An artist at work: A first look at the Eliza Brook shelter

John Nininger is very good at what he does.

“Very good” is, of course, an extraordinary understatement. John is a master craftsman in full scribe log joinery, with a well-known reputation for his technical and artful skill at matching and fitting long logs of cedar and pine together. John understands wood, and how to build with it, in a way that few do.

His portfolio is extensive, from smaller log homes decorated with unique carvings to expansive multi-story lodges to backcountry shelters. This is a skill he’s refined to an art since he worked for the AMC in the 1970s as a trail crew member, building Carlo Col shelter from native timbers and hauling logs from the woods.

We are fortunate to have John building a shelter for us again, this time at Eliza Brook Campsite. John was also the craftsman behind Kinsman Pond, which was constructed in 2007.

With the opportunity to construct a new shelter, there are many options: native timbers from the forest around the campsite, dimensional lumber, primitive log construction. In choosing one of the options, we work with the Forest Service as we evaluate visual impact, historical character, visitor experience, and measuring primitive character. In the case of Eliza, the final decision was to bring in materials from off-site, and that the materials be made of full-scribed interlocking logs. So we, of course, had John’s Wooden House Company in mind.

Eliza Brook shelter started out with John selecting logs from regional sources earlier this summer, locating and collecting cedar logs as well as two forked trees that will artfully support the front roof. During the month of August, he has been constructing the shelter at his wood yard in Wells River, VT. Once completed, it will be carefully stacked for transport to our airlift location.

While John builds the shelter, we busy ourselves with preparing the footings for the foundation, assembling materials for the decking and roofing, and logistical coordination for the helicopter airlift that will fly the materials to the site in September.

Last week myself, Trails Supervisor Dave Salisbury, and Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s New England Regional Director Hawk Metheny traveled to Wells River to gather a few final measurements for the footings we’ll be putting in place before the airlift.

Fresh cedar logs glow an unbelievable yellow in a crisp morning sun with a clear blue sky. Looking at the sill logs with my layman's eye, they appeared to be tightly cut and notched together, I could see no airspace between the logs.

John, the craftsman, of course informed me that they were “not quite there yet.”

(For more information on the Wooden House Company, check out John’s website)