The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 19, 2010

Changes coming to Great Brook Ski Center

A cross-country skier traverses one of the groomed ski trails at Great Brook Farm State Park, against a backdrop of the park’s woodlands and dairy farm. (File photo by Ellen Huber)

Starting this winter, Great Brook Farm State Park is planning to allow walkers and others to share use of portions of the groomed ski trails with the paying cross-country skiers. According to Stuart Johnstone, who has run the cross-country ski concession since 1988, the park is unique in the state in reserving part of the trail network for paid skiers. His operating agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is up for renewal and DCR is changing the rules to open some of the groomed ski trails to shared use.

Groomed trails are typically smoothed by a tool pulled behind a snow-mobile. Grooves are added to the snow to make skiing easier.

Johnstone is concerned that the walkers and dogs will damage the skiing surface, “I think it’s inherently unworkable. You don’t have a groomed trail after people walk on it.” He also said that it raises a safety issue because of the risk of collisions.

Park Supervisor Steve Carlin said, “The previous lease agreement expired last spring. We took the opportunity over the summer to make any changes that we wanted. The new lease agreement went public last week. It’s a public bidding process.” He explained, “We want to give more non-skiers the opportunity to access more areas of the park during the winter.”

Carlin said that the idea for the changes was developed internally without outside input. “Now that it’s public, there’s more opportunity for public comment.”

“There is no other park like this,” says Johnstone. “That’s been the case for 28 years.” The program was started in 1982 by his father, former Olympic cross-country ski coach Dusty Johnstone of Russell Street. Customers ski on groomed trails and ski equipment is available for rental. The Lantern Loop Trail is lit for evening use. Johnstone thanks the park’s former supervisor for helping to get the unusual park program started, saying, “Ray Faucher is the single most important person to credit for the ski program. He laid out the path. He had the vision.”

Half of the park’s 20 miles of trails have been reserved for the paid cross-country skiing. Johnstone says that his previous contract allowed him to be open between December 1 and March 21, during which about four weeks would have usable ski conditions. The business varies tremendously from year to year. He said, “In the best year, about 20,000 came in the season. Last year was about average – 9,201 tickets were issued during 33 days of skiing.”

For the use of the Hart barn and ski trails, Johnstone paid a fee of $900 per year, plus $1 per ticket sold. The new agreement will raise the fee to $2,000 per year, plus $1 per ticket. “It was fair of them to ask for the fee to be more,” he said.

According to Johnstone, one of the trail sections slated to be shared extends from the park visitors’ center northeast, along the Litchfield Loop Trail to the Chicken Trail and then bearing right on the Litchfield Loop again. Another shared area is on the Woodchuck Trail and east field. Carlin thought there would be only one connecting trail by the Litchfield Loop. Asked how the walkers’ footprints and dogs would affect the conditions for skiing, Carlin said, “It’s going to be a trail that’s not going to be the best groomed trail because there’s going to be other users on it.”

There have always been shared-use ski trails at the park, but in the past non-skiers were asked to keep off the trails which were groomed for skiing. Johnstone helped expand the un-groomed, shared trails across Lowell Street from the ski barn. Beginning this winter, he says, “The park staff will be packing the trails across the road with a snow-mobile to make them better for walking. That’s an improvement.”

When the ski concession opened in the 1980s, there were residents who complained about the trails being reserved for the paid skiers, but Johnstone says that few have complained about the concession in recent years. He says that a large percentage of those who ski there are Carlisle and Concord residents. Asked if many people have complained about the ski concession, Carlin said, “I don’t know for sure. I think it’s really hard to judge, because some people don’t necessarily come forward.”

The facility is used by the Concord-Carlisle and Westford high school cross-country ski teams. The teams practice there, when snow conditions permit, and also hold a couple of competitions, where up to six high schools participate.

Johnstone has been working under five-year agreements with the park, after which he bids on the concession rights in a public process. He expects to hear the results by the end of the month. ∆

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