Would advisory or Friends group benefit Great Brook State Park?
For local cross-country skiers in winter, all roads lead to Great Brook State Park. A ski touring center with groomed trails is a rare commodity in this part of Massachusetts and thousands of skiers flock to Great Brook as soon as the first snowflake falls. Cross-country skiing in winter is like ice cream in summer—it puts Carlisle on the map.
The ski touring center, as well as the dairy farm and the park trails, are a town treasure but the town has little influence over the state-owned property. Great Brook is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR); Steve Carlin is the supervisor. When a new edict comes from the DCR, Stuart Johnstone, who operates the ski touring center and Mark Duffy, who runs the dairy farm and ice cream stand, are a little like David negotiating with Goliath—they do not have much power. In 2010, Johnstone was told he had to allow walkers on the trails groomed for skiing. A public outcry helped Johnstone reach a compromise. In 2015, the DCR said the ski touring center could no longer use a significant portion of the parking lot when the ground starts to thaw—a major headache for Johnstone as well as skiers. The state backed away from that proclamation, and things ran relatively smoothly for several years . . . until now.
As of December 1 this year, Johnstone did not have a signed contract with the state and could not start trail preparations. When the snow hit on Sunday, he could not open for business on Monday. That represents significant loss of revenue for the treasured town business, not to mention many frustrated skiers who wanted to hit the trails with the season’s first snow.
When the State Park was new, an Advisory Committee was formed. Members of that group dealt with tasks like park signs as well as what to do with the cabin across from the canoe launch on North Road. In a 2015 Selectmen’s meeting, it was suggested the committee be reinstated. That suggestion is just as relevant today. Johnstone and Duffy might benefit from a group of residents to help brainstorm and develop solutions to issues as they arise. An advisory group could help them have a louder voice and improve communication with the state. The meetings would be covered in the Mosquito so readers could learn about potential issues and react more quickly.
An alternative to an advisory committee would be a “Friends” group. A Friends group would most likely focus on a particular interest such as skiing or farming rather than the State Park as a whole. People who are passionate can be very persuasive. There is a ski touring center in Weston, also under the control of the DCR. They have similar issues there, because that center is overlaid on top of a golf course. In the past, the available skiing surface was reduced 30% by the DCR in order to protect the golf course. The Friends of Leo J. Martin Skiing (FOLJMS) was formed to ensure the Weston Ski Track “remains a vibrant and successful multi-use, cross-country skiing and winter recreational facility.” Representatives from FOLJMS worked with the DCR to negotiate what land would be available for skiing and snow making with some level of success. The FOLJMS also raises money for programs and trail work (for more information, their website is foljms.org).
An advisory group or Friends organization might be worthwhile in order to improve communication with the state and help protect the interests of the cross-country skiers, the ski touring center, the dairy farm and Carlisle. ∆
Ed note: an earlier version of this editorial was published in the February, 13, 2015 issue of the Mosquito.