Steven Buzzell maneuvers the snow groomer up the steep cross-country ski trail, its giant tracks grinding the ice and snow crust until it is smooth.
“This machine’d go just about anywhere,” he says. “It’s a very functional, very powerful machine.”
It is Tuesday and we are riding in the PistenBully groomer at Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville, where Buzzell and other Parks and Recreation Department employees maintain open fields and about 7 miles of trails for people who ski, hike, bike and walk their dogs.
“It’s a year-round public facility,” Buzzell says. “If you’re looking for something to do with your family, whether it be hiking or skiing or just walking and enjoying nature, it’s just a nice area; and it’s growing.”
I can hear the pride in his voice as he describes the work that goes into maintaining the 230-acre, city-owned recreation area, sandwiched between Colby College and Upper Main Street. The ski trails are used not only for recreation, but also for competition.
“Last year, Colby had, I think, 200 competitors from all over the Northeast; and there were lots of people watching — friends and family, staff and everybody else,” Buzzell says.
As the giant machine rolls into an open field, Buzzell points to the elaborate snow-making system, which pumps water from nearby scenic Messalonskee Stream to the field and trails. The water and compressed air, combined with cold temperature, enable large snow guns to produce huge piles of snow. Then the PistenBully moves the snow around with its 17-foot plow blade.
“We haven’t made snow yet this winter,” Buzzell says. “There is lots of natural snow.”
He explains that he and others typically use snowmobiles with smaller groomers for everyday trail work, but when conditions are like this — with lots of icy, crusty snow — the PistenBully works better. The plow is able to move 12 ways and helps contour the banks of the trails.
We start to ascend the south loop, a trail used for competition.
“This is more aggressive than the north loop as far as uphill and downhill turns,” Buzzell says.
The machine roars and beeps as we turn corners and climb higher, higher on the trail, which is bordered by evergreens and hardwoods. Ascending, we enjoy a spectacular view of County Road and Stream View Drive as the sun emerges from behind a big gray cloud. A skier wearing all black waves as he sails across the field, past the warming hut.
It’s warm inside the PistenBully, but outside, it’s cold — 10 degrees, according to the thermometer — and it feels much more frigid because of the wind chill.
Buzzell, 48, of Fairfield, doesn’t mind winter work at all. In fact, he loves the outdoors. He has worked for the city more than 23 years — first in public works, where he worked in an office; and more than six years in parks and recreation.
“In public works, I was inside for 17 years, as parts manager in the garage, and I took a few years off and came back. I enjoy this probably more than I did my previous job. You can dress for it (cold weather). I was out Friday night grooming the trails and it was 4 below. We were on the snowmobiles. We had all the snowmobile gear and helmets. We stayed fairly warm, but 4 below is 4 below.”
In warmer weather, Buzzell helps mow the trails and fields and maintain the city’s other facilities. He and his foreman, Sam Green, manage the municipal pool, playgrounds, ball fields and parks.
Buzzell particularly likes the fact that the job produces visible results.
“The community sees it; the community uses it — most everything that we do. Somebody is using the pool, using the playgrounds, playing ball.”
It has been rewarding for Buzzell, seeing the Quarry Road facility grow and watching more and more people use it.
“It’s nice to hear compliments. We’ve been getting a lot of compliments about the job that’s been done out here.”
At the maintenance building, I say goodbye and step down from the machine.
Just then, Susan Bolduc passes by, having hiked the snowy road with her black-and-brown Airedale Terrier, Scout.
“We come here regularly,” says Bolduc, of Waterville. “I think it’s a beautiful facility. I love what they’ve done here.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]