The Maine Winter Sports Center is known for the world-class Nordic facilities in Aroostook County — and for developing trails and athletes there.

However, the Healthy Hometowns Program in the southern half of the state has been around for several years, and its coordinator said the program is primed to grow. The goal is to reach more communities where Nordic skiing just doesn’t exist.

The program helps provide affordable Nordic skiing equipment and instruction to towns where the sport is unfamiliar or inaccessible.

In the two years Connor Cushman has directed the program in the southern half of the state, he said the demand has grown.

“I think primarily the goal is making the sport affordable for kids in kind of rural areas and giving them the chance to get out there,” he said. “It’s not as expensive as going to Sunday River or Sugarloaf, but (outfitting young Nordic skiers) is still expensive for growing kids.”

Cushman assists with 39 programs in roughly 56 communities, either providing leased skis or offering training and instructional tips — or both.

The program has 1,000 pairs of skis leased out to youngsters, mostly from kindergarten to 8th grade. The cost is $55 for the entire season from December through March.

The lease program has taken off, Cushman said.

But Cushman also provides coaching and assistance setting up beginner programs and school activities that help teach kids how to ski.

He said Old Town is one example in which a town recreation department has embraced the program, Cushman said.

And in some rural towns, such as Bryant Pond just south of Bethel, the program is booming, with 40 elementary school kids.

Cushman also travels to the Augusta area, even up to Greenville. His region is primarily everything outside of Aroostook County where Nordic skiing has caught fire.

“You’d be surprised in how many rural areas there are lots of kids who don’t do this,” he said. “Outdoor recreation is not a part of their lives. There are places right around Portland.”

But Cushman said there is greater demand than he can satisfy and the center will have to grow as the demand increases.

“There are other things (the Maine Winter Sports Center) is doing that are taking a lot of time and energy,” Cushman said. “The World Cup this year is a very big focus.

“Not to say we are ignoring these community programs. They just have great potential to really, really grow, and that will happen.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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