WATERVILLE — A winter storm jump-started the cross-country ski season at Quarry Road Recreation Area on Friday, but the park will soon be snow-covered every winter regardless of fickle weather patterns.
The city is putting the final touches on its new $385,000 snowmaking system, which could be operational as early as mid-January, said Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan. Workers are installing a pump that will draw water from Messalonskee Stream and send it through snowmaking jets placed around a 3-kilometer loop trail at the southern end of the park. The reliable source of snow should also help with the city’s annual Winter Carnival in February, which was canceled last year because of a lack of the white stuff.
“It’s a big deal for Waterville. It’s very unique,” Skehan said of the snowmaking.
The project began last year when the city accepted a $385,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation to buy the snowmaking equipment. The grant does not cover the annual operating budget for snowmaking , which is estimated between $20,000 and $30,000.
The city hopes that money will be raised by trail users, Skehan said. The non-profit group Friends of Quarry Road is selling “support stickers” — bronze stickers for $20, silver for $50 and gold for $100.
So far the group has raised about $8,000, said Skehan, who is also a member of the group’s board.
“We’re hopeful that this (voluntary) system works,” he said. “Any facility that has as many trails as we have, that grooms them seven days a week, also has a mandatory fee.”
The park has several interconnecting loop trails for a total of 10 kilometers, including a competitive loop and a sprint loop that is used for Colby College ski competitions.
On Friday afternoon, Waterville resident Molly Duren was putting on her ski boots, getting ready for her first outing of the season. The trail system is impressive, she said.
“I lived out in the country for years, but now that I live in the town, I’ve got some of the best skiing there is. I’m very pleased,” she said.
Duren said she has used the trails sporadically in the past, depending on the snow cover. With the addition of snowmaking guns this season, Duren said she’ll probably use the trails more often.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said.
Mike Curran, a resident of Skowhegan, was skiing Friday along a freshly groomed trail under a bluebird sky.
“It’s great,” he said of the terrain. “There’s nothing too dangerous or steep, but there’s enough challenge and variety.”
Curran visits Quarry Road more often in the summer for mountain biking, but he skis the trails a few times a year whenever the weather cooperates. He’d be more likely to visit the recreation area during winter months if the city added a terrain park for skiers and snowboarders, so he could bring his kids.
Skehan said anything could happen.
“This project has evolved in different ways over the past five years. We’re definitely not ruling anything out. If there’s a call for it and a fundraising plan, who knows?”
Ben McCanna — 861-9239