The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 2, 2007


Meet Steve Carlin, Great Brook Farm supervisor

Steve Carlin at park headquarters on Lowell Street. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
On a bitterly cold, blustery morning during school vacation week, several hardy cross-country skiers glide toward the ski barn at Great Brook Farm State Park while others stride away from it. Steve Carlin, the new park supervisor at Great Brook, watches them from his warm and sunny office in the historic North Schoolhouse. "It's been packed ever since the snow storm [on February 14]," he says with satisfaction, leaving unsaid the observation that the previously snowless months have caused a dip in revenues for the Ski Touring Center.

Carlin has been on the job in Carlisle since December '06, having crossed Route 2 from his previous position at Walden Pond State Reservation. But Great Brook isn't the only park he supervises — Carlin's responsibilities extend to state parks in Lowell and Billerica as well. "It's a challenge," he admits.

Carlin's career path to park supervision started in Maine, where he grew up. In 1993 he received his B.A. in Environmental Science from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and two years later, joined the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). "My first job was seasonal," he recalls. "I was at Boston Harbor Islands State Park for six months, over three summers." In 1998, Carlin became a park interpreter at Walden Pond, responsible for educational programs, until he was promoted to visitor services supervisor in 1999, a job he held until he came to Great Brook. He and his wife live in Clinton, about 40 minutes from Carlisle.

Learning about Great Brook

Carlin confesses that he is still learning about Great Brook Farm State Park. After only three months on the job, "there is a lot to absorb." For one thing, Great Brook is one of the few state parks in which the DCR has partnership arrangements with individuals. Mark and Tamma Duffy have operated the dairy farm and ice cream stand at Great Brook since 1987. The state owns the farmhouse and barn, which they rent to the Duffys, Carlin explains, "and the Duffys own their herd of Holsteins and the ice cream business." According to Carlin, "Great Brook is one of the few, if not the only, active dairy operations encapsulated in a state park." The state has just renewed its lease with the Duffys. "Small family farms are under the gun due to increased competition," notes Carlin. "They need to be more productive." He says that the DCR is committed to Great Brook Farm and views the active family farm at its center as a unique educational resource. As a sign of its commitment, the department is in the process of working with the Duffys to build a new dairy barn that will enable them to increase their herd (now about 130), boost their milk production and ultimately become more profitable. Currently the Duffys sell their milk to Agri-Mark, a dairy cooperative, which in turn sells the milk to Hood, Colombo and Cabot dairies. Milk from Carlisle also finds its way into yogurt and cheese — and of course, the incomparable Great Brook ice cream.
Steve Carlin's office overlooks Hart Barn and one of Great Brook's beautiful landscapes. (photo by Ellen Huber)

Great Brook Farm is Carlisle's only remaining dairy farm. Throughout the 20th century, dairy farming was one of Carlisle's principal businesses, but gradually agriculture gave way to the suburban Carlisle we know today.

Recreational opportunities

While the dairy farm may be a magnet for visitors, Great Brook Farm State Park offers a great diversity of recreational opportunities on its almost 1,000 acres of meadows, hills and forest trails. Stone walls, diversified woodlands and historic structures reflect Carlisle's agricultural past and attract a variety of users — mountain bikers, horseback riders, hikers and dog walkers all enjoy the park. In the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers take over.

Another partnership between the DCR and an individual exists at the cross-country skiing center. Since 1988, Stuart Johnstone of Carlisle has been operating the facility under a lease agreement similar to the Duffys'. The state owns the Hart Barn, and Johnstone grooms the trails, rents ski equipment and sells trail passes. At the end of the ski season, a portion of the ski touring revenues are returned to the state.

Special events and programs

Two major events at the park have become family favorites in recent years. "Down on the Farm Days" are held in the fall, and "Picnic in the Park" takes place in the spring. Carlin would like to plan more such events to bring people to the park. He points out that increased attendance is good for the Duffys and their ice-cream business, but, he cautions, "We don't want [the park] overrun."

Carlin plans to do more outreach to local groups to encourage them to visit the park — families, senior citizens, mountain bikers, horseback groups and school groups. He describes a new program being developed, "Parks as Classrooms," in which the Great Brook staff will work with teachers to offer more than a barn tour to introduce children to agriculture in New England. Park Interpreter Rebecca Markey has left Great Brook, and the DCR is in the process of hiring for this key position, "the interface between the park and its visitors," says Carlin.

The dairy farm is in the distance as a cross-country skier heads for home. (Photo by Ellen Huber)

Carlin is aware that Great Brook Farm is a popular destination for geocachers, but he hasn't had the time to inspect the cache locations. He wants to be sure that they are in appropriate locations, near the trails, that nothing has been disturbed in placing the cache, and that no trash has been left.

The DCR will launch a program this spring called "Great Parks Pursuit," in which various parks in the system will be highlighted. Families will be eligible to purchase passports to selected parks, and Great Brook is on the list.

Paying to park

Inevitably the sensitive subject of parking fees came into the conversation. In 2003 the DCR imposed a $2 parking fee at Great Brook, incurring the ire of local residents and the dismay of Mark and Tamma Duffy, whose ice cream business suffered from a drastic decrease in attendance. The fee was suspended in 2004, but reinstated in April 2005. Carlin affirms that wintertime parking is free and fees will go into effect again next month. Visitors to the ice cream stand may park free for 30 minutes.

For the fee-averse, Carlin suggests that regular users of state parks purchase an annual Massachusetts ParksPass for $35. It allows entry to all Massachusetts beaches and state parks that charge for parking. In addition, seniors age 62 or older can park free at Great Brook and all state parks with a senior pass. All these passes are available at park headquarters on Lowell Street and at other state parks.

When you next visit Great Brook to buy a pass, or to hike or ski, stop in at the small red brick schoolhouse that serves as park headquarters and welcome Steve Carlin to Carlisle.

But you'll have to wait until mid-April to visit the ice cream stand.

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito