Colby Ski Area Redux


Colby network brings Nordic skiing to Waterville

By Gerry Boyle '78

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

 Quarry Road Map

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  • On March 21, 2010, Andy Smith wrote:
    It's sad that they're proud of the "boulevard" they created in this wooded area. What was once a serene spot for running, walking, and just enjoying nature's wonders has been ruined. Sadly, only of few of us will remember the diverse woodland, beaver pond, and vernal pools this group demolished to feed the insatiable appetite of skiers for more trails.
  • On March 26, 2010, Jon Fink wrote:
    There will always be troubling conflicts between fans of competing recreational modes, as Andy Smith's comment demonstrates. I have wonderful (but frigid) memories of being on the ski patrol at Colby's ski hill in the early 1970s. Having a local ski or snowboarding slope would help Colby attract certain students (like my desert-raised son) that want easily-accessible downhill fixes. Hopefully there will still be pristine sections of the woods for Mr. Smith and his friends to explore as well. Thanks to John Koons for taking the initiative.
  • On March 26, 2010, Byron Meinerth wrote:
    Andy, as someone who frequented the area before, I can imagine how you feel. I actually have yet to see the area as it is currently. However, I'm a strong believer of the following: encouraging people to do any non-motorized outdoor sports can increase their appreciation for the natural world. You might ask where I draw the line. Obviously mountain biking is more detrimental that walking/hiking, and alpine skiing is more so than both of those. Downhill skiing also uses a lot more energy in the form of transportation to the mountain and in the lift service, if one is a resort. But all of these teach people that there is something that the outdoors can provide us, that no TV or computer game can compete with. Anyways, I hope all is well back at Colby and am glad to see you're staying active (politically and physically). Keep it up.
  • On March 27, 2010, Marcia Sheldon wrote:
    If I remember correctly, we called it the Colby Ski Slope in the early 1960's, and for me, access to the hill opened up a whole new world of outdoor adventure. I purchased bright red skis downtown from Pete Weber's (or Webber, I can't remember) ski shop. Since Sugarloaf was pretty much beyond my budget and, since women couldn't have cars in those days, it was not easy to get to. The Ski Slope was close, however, and 50 years later I am still enjoying the sport as are my two grown children. I agree with other writers who suggest that well-planned outdoor facilities can have lasting value for a community.
  • On March 28, 2010, Dick Birch '51 wrote:
    In the late 40's and early 50's the Colby Outing Club developed this ski area and even had a ski jump. John Harriman, Pete Coney, Geof Lyford, Don Grout, George Haselton and others headed this up and supplied the muscle. It was quite a jump!
  • On March 29, 2010, Fred Copithorn wrote:
    Nice work John. It was you that gave me my first taste of XC ski when I borrowed your wooden slats in 1971; and I've enjoyed xc and skateskiing ever since. Nordic ski trails are always welcome; I hope you'll keep it to that.
  • On March 29, 2010, Nancy and Dick Fitts wrote:
    We could use more information on your walking trails; parking etc. We are starting up an outing group at Granite Hill Estates, a senior residential area in Augusta and are gathering information on potential hiking sites. We'd appreciate hearing more. P.S. we are parents of Dana Fitts (Colby '72) Charlie Fitts (Colby '76)
  • On March 29, 2010, Peter Anderson '66 wrote:
    Thirty years ago I was disappointed to read that the ski area had been closed. Now I'm elated to learn that it is to enjoy a new burst of recreational activity. Back in the 60s and 70s the area provided various different learning opportunities for us students. Busses carried Phys Ed students to the hill for ski lessons taught by other students, somewhat more proficient; dozens learned first aid so they could qualify to work as ski patrolers; it was great fun earning $1.25/hr being a ski lift operator, greeting our classmates after each run, while at the same time developing PR skills in dealing with the paying public.. The hill added a new dimension to Winter Carnival. It was great for Colby during those years. Now it appears it will be great for Colby and the greater community for many more years to come, and in a much more sustainable way.
  • On March 31, 2010, Nathaniel (Buddy) Bates '57 wrote:
    When I was President of the Outing Club in 1956 Dr. Koons and President Bixler encourage me to speak with the then owners of the Waterville Ski Area on Colby's behalf. The Administration's negotiations to purchase the land had come to a standstill. The owners were elderly and they wanted to be sure that the area would be available to the citizens of Waterville. It took several more years of negotiation before Colby eventually was able to purchase the property. I congratulate John koons and Mike Roy for following through on making this unique area a multi-use park for the use of Colby and the city of Waterville. To have the trails designed professionally by John Morton, the former Dartmouth Ski Team coach, is an added bonus.
  • On April 5, 2010, John Koons (Colby '72) wrote:
    To Dick Birch, Jon Fink and Buddy Bates: my father sends his regards with fond memories. Enjoyed the comments and thank Gerry Boyle for an excellent update on our progress. It's a wonderful area with tremendous potential and should encourage many segments of the local population to participate in outdoor activity. We had so much fun as kids, I felt that with a little effort we could generate a similar experience today in an otherwise economically depressed area. Feel free to contact me at (207)872-5252 or with any additional thoughts or suggestions. I would like to see this get to a higher, sustainable level. (it's kind of neat)