There are nearly six dozen overnight sites along the Long Trail. In this issue, read some history about these sites. Meet two current shelter caretakers and share the memories of a woman who worked as Bolton Lodge caretaker back in the 1970’s. Find out the answers to last issue’s Peak Bagger’s Quiz. And, of course, read about upcoming activities and outings.
Shelters, Camps and Lodges: What's the Difference?
There are places for tent camping along the LT, but most of the overnight sites are structures that provide a place for hikers to get out of wind, rain and snow. In general, shelters are three-sided lean-tos with open fronts. Camps are often enclosed and have doors and glazed windows. There are also some larger enclosed buildings along the Trail in heavy-use areas; these are the Long Trail lodges. The Burlington Section is responsible for four lodges, two shelters and one tenting area.
Taft Lodge is the oldest and largest shelter in the Long Trail system and is on the State Register of Historic Sites. It’s probably the most frequently visited shelter in Vermont both by overnighters and by large numbers of day hikers heading up from Smuggler’s Notch to the highest point of Vermont (Mt. Mansfield’s Chin). Taft Lodge was first built in 1920 to meet the needs of people who came to Vermont’s mountains to escape worries about World War I. Elihu Taft, a Burlington lawyer and judge, provided the funding. The first Taft Lodge had a lot of amenities including a good wood stove, warm army blankets, tents for use by overflow crowds, and even some dishes and cookware. More than 1500 hikers visited the Lodge between 1920 and 1926.
During the thirties and forties, heavy snows and rotting logs resulted in significant damage to Taft Lodge. Volunteers replaced rotting timbers, pulled the Lodge back to an upright position, and anchored it to the mountain with strong cables.
Taft Lodge needed further extensive repairs in the early sixties. Members of the Long Trail Patrol stayed at the Lodge for three weeks and replaced some of the bottom logs, repaired the leaky roof, rebuilt bunks, and made a new outhouse. (The Long Trail Patrol is the Green Mountain Club’s professional trail crew.)
Taft Lodge was completely rebuilt in the 1990’s. A landing area was cleared so Vermont National Guard helicopters could deliver some of the materials to the site. Volunteers Fred Gilbert and John Bennett took up residence on site, living in tents all summer long, working sixteen-hour days themselves as well as organizing crews of other volunteers. Fred and John finally packed up tents and tools and hiked down off the mountain in September 1996. The new Taft Lodge has sleeping space for twenty-four, a built-in closet for the caretaker’s belongings, and a sturdy metal roof. It’s also got more headroom than most Long Trail shelters.
Burlington Section member Daan Zwick has been an important part of Taft Lodge’s history. Daan’s involvement with the Lodge started in the summer of 1930, when he and his sister slept out under a ledge on the mountainside while his dad played cards with the Lodge caretaker. Later, Daan was caretaker from 1938 to 1940. During the repairs that were needed in the 1930’s, Daan sometimes carried as much as 120 pounds of tools and roofing materials across the Mt. Mansfield ridge line and down the Profanity Trail. He continued to be a significant part of Taft Lodge history when he donated the funding for the latest reconstruction.
Taylor Lodge is in Nebraska Notch, a deep cleft between the Forehead part of Mt. Mansfield and neighboring Mt. Dewey. The trail to the Lodge starts where you sign in at the end of Stevensville Road in Underhill. Taylor Lodge was first built in 1926 and was originally named “Nebraska Notch Lodge”. It burned in 1951 after a group of boys tried to keep themselves warm by burning mattresses. A new log cabin was built and named after J.P. Taylor, the founder of the Green Mountain Club. On a cold, foggy, rainy October day, seventy-four volunteers had a “shower” for the new Lodge, hiking up through Nebraska Notch with frying pans, pots, axes, saws, pails, brooms, dustpans, and other items that used to be standard equipment in many Long Trail shelters.
Taylor Lodge again burned to the ground in September 1977, possibly because a departing hiker had left an unattended fire going in the wood stove. A third Lodge was completed the next year, featuring an open front porch with an enclosed bunkroom (and no wood stove!).
Taylor Lodge was seriously vandalized in 1981. The wire bunks were pulled apart and piled on the floor to make a bed for a fire, with the tables, benches and bunks used for fuel. Although the fire burned through the floor, it didn’t destroy the building.
For many years, Taylor Lodge was the site of the annual Oyster Stew Suppers, a mid-winter moonlit ritual that sometimes took place at temperatures considerably below zero. The tradition started when Don Remick, a UVM senior and member of the Burlington Section Outing Committee, suggested that there should be a new and crazy activity, “like eating oysters on the mountain”. In addition to hot oyster stew, participants ate homemade pies. They often stuffed a lot of oakum into their backpacks to keep the pies from tipping over during the hike. Then, while they were waiting for the oyster stew to heat up, they could make good use of their time by packing the oakum into the chinks between the logs in the walls.
Taylor Lodge has been the site of other note-worthy culinary events in its long history. In 1941, a hiker tried to heat up a can of baked beans by putting it inside the stovepipe. He neglected to punch a hole in the can and ended up wearing most of his supper. Another hiker tried the same thing with a can of corn; this attempt created a rocket that trailed a stream of corn over a considerable distance.
(Historical information is from the Long Trail Guide and from Green Mountain Club Long Trail System Shelter History, an amazing labor of love completed in 1999 by Paul and Joanne Woodward of the CT Section.)