Difficulty: Easy to strenuous, depending on the trails you choose to explore in the network and your form of recreation. Trails are labeled by difficulty on the trail map, which is displayed on trailhead kiosks and in the welcome yurt, and is also available online.
How to get there: Take I-95 Exit 130 (Waterville) and turn south onto Main Street. Drive about 0.6 mile, then turn right onto Eustis Parkway. Drive 0.6 mile, then turn right onto North Street. Drive 0.1, then turn right onto Quarry Road. Drive 1.3 to the main parking lot by the Quarry Road Welcome Center Yurt.
Information: Located just outside downtown Waterville, Quarry Road Trails and Recreation Area is a hub for public recreation, featuring a vast network of intersecting trails for a wide range of outdoor activities. Owned by the City of Waterville, this property, formerly an old quarry and overgrown ski area, has been transformed over the past decade by the Waterville Department of Parks and Recreation and a group of devoted volunteers that have banded together to form the nonprofit organization Friends of Quarry Road.
The recreation area is continuing to be developed as trails are added and improved. Currently, the trails make up several loops that explore the hilly property, traveling through a mixed forest, around several fields, and tracing the banks of Messalonskee Stream.
In the winter, nearly 7 miles of these trails are groomed for Nordic skiing — both classic and skate skiing — and several additional miles of trails are designated and signed for snowshoers. In 2013, a state-of-the-art snowmaking system was added to this trail network. Now featuring 27 snow guns, this snowmaking system pulls water from Messalonskee Stream to create snow for a loop trail that totals more than 1.5 mile. This system ensures an early start to the ski season on the property, as well as reliable snow conditions all winter. In addition this winter, the lighting on the trail system was tripled to cover this entire loop, allowing skiers to stay on the trails past sundown.
Also during the winter, a large hill is groomed specifically for sledding; the old quarry walls at Devil’s Chair have become a destination for area ice climbers; and some visitors experiment with backcountry skiing and snowboarding on the property’s steepest slopes.
During snow-free months, this trail network is enjoyed by trail runners, dog walkers, hikers and mountain bikers. In fact, last summer, the Central Maine New England Mountain Bike Association and Quarry Road volunteers constructed approximately 3 miles of additional mountain biking trails on the property. These trails now double as snowshoeing trails.
The recreation area also includes a boat launch on Messalonskee Stream.
With the exception of the groomed ski trails, the area is open to the public free of charge; though donations to maintain and grow the area are gratefully accepted.
Skiing on the trails requires a pass, which can be purchased at the Quarry Road Welcome Center Yurt near the main parking area. For day passes, children under 6 years old are free; students ages 7 to 18 are $8; adults ages 19 to 64 are $12; and adults ages 65 and older are $8. There is a special discount for Waterville residents and families. And season passes are also available.
The welcome yurt is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during the winter and offers rental ski equipment and snacks.
During the winter, dogs and walkers are not permitted on the groomed ski trails. Snowshoers should stay to the side of the ski trails and use the designated snowshoe trails where possible.
This property, so close to the hustle and bustle of downtown Waterville, has long attracted outdoor enthusiasts, even though the current trail network is relatively new. In the 1930’s, a steep hill on the property was developed into a local ski area, complete with a tow rope, according to the Quarry Road Trails website, quarryroad.org. This hill was closed during World War II, then was re-opened by war veterans and the Colby Outing Club in the late 1940s.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the area was operated by Colby College as a lighted ski area with limited snowmaking. It was then closed and abandoned, and in 2008 the City of Waterville purchased the land from the college and began developing the trails that now make up Quarry Road Trails and Recreation Area.
For more information, visit quarryroad.org or call (207) 314-0258.
Personal note: The first hill I came to on the Quarry Road Trails was a bit daunting, to say the least. I’m a beginner Nordic skier with zero experience in downhill skiing, so it doesn’t take much to have me quaking in my ski boots. I was on the “easy” trails, after all. But I made it down that first big hill — and part way up the next — without wiping out. I thought it was a miracle, but after skiing down and up a few more hills, I realized that maybe I was getting a hang of it.
It was Tuesday, Jan. 17, and I was at Quarry Road to learn more about the property’s development and community programs. In the warm welcome yurt, I spoke with a few people heavily involved with the day-to-day operations at Quarry Road, including the lead snowmaker and trail groomer. And after that, I headed out on the trails, sticking to the wide ski trails that were labeled as “green” for having the least challenging terrain.
I skied for several hours, and while my technique was far from graceful or consistent, I managed to film and photograph the trails without running into trees or crashing into a culvert. I credit my success in part to myself, and in part to how perfectly groomed the trails were. With the trails being so smooth, it was fairly easy to maintain my balance.
It wasn’t long before ski teams from the local middle school and high school showed up to practice on the trails. I watched as tweens and teens sped past me, navigating the hills with ease. And as the afternoon wore on, more adult skiers showed up. All the activity demonstrated to me just how highly this trail network is valued by the community.