The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 10, 2010

Trails Committee weighs in on changes at Great Brook

Arrows show proposed shared use trails. (Map adapted by Marjorie Johnson)

The Carlisle Trails Committee devoted much of its December 3 meeting to discussing the proposed changes to trail use at the Great Brook Ski Touring Center. Trails Committee members expressed some confusion over the motivation for the changes, as the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) never held a public hearing explaining the impetus for them. In an effort to come to a more viable solution than dual use of portions of the ski trails, the Trails Committee worked on drafting a letter to the DCR formally opposing the shared use and offering their assistance as collaborators with a wealth of experience in both shared trail use and winter walking options.

Trails Committee member Henry Cox recently wrote a letter to DCR voicing his concern as a private citizen over the proposed changes. Cox pointed out that “people walking on ski trails destroy the trail…an observation that anyone who has ever been skiing can easily attest. In addition, footprints lead to differential melting – which makes the situation even worse.”

Cox specifically questioned the plan for walkers and skiers to share trails which may be “steep and icy in the winter,” and a potential hotspot for collisions between skiers and non-skiers.

Gary Briere, Chief of the Bureau of Recreation, responded that DCR’s “efforts to better balance winter use at Great Brook Farm are in direct response to hearing from local residents…who were frustrated with the limited opportunities they had at Great Brook Farm. They specifically sought access to the Indian Hill area.”

DCR has proposed that a trail parallel to the Litchfield Loop ski trail be groomed to provide non-skiers access to the Indian Hill area. However, the distance that would separate the two trails is unclear, raising questions as to whether this parallel trail would truly preserve the integrity of the ski trail and protect non-skiers and their pets from collision danger with skiers.

As part of a standard response to customers inquiring about cross-country ski trails at Great Brook, Briere says that DCR has “explored a variety of ways to provide parallel access to the Indian Hill area without impacting designated and groomed cross-country ski trails. One option would allow pedestrian access with as little as 100 feet of trail needed to accommodate intersections between pedestrian and groomed skiing. We expect that potential operators will offer additional creative ideas to minimize conflicts and confusion and maximize recreational opportunities.”

Concerns remain that these shared sections of trail, specifically small portions of the Chicken Trail and Woodchuck Trail, are steep and narrow and the resulting snowmelt and ice from dual use would pose a hazard to skiers and pedestrians alike.

Sylvia Willard, a member of the Trails Committee and administrator of the Carlisle Conservation Commission, was contacted recently by Stuart Johnstone, who has run the Great Brook Ski Touring Center since 1988 and hopes to renew his lease with the DCR. The results of the public bidding process were expected to be finalized by the end of November but have been extended until mid-December.

Johnstone was particularly interested in the feasibility of cutting parallel trails along sections of the groomed ski trails, as proposed by the DCR. Willard responded that the option to cut a parallel trail was not a foregone conclusion but would depend on a number of factors, including whether trees would need to be cut down or the new trail would infringe upon wetlands. Johnstone mentioned to Willard that the new contract will be for two years; a change from the previous five-year contracts Johnstone has had with the state in the past.

The Trails Committee as a whole agreed that any portion of groomed trail shared by skiers, walkers and dogs would be fundamentally unworkable as well as potentially dangerous to those not on skis. Committee members also pointed out that there are a great many options for winter walkers in the metro-Boston area but only two nearby cross-country skiing operations with groomed trails – Weston Ski Track and Great Brook Ski Touring Center.

The Trails Committee, which maintains over 25 miles of trails in Carlisle not part of Great Brook, believes that allowing for multi-purpose use of the groomed ski trails, even small sections, would essentially destroy portions of those trails for skiers. DCR’s standard response letter describes their vision of the ski center as a “welcoming and inviting atmosphere for skiers and all other park users.” Committee members, however, speculated that the damage to parts of the ski trail could have a negative impact on paying skier attendance at Great Brook during an already short and volatile cross-country ski season. ∆

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