WATERVILLE — Harrison Bigos-Lowe joined the Quarry Road Ski Club out of necessity.

Until last week, the Auburn resident could not even practice with the Edward Little ski team because Androscoggin County schools’ yellow label prevented team activities. The Red Eddies now can practice, but the 17-year-old Baxter Academy junior plans on sticking with the Quarry Road Ski Club for the remainder of the winter, too, his first with the program.

“It’s been so awesome,” Bigos-Lowe said after finishing the Nonstop Nordic high school race Saturday afternoon. “This is the only place we’ve actually been able to race.”

Take one look at Quarry Road Trails and you’d have little idea the coronavirus pandemic is running rampant.

Trail staff are dedicated to making an enjoyable and safe experience and mental health experts say getting outside this winter is tremendously important. Sure, everyone’s masked up and distanced, but usage is booming.

“I think it’s busier than it’s ever been before,” said Joseph Reisert, president of the Friends of Quarry Road board of directors and a political science professor at Colby College. Reisert often skis after work under the lights with a headlamp. He estimates traffic is up by about 25%. “I think anybody who could get a hold of a pair of skis is out there.”

On Saturday, the welcome center was open for a few afternoon hours and planned to be open most of the day Sunday. It was too warm to open last week, but staff and volunteers returned this weekend. Temperatures dipped into the low 20s and mild winds made for a pleasant, but chilly, day. Nonstop Nordic, a nonprofit volunteer group, put on races for adult, high school and middle school levels as part of its statewide race series.

George Theall, a 16-year-old Portland High School junior, raced against the Quarry Road Ski Club members and others. The 70-plus mile ride northward was well worth it.

“It’s much better than Portland because there’s no snow in Portland,” Theall said. “So you take what you can get.”

Music blared and a public address announcer introduced the racers.

Justin Fereshetian, program director and ski coach for Quarry Road Trails, was waxing skis as racers prepared to take the trails. He expects this winter to be busy.

“There’s been a lot of interest,” Fereshetian said. “We saw signs of it, so we could forecast in with skiing.”

Lia Morris, along with her friendly dog, Cosmo, watched her son, Owen Siff, compete in the race. Siff, a Messalonskee High School junior, has been with the Quarry Road Ski Club since the third grade. The team practices five days per week and often races on the weekends.

“I think it’s the part of the day he looks forward to the most,” Morris said. “It’s a huge outlet.”

Quarry Road Trails is completely outdoors. There’s 13 kilometers of groomed Nordic ski trails and opportunity for snowshoeing, walking, biking and more on ungroomed trails. The latter trails have not seen a ton of natural snowfall to date and the above freezing temperatures over the past week induced melting.

Anyone may come whenever they want as the park does not need to follow specific COVID-related gathering limits. Visitors are, however, expected to stay physically distanced and wear a face covering at all times. For those who have their own equipment, there are trailside QR codes for contactless ticket purchases. Because the welcome center is closed during the pandemic, equipment rentals and ticket sales are offered through curbside service only. Traffic flow is funneled through a one-way entrance and exit so as to limit potential exposure to coronavirus.

 Driving through Quarry Road, there are three neon yellow signs with black handwritten block lettering:

“WELCOME TO QUARRY ROAD TRAILS

FACE COVERINGS ARE REQUIRED

THANK YOU”

And even for the first-timers, like the five members of the Chapman family of Winslow, Quarry Road Trails is a break from bleak pandemic laden days.

“We just wanted to do something outside,” Caleb Chapman said.

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