There aren’t many appreciation events in Maine that are held outdoors in March. At night. Or that invite attendees to have snacks in the yurt or mingle on the trails.

Wednesday’s Quarry Road Recreation Area appreciation celebration — the first for the city-owned rec area — was as unique as the recreation area itself is.

The system of trails along Messalonskee Stream has been around for eight years now, and despite its low-tech, unflashy appeal and the need for donations and volunteers to keep it thriving, it is a Cinderella success story.

Last year around this time, city Parks and Recreation Director Matt Skehan said the rec area is more than holding its own, its events drawing people, and their money, to Waterville.

Cross-country races, ski races, dog races, winter carnivals, college meets — events that draw hundreds, particularly in the winter, when it’s tough to get people out and spending — have made Quarry Road a destination for outdoors enthusiasts, not only from Waterville, but from the region. This winter’s events included the annual winter carnival and the Central Maine Ski Club Paintball Biathlon.

“It’s growing and growing,” he told the Waterville City Council.

The area in the north end of the city, near the highway and behind what’s now MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Center for Health, could easily have been one of those no-man’s lands that are common around small cities that don’t have the money to do the necessary things, much less the special ones.

On and off over the last century there had been a small ski slope on the road, most recently run by Colby College, but that was abandoned decades ago. The area stayed ignored until 2007, when a group of volunteers and the city combined to form the recreation area.

It has grown to 200 acres, with six miles of trails and counting. In the past couple years, more gravel walking paths, a maintenance building, the yurt, were added. Future plans include completing a mountain bike park and more parking.

While the events at the area are what draw the big crowds, its real appeal is when there are no events at all.

We don’t get to be pioneers much in the 21st century. Actually, most of us don’t get to be pioneers at all. Every path we take, someone else already has, whether it’s our daily walk around the block or around the supermarket.

It’s a shame, really, because we live in the right state getting out in the wilderness and trying to at least feel a little like a pioneer.

Winter makes it harder and our love-hate relationship with winter has usually bent to hate this time of year.

Quarry Road, though, can turn that hate on its head.

Waterville isn’t an urban jungle, but it’s a city and brings with it all the things a city its size brings. Yet, right there, withing walking distance or a few minutes’ drive for Waterville residents and people in surrounding towns, is an oasis of woods, water and trails.

Snow suddenly doesn’t seem so cold and, well, old. It makes it new and exciting again.

The cross-country ski trails are groomed daily. The main road is plowed, great for a quiet walk.

It’s also the perfect place to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the underrated, least glamorous winter sport, snowshoeing.

There are few better ways to get out into untraveled “wilderness,” to make tracks where no one else has and to enjoy winter than on snowshoes.

The equipment is cheap — this time of year a good pair of shoes along with poles can be had for less than $100.

No fancy clothing is needed either. In fact, if you’re going to get off the beaten path, some old Carhartts or snow pants are a good option to protect your legs from whatever brambles and branches peek above the snow.

There’s not a lot of complicated etiquette — the only rule is to stay out of the cross-country ski tracks.

You don’t need lessons, athletic ability or skill. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

It can be hard — the more untraveled the path, the slower the going can be. But that’s part of the fun and the payoff is worth it.

You can do it in your backyard, or the woods near your house, or the ballfield across the street, but one of the best is Quarry Road.

While the ski trails are beautifully groomed, the snowshoe trails are pristine and heavy with snow. They meander among trees and away from the “crowds.”

Some of the snowshoe trails are unmarked by other feet, and there’s the fantastic fun of tramping through snow that no one else has touched.

There is no better way to spend a beautiful March day than snowshoeing along the solitary trail along Messalonskee Stream at Quarry Road.

Maine’s beauty isn’t limited to the warm weather. Winter, once the initial hoopla and novelty is over, goes largely unappreciated by many of us. We’d rather curl up in front of a fire in between the shoveling, the driving on slippery roads and all those other things that are so much easier to do when it’s nice out.

So it can be a revelation, getting out on the snow, among the trees.

Those of us who live in the Waterville area are lucky that Quarry Road is right there, our little bit of wilderness between the highway and the city.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected]. Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.