TURNER — To most everyone visiting the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center, the large building at the end of the dead-end River Road is a ski lodge.

Not so, said Gregg Varney.

“I would not call this a ski lodge,” the man who built it said.

To the Turner farmer, the building is still a cow barn.

“Farmers utilize what they have,” Varney said. The foundation of an old cow barn is the footprint of Maine’s newest Nordic ski center’s welcome center.

The center opened Jan. 27 after 4 inches of snow covered the 300-acre working farm.

“Today was a monumental day for the MOWC,” Dustin Williamson wrote after grooming the center’s trails for the first time.

“We are open to the public free of charge,” Varney announced.

The center was put on the map by Varney’s son, Roy, a two-time high school Nordic state champion and winner of the prestigious Sassi Memorial race. Varney grew up on the center’s land and had a plan to create a biathlon training center on the farm that overlooks the Androscoggin River.

People can ski two loops at the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner. Plans are in place to offer more in years to come. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Roy’s life was cut short July 1, 2019, but his dream of a Nordic and biathlon center was not.

Roy Varney’s teammates, family, friends and coaches kept that dream moving forward.

“The ski community all around New England, including some Olympian athletes have donated to honor my son Roy who died,” Gregg Varney said.

The day after Tuesday’s storm dumped a foot of snow on the center’s ski trails, Gregg Varney plowed the parking lot using a corn harvester, Roy’s mother Gloria Varney painted 2-by-4 lane dividers that will be used during an upcoming race, Roy’s brother Everet groomed 5K of trails, Roy’s sister Natasha coached teenagers on ski technique and 100 sheep said baa as members of the Leavitt Area High School Nordic team practiced in the nearby field.

“You can tell it’s a working farm,” Williamson, the Nordic coach at Leavitt, said.

“We are just beginning,” Gregg Varney said. “It’s a five-year plan.”

For now, the ski trails follow the perimeter of the family’s farm fields. Varney has plans to cut more trails on the wooded hillside. “It’s just too much for me to accomplish this year,” he said.

Leavitt Area High School senior Margo Kenyon listens as her ski coach, Dustin Williamson, gives the team a training plan for the day at the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The center has a 2.5K loop and a 5K loop open to the public. The family asks that you sign in at the self-check-in area inside the lodge before heading out.

Williamson’s  team hosts a classic ski race each winter at the Turner high school. Williamson said no matter how much he tries, his course behind the high school always falls short of a traditional 5K course.

Not anymore. The Leavitt Hornets would be hosting the Roy Varney Hornet Classic on Saturday at the center and Williamson is positive he has the room for 5K. “It may even be a little longer,” he said.

The race has been postponed because of COVID-19 and the delayed event will not carry the Roy Varney Hornet Classic name this year because only a limited number of athletes will be allowed to compete and there will be no spectators. Williamson will bring the name back when all can attend. The inaugural Roy Varney Hornet Classic in 2020 drew 259 competitors and a lot of parents.

Inside Gregg Varney’s cow barn/ski lodge is a picture of his son competing in a biathlon, an event that combines Nordic skiing and rifle shooting. The biathlon stadium will be built below the lodge on a large field along the Androscoggin River.

“I think within a year, the stadium will be built,” Gloria said. Probably built by Gregg.

“I’m the farmer, the carpenter and the trail builder,” Gregg said. “I have plenty of support though.”

“I knew our goal was to have a race this year and that’s going to happen,” Gloria said.

Williamson said that all but one of the center’s board members are graduates of Leavitt, the school Roy skied for and where he graduated.

Gregg Varney climbs into a corn harvester while plowing the parking lot Wednesday at the Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner. Varney’s son, Roy, had plans to build a Nordic ski and biathlon facility on the family farm. Roy Varney died in 2019, but the family and community have kept Roy’s dream alive. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“It’s everyone that knew Roy and who was inspired by Roy to make this happen,” Williamson said.

For the time being, the trail fee is set up on a donation basis. Donations can be left in the box inside the old cow barn.

“Communities need places for people to get outside,” Gloria said.

“We are just trying to thank the community for the support that they have given us,” Gregg said.

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