Skiers returned in droves to the site of the former Colby Ski Area this winter as local alumni and city officials collaborated on a new recreation area that they say has virtually unlimited potential.
Quarry Road Recreation Area opened with a five-kilometer Nordic ski trail that runs along Messalonskee Stream, north of the campus, and loops through what was the base of the former alpine ski hill, last operated by the College in the 1970s.
“This has the potential to be something positive for Waterville and Colby,” said John Koons ’72, a driving force behind the project. “It has so much going for it.”
Koons, a Waterville dentist who grew up skiing on “the Colby Hill,” joined with City Manager Mike Roy ’74 in what began as a land-swap puzzle.
In 2005 the city decided to sell a restaurant at a city-owned golf course but because the property was purchased with federal recreation funds, and Waterville needed to replace the property with recreational land of equal value. Roy pored over tax maps and had one of those eureka moments. “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. The ski slope!’”
Roy spoke to Colby officials; they said they were interested in selling. After months of negotiation with the federal government, the deal went through. “It was pretty much the next day that John Koons was at my door,” Roy said.
Koons, who once helped manage the Colby Ski Area, had long seen the potential in the property, which includes woods and fields and borders Messalonskee Stream. In a role he describes as “instigator” for the project, he visited similar recreation areas to see successful models, from Weston, Mass., to the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, to the Maine Winter Sports Center in Presque Isle, Maine. “That’s the wonderful thing,” Koons said. “The data is all out there.”
Fundraising followed for the first phase of the project, with money coming from the city, state, and private foundations and donors (many with Colby affiliations). More than $300,000 was raised. Designer and former Olympian John Morton, who has worked on several Olympic venues, was brought in to plan the trail on the 120 acres. “Everybody who has seen it has said, ‘This is just beautiful,’” Roy said.
The trail includes tracks for both classical and skate skiing in a 16-foot-wide groomed swath. “It’s not just a trail, it’s more like a boulevard,” Koons said, comparing the course with the carriage trails at Acadia National Park.
The area was a deluged with skiers from Colby and the surrounding area before lack of snow shortened the ski season. A section open to snowshoeing and walking turned into a major draw for non-skiing area residents too.
But Koons stressed that the successful launch could be just the beginning. Plans on the drawing board call for snowmaking equipment and expanded access for walking and biking. College and high school ski meets could be held at the facility, Koons said, and the actual slope could be the site for a snowboard park. He even dreams of resurrecting the ski jump that once stood on the hill.
Koons, son of Professor Emeritus Donaldson Koons (geology) recalls an “idyllic childhood” in Waterville when winter sports were part of community life. The project has required “a lot of time and effort to reestablish that possibility,” he said.
The end result, Koons said, is an area that is already a resource benefitting people from the region, including older residents looking for a place for a scenic walk, families looking for a convenient place to ski or snowshoe, and, now that ice is out of the stream, kayakers and canoeists. Toward that end, a grassroots organization is being formed to help run and maintain the area.
“It’s a project to benefit the entire community,” Koons said. “It can happen. Look at what you can do.”
—Gerry Boyle ’78