Include nordic skiing in Long Range Plan
As our town formulates it’s Long Range Plan, the Great Brook Ski Touring Center should be assessed as a Carlisle component. This is a recap of its history, intended to spark that assessment.
Signy and I found our way to Carlisle about 60 years ago, and found a perfect fit. I had graduated from Dartmouth with a deep respect for the out-of-doors in all seasons, and a consuming love of cross-country (XC) skiing. After six years as a fighter pilot in the Pacific, we migrated with two children to Carlisle’s rural beauty, and began what became a 30 year IBM career. Then began the urge to add the XC skiing option to Carlisle’s menu of outdoor opportunities.
Bill Koch League
In the 1970s, our family had grown to four children. Nearby Towle Field offered near-perfect terrain for children’s XC ski trails, the ConsCom was cooperative, and we started the “Torger Tokle” ski league. This morphed into the Bill Koch ski league (BKL) in 1976 when Bill won his Olympic silver medal. Carlisle’s BKL grew like a grassfire, with over 100 skiers competing against towns including Concord, Acton, and Sudbury. It was clear that XC skiing was a natural fit.
A Torturous Birth
In 1980, the Winter Olympics came to Lake Placid, New York. A dearth of snow led to the first use of man-made snow to host XC and biathlon competitions. I served as a minor official in Lake Placid, and became convinced it was possible to provide skiing near Boston, with snowmaking, if the right venue were found. Multiple trips to the State House and tours of state parks led to selecting Andover’s Harold Parker State Park, with its many ponds for snowmaking, as the state-approved venue. As the winter of 1982 approached, touring center staff was hired, skis and grooming equipment purchased, and building construction begun. The neighbors abutting Harold Parker (primarily horse-farms) got wind of planned “Exclusive winter use” of trails for XC skiing and a fire-bomb exploded. In the late fall of 1982, the meeting in the AndoverTown Hall set an unenviable record. The hall was so packed there were people in the window sills, behind stage, out the door, and down the street. The fire department closed the meeting before a word was spoken, citing building over-capacity. A rescheduled meeting in the regional high school was a packed, tumultuous, fiery affair. A lawsuit was brought testing whether the state had the right to restrict public lands for exclusive use. Threats came in the mail: The touring center would be “Burned to the ground!” Harold Parker was ruled unworkable until the lawsuit was resolved. This took ten years. The unborn ski touring center had a wide range of commitments with winter fast approaching and nowhere to go.
The newly formed Great Brook Farm State Park had an advisory committee chaired by George Senkler. George had grown up on the park property, at that time the farm owned by Farnham Smith. He was intimately familiar with the land, and was a member of both the equestrian and XC skiing communities. Through George, town and state support gave Great Brook Ski Touring Center its tortured start.
38 Years Later
The ski center has survived a host of challenges. Snowmaking proved impractical, leaving natural snow as the great dependency. Some years the center has been unable to open. On average, nature has provided over 30 days of skiing per season. Grooming is a constant challenge, as warm days, rainfall, deep freezes and ice storms all take their turn. Managing the center faces the daunting challenge of responding to instant starts and stops as nature dictates.
Through it all many good things have happened.
* Affordable skiing on a beautiful trail system is available close to home.
* A children’s ski program (Bill Koch League) has taught many youngsters ski technique. Many have been launched to high school and college racing programs, some beyond.
* Night skiing by lantern light has allowed those plagued by work to get midwinter outdoor exercise, and a unique experience. The immense popularity of XC skiing has been evidenced whenever Carlisle’s snow permits.
The future of the ski center depends on the ongoing support and permitting of the state’s DCR, the benevolence of mother nature in a warming climate, and a management willing to deal with these challenges. The ski center has earned a place in the town’s DNA, and should be considered as the town crafts its Long Range Plan. ∆