite, a river access point, and cleared nearly a mile of walking trails along the Nulhegan. The trails also serve as a re-route for the Nulhegan Gorge portage, getting paddlers off busy Route 105 and the often shallow and rocky East Branch.

New privy
New privy by NFCT.

During the hut raising in October, volunteers came from the Vermont River Conservancy, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, NorthWoods Stewardship Center, as well as Yestermorrow Design-Build School, whose students constructed the hut’s frame in a timber framing class. It was through this collective effort that we were able to recruit the more than 15 volunteers needed to safely raise the structure. It was a true example of the value of working together.

Building the deck.
Building the deck.

The Nulhegan is one of state’s wildest rivers with no dams impeding its flows. Its headwaters are conserved as part of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, and through conservation easements on working forest lands.

Preparing the timber.
Volunteers prepare the timber on-site.

Once complete, the hut will serve not just as a stopping point for overnight paddlers, but also as a base for whitewater paddlers taking on the Class III Nulhegan gorge; wildlife enthusiasts excited about the boreal species that frequent the meandering reaches upstream; and those wishing to explore the fantastic and varied paddling on the nearby Connecticut River.

Securing a joint with a wooden peg.

But why a hut? After years of working in the Nulhegan Basin and Upper Connecticut, we have several new access points, fine campsites, and established portages. Yet use of this area remains light. Despite extensive conservation efforts, including the protection of the former Champion Lands and the creation of the refuge, the Nulhegan Basin’s potential for nature-based tourism remains largely untapped. Through this project we are hoping to bring a new amenity for visitors and test out the “hut and trail” model.

nulhegan-hut-raising-11-12-16While NFCT paddlers are generally a hardy bunch, there are real benefits to having an enclosed structure. Some of the best paddling in the area is during the spring, when cold weather can make camping less appealing. With an increasingly diverse population, we hope this hut will allow us to meet a wider variety of needs and abilities.

Once complete, the hut will include a small kitchen, a sleeping loft, a screen porch, and deck. It will be insulated and have a wood stove for winter use. This is an efficient, cost effective, and grass-roots approach to hut construction that minimizes environmental impact and costs while maximizing opportunities for student and community engagement.

There will be several volunteer days in 2017 to finish this project, including adding sheathing and the screen porch. I hope you’ll join us!