For years, Nordic skiing options around campus have been slim. Students looking for groomed trails could either drive half an hour to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, where Bowdoin’s varsity team practices, or try their luck at a few groomed snowmobile trails slightly closer to campus. But, in the past few months, Friends of Cross-Country Skiing (FOXCS), a local community-based organization acting as an arm of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust, has been advocating for improved recreational Nordic skiing facilities right here in town—and the group has been rapidly gaining support.
Before FOXCS, the recreational Nordic skiing community in the Brunswick-Topsham area was not formalized and was limited in its scope. Although residents have made efforts to improve local conditions, there was no formal movement to petition for more trails in town and build a sense of community amongst local skiers.
“There [were] definitely a lot of people who [had] been thinking about [forming a group] for years,” said Bowdoin Nordic skiing Head Coach Nathan Alsobrook, who has been involved with FOXCS from the beginning. “Now [that] we’re starting to talk about this and coordinate more, [we’re attracting people] who might not have known anything about this previously.”
The inspiration for FOXCS came from the confluence of a number of factors. Earlier this winter, Brunswick’s Mere Creek Golf Club, a popular spot for local skiers, decided to stop allowing use of its property for skiing. Even though there was no real formalized community of recreational skiers, the backlash to Mere Creek’s decision was strong.
“People got really upset, and they wrote to the Town Council,” said Kathy Thorson, a nurse practitioner at the Bowdoin Health Center and an executive committee member of FOXCS. “The town councillors said, ‘We have never, ever had so many people come and talk to us about any issue.’”
The energetic community action in support of cross-country skiing came at the perfect moment for Thorson, who had been thinking about how to start a more formalized skiing community in town.
“We happen to be sort of positioned perfectly to go, ‘Oh, look at all these people that are interested in cross country skiing!’ And they would all say, ‘I wrote to my town councilor, because I’m really upset.’ And then I would be able to write back and say, ‘Hi, there’s this new group!’” said Thorson.
The final phase of the group’s evolution came when it became officially affiliated with the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust (BTLT), a local nonprofit, at the end of last year.
“[We] fit exactly with their mission,” said Thorson. “So they actually turned to us really early on. We went to the Land Trust and said, ‘What do you think?’ And they said, ‘Oh, you’re perfect. We’ve been wanting to do something like this for so long’ … and so we became an advisory group.”
“It’s just one of those things where the timing was right,” added Angela Twitchell, the executive director of BTLT. “We were in a place where we had time at the Land Trust to be able to help with this, and the volunteers in the community were really able to put in the time and effort to be able to help make it work. So it’s a great partnership.”
Ever since that partnership was forged, FOXCS has settled into a rhythm of providing day-to-day resources to local skiers as well as hosting larger fundraising and community events to support recreational skiing.
According to the FOXCS Facebook page—which in around two months has already gained close to 230 followers—the organization’s three main goals are to “raise funds, to provide a pool of volunteers for trail maintenance and consult with BTLT on decisions regarding grooming and trial development priorities.”
The most immediate responsibility of FOXCS is to monitor and report conditions of local trails. These trails include those on BTLT’s Woodward Preserve and the trails on Kate Furbish Reserve, which is owned by the Town of Brunswick. Along with a small but dedicated group of local skiers, Thorson checks trails every day and posts a detailed summary of the conditions. In just a few months, FOXCS and its social media presence have attracted a devout following in the area.
“The growth has been exponential,” said Thorson. “I’ll meet strangers on the trail and they’ll say, ‘I know [who] you are! You’re posting on Facebook!’”
The group has also prioritized fundraising efforts in order to be able to pay the two professional groomers who take care of the local trails and to fund the group’s other initiatives. In just a few months, FOXCS has raised over $1,000 through community donations. On February 16, FOXCS partnered with Flight Deck Brewery for their “Brews for a Cause” event, during which 20 percent of all beer sales went towards the organization. Thorson and the rest of the leadership team have also been working on putting together grant proposals to try and increase the FOXCS financial base.
FOXCS has made an impact even in just a few months by advocating for support through the Town Council. The Town of Brunswick has added ski reports to its website, and recently opened a network of new trails on the Kate Furbish Reserve, located just west of Brunswick Landing and within walking distance of Whittier Field.
FOXCS’s activities are already creating opportunities for Bowdoin students as well. Currently, the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) has a dozen Nordic skiing instructors and sends out two to three trips weekly, often to Pineland Farms or other off-campus facilities. However, with the maintenance of these new and highly accessible trails, it will be easier than ever for students to ski, either on a BOC trip or by checking out a pair of classic or skate skis from the gear room and walking to a nearby trail.
“Enthusiasm [for Nordic skiing] has grown in the past couple winters,” said Tess Hamilton, associate director of the Outing Club. “[Having] skate grooming in town is just incredible to reduce barriers to access, and also just makes it so that students can get out skiing without having to drive.”
“I would love to have more Bowdoin students!” added Thorson. “I know that it’s hard because you’re not here all year … but just know we are thinking about you!”
The group is just getting started. As the group grows and continues to fundraise, new trails and programs will open up, making skiing for town residents—and Bowdoin students—even more accessible, said Thorson.
“The thing that’s unique and exciting about this is that it really is community driven,” said Twitchell. “Many of us from different walks of life and different perspectives that all have enthusiasm for cross-country skiing are just coming together … It’s sort of unusual for that to happen, and to have a number of successes in just the first few months is exciting too.”