A lean-to is a 3-sided structure with a roof overhang and open front, traditionally built from logs. Lean-tos have been a part of the Adirondack backcountry camping experience for almost a century. In the early 1920’s, New York State acquired funds to construct five shelters on the “Long Trail”, a 135-mile long foot path, now known as the Northville-Placid Trail. The cost at that time was $250 per lean-to. Today, there are over 200 lean-tos in the Adirondack Park. These open-faced shelters are built mostly by hand with chainsaws, mallets and chisels. Whole logs are assembled into a twelve foot wide structure using an interlocking technique that results in the logs fitting tightly together, to protect occupants from the elements.
Anyone who has ever stayed in an Adirondack Park lean-to shares a similar yet unique experience with other lean-to visitors. While its primary purpose is to serve as a place of shelter, it also is a place where precious family moments are shared and new friends are made. It can also serve as a place to rest your weary feet and have a snack while you make your way along the trail. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) has simple rules of use: lean-tos are available on a first-come, first-serve basis; they must be shared with others (a lean-to can accommodate up to 8 people); “pack it in, pack it out”, clean up after yourself; do not vandalize state property; and no tents or tarps should be set-up within/on the lean-to.
The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) Adopt a Lean-to Program dates back to 1985. The program was created to assist the NYS DEC in the maintenance of these structures as well as an opportunity for those who want to give back to the places they love with their time and labor. This program has grown considerably over the years and continues to be a great success with currently 173 lean-tos being maintained by over 150 individuals, groups and ADK Chapters. Lean-to adopters visit their respective lean-tos at least twice a season to perform basic maintenance and cleanup duties, maintain registers, and note major repairs needed. Many adopters also assist NYS DEC staff in completing more intensive projects such as roof replacement, privy relocation, and structural work. With so many lean-tos in the park the NYS DEC does not have the resources or man-power to repair them all, which has resulted in the development of a grass-roots group known as Lean2Rescue. Formed 9 years ago, their primary purpose is to restore and/or relocate lean-tos that are in decline. To date, they have “rescued” over 57 lean-tos. ADK’s Adopt a Lean-to volunteers have joined their ranks and have assisted in the restoration of many of these lean-tos.
These volunteers are vital in maintaining lean-tos in the Adirondack Park today. To participate in ADK’s Adopt a Lean-to Program one must enter a lottery, held annually in the first part of April. Entries can be sent by email or regular mail. Those interested in helping out with Lean2Rescue can visit www.lean2rescue.org. Thank you to all the volunteers that take care of our lean-tos!