William Wilkoff, a member of the Friends of Cross Country Skiing group, skis at the Kate Furbish West preserve on Tuesday. Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record

BRUNSWICK — Brunswick town officials and local land trust organizers want to increase and improve the town’s cross country skiing offerings as demand for safe outdoor activities grows during the coronavirus pandemic. 

After a disappointing closure last year, the Mere Creek Golf Course has reopened its parking lot and for cross country skiers to park for easy access to the Kate Furbish Preserve, Town Manager John Eldridge told the council on Monday. 

The Brunswick Parks and Recreation Department will be responsible for maintaining the parking lot and staking off the course, he said.

Last year, owner Jeff Harris closed off the parking lot and course access point to the Kate Furbish West preserve after alleged incidents of vandalism and littering. Several skiers approached the town, concerned that people would incorrectly assume the trails were closed and also worried for the safety of people parking along the street. 

“I know there were a lot of feelings last year,” Eldridge said, but Harris “stepped up” and reopened the parking lot and access point without charging the town. 

Aside from the newly reopened parking area, Brunswick also has several new cross country skiing areas joining the arsenal of trails. 

A nearly 1-mile skate-ski area in the field next to the Brunswick Recreation Department opened on Monday, with entrances from Orion St. and the rec center parking lot. 

According to William Wilkoff, a member of the local Friends of Cross Country Skiing group, skate skiing doesn’t require the same kind of parallel track as class cross country skiing. Skate skiers angle their ski tips outward in a V shape and move more like an ice skater, compared with the more side by side motion in the classic model. 

It is one of the disciplines used by the high school cross country ski team and will “be a big plus for people who want to get out and have a nice workout,” Wilkoff said. 

Woodward Point will also groom its main field for cross country skiing, though it is not ready quite yet, Caitlin Gerber, a steward with Maine Coast Heritage Trust said Tuesday. The loop will be about a half-mile 

Similarly, the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust plans to groom a roughly 1.5-mile track in the northern field at Crystal Spring Farm, reserving the woodland trails for dog walkers and snowshoers, according to Lee Cataldo, director of programs for the land trust. 

These new trails, offering roughly three miles of tracks for skiers across Brunswick, join the existing 2.6 miles of groomed trail at the Kate Furbish west preserve and about four miles at the Kate Furbish east preserve. 

To help maintain these miles of trails, town officials have bid farewell to the more than 20-year-old snowmobile they’ve been using since the late 1990s and recently purchased a new $22,000 ATV with a $5,000 trail groomer to set the tracks. 

The trails are an asset the town is likely to want to protect. 

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last year that the outdoor recreation industry makes up 4.8% of Maine’s economy, contributing $3 billion every year.

Of that, according to Headwaters Economics, roughly $80 million comes from snow activities, and the importance of outdoor recreation opportunities in Maine is only expected to increase as the coronavirus pandemic pushes families outside.

“The number of people coming to our outdoor location to recreate far exceeds what we would see in a normal year,” Tom Farrell, director of parks and recreation said. 

“(People) want to be outdoors, want to breathe fresh air, want to get some cardiovascular exercise,” he said. 

Plus, Cataldo added, “you do get to explore all these places that you may not go to in the summertime. Get it frozen up and get some snow on it and you can get to some really neat places.” 

For younger skiers, the town is offering ski lessons for kids ages 8 to 15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting Jan. 5. There are 15 slots and the program, led by instructor Holly Greene, “focuses on teaching the fundamentals of Nordic Skiing, both classic and freestyle, in an atmosphere that is fun and that emphasizes getting out and skiing,” according to a program description. Lessons will be based from the Mere Creek Golf Course and Kate Furbish West preserve. 

For more information about the town’s ski trails visit brunswickme.org/ski  

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