AMC Offers 'Green' Home Base for Crawford Notch Adventures
August 11, 2009 -
Crest the summit of Crawford Notch on Route 302 in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire and you will have arrived at one of the most spectacular natural locales in New England.
Mountain peaks rise dramatically from the classic glacier-carved valley, reaching heights of more than 4,000 feet.
Beyond the head of the notch, just past sparkling Saco Lake and the historic Crawford Depot train station, sits the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center. It is the epicenter of outdoor activity in the region, providing a convenient base for adventure and exploration, outdoor and environmental education, lodging and meals.
"The Highland Center, opened in 2003, was built to minimize its impact on the local environment and operate in a sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner," said Rob Burbank, AMC public affairs director, during one of the facility's frequent "green tours." "The center also sits on the birthplace of hospitality in the White Mountains, where the Crawford Family began taking in travelers as far back as the early 1800s."
The AMC has apparently succeeded in its endeavor to be green and hospitable, as the Highland Center was recently recognized as the "Best Green Resort in New England" by the New England Travel Writers Network, and received the "Top 50 Eco-Lodges 2009" award by National Geographic Adventure magazine.
Inside the lodge you'll find lots of windows (triple-glazed) that take advantage of natural light. Electric lights use compact fluorescent lightbulbs. Carpets and paint used throughout contain little or no volatile organic compounds.
The majority of work was done using local contractors and locally harvested and milled woods. The timber framing was reclaimed from a shipping pier.
The kitchen uses local foods as much as possible. Fireplace stones in the cavernous living room were recovered from the foundation of the old Crawford House. The steel building framing is 97 percent recycled.
A wood-fired boiler using cord wood and waste wood heats the facility in winter, while in summer a bio-fuel system provides hot water.
I can attest from several enjoyable visits that spending the night at the Highland Center is a warm and comfortable experience. Guest rooms are clean, simple and cozy (no television, a welcome respite). The food is delicious and plentiful (vegetarian options always available), and served family-style.
From the L.L. Bean gear room, a wide range of outdoor clothing and equipment is available for use by guests and program participants at no cost. Burbank noted that L.L. Bean provided the center with $500,000 in gear, linens and furnishings when it opened.
Interpretive panels line the interior walls of the center, part of ongoing AMC efforts to educate visitors. Two classrooms and a breakout room are used for regular programming and classes. During a recent stay, I attended an informative seminar on the HikeSafe program and the Ten Essentials.
"The Highland Center sees a lot of use by families," Burbank said. "With trails of varying difficulties nearby and the equipment on hand for use, it's a great base camp for all kinds of adventure, especially for the inexperienced and those new to the outdoors."
The activity and event schedule at the Highland Center – all free and open to the public – is impressive. AMC naturalists lead short morning, afternoon and evening nature walks to Saco Lake, Ammonoosuc Lake and Elephants Head to look for animal tracks and identify flowers and such.
AMC adventure guides regularly lead a series of longer hikes, from easy waterfall and woods walks to strenuous treks to the high alpine terrain.
Skills workshops such as Map and Compass 101 are held frequently. Adventure movies and documentaries are shown each evening at 8 p.m. And there is always the brilliant Bradford Washburn photography exhibit to peruse.
Enhance your visit to the Highland Center with an overnight side trip to one of the nearby backcountry huts in the AMC system, a unique mountain experience that should be on every hiker's "to-do" list. The Zealand Falls Hut is accessed via an easy 2.3-mile hike on the Zealand Trail, while Mizpah Springs Hut is reached by way of a 2.5-mile climb on the Crawford Path.
Little more than a daypack of gear is needed for your hut stay. Provided are bunks, blankets and pillows for sleeping; potable water, restrooms and composting toilets for your comfort (no showers); and hearty meals prepared by an entertaining hut crew.
For more information on AMC lodging, programs and activities, go to www.outdoors.org.
CAREY KISH Portland Press Herald. 8/6/09
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