WATERVILLE, Maine — Skiers flew up and down the hills beside Messalonskee Stream on Tuesday, enjoying the wide, groomed Quarry Road Trails. Though days of rain had melted much of the natural snow on the landscape just a week before, the trails were open and ski conditions were good, thanks to the facility’s 27 snow guns and a team of hardworking snowmakers and trail groomers.

“We do whatever it takes to make it nice,” said Sam Green, foreman for the Waterville Parks and Recreation Department.

In less than a decade, the Waterville community has developed and expanded Quarry Road Recreation Area and Trails, transforming the old quarry, overgrown ski area and surrounding woodlands into an outdoor playground for the public to enjoy. The 220-acre property now features nearly 7 miles of Nordic ski trails, groomed for classic and skate skiing. Criss-crossing those ski trails is a network of marked snowshoe trails. In the summer, these trails are used by walkers, runners and bicyclists.

“This is my second home,” said Caroline Mathes as she stood in the yurt that serves as a welcome center.

As a member of the Friends of Quarry Road board, Mathes wears many hats. She runs the welcome center, teaches skiing and helps organize community events and races at the recreation area.

“We want to try to keep people active and promote health,” Mathes said.

Coming up, on Jan. 28, the Quarry Road Trails is hosting a Community Free Ski Day and Winter Fun Day. Gates will open at 8 a.m., with the welcome center open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with ski equipment available to rent. In addition to free ski passes, the event will offer a variety of winter activities, including snowmobile toss, sledding and snow sculpting.

This event is the second of three Community Free Ski Days scheduled this winter at Quarry Road Trails in lieu of the popular Quarry Road Winter Carnival.

Skiing on Quarry Road Trails usually requires the purchase of a day or season ski pass, while snowshoeing, sledding and other activities are always free.

“I think a lot of people think [the trails] are just for Nordic skiing,” Skehan said. “We offer a lot more than just Nordic skiing.”

In the winter, Quarry Road visitors also snowshoe on trails marked specifically for snowshoeing, and some visitors experiment with backcountry skiing and snowboarding on the property’s steepest slopes. A sledding hill is groomed on a regular basis and is a big hit with children, and the old quarry walls at Devil’s Chair have become a destination for area ice climbers.

In addition, fat tire biking is becoming more popular on the property. In fact, the third Community Free Ski Day, scheduled for Feb. 19, will focus on this up-and-coming sport with fat tire bike demonstrations by Central Maine New England Mountain Bike Association.

“The skiers and the people who use the trails year round really appreciate this place,” said Wally Donovan, the lead snowmaker and assistant trail groomer for Quarry Road Trails. “The public really appreciates what’s happening here. I think it’s going to grow, too.”

The development of Quarry Road Recreation Area and Trails can be traced back to 2008, when the City of Waterville purchased the property from Colby College. Since then, residents of Waterville and surrounding towns have pitched in their expertise and time, typically as volunteers, to create a network of trails that cater to a variety of outdoor activities.

Each year, it grows.

In January 2013, the facility switched on it’s snowmaking system for the first time, pulling water from Messalonskee Stream and sending it through a system of underground and aboveground pipes to 19 towers topped with snow guns. The guns hissed as they spit fresh snow out in arcs, carpeting the large meadow just outside the welcome yurt.

In following years, the trail system continued to grow, and more snow guns were added to the system.

“Friends of Quarry Road, over the past several years, has really become extremely active and helpful in almost all aspects of the recreation area, from promotion to marketing, advertisement, volunteer labor and fundraising,” said Skehan. “They’re such a smart, passionate group, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

Just in the past year, the property has undergone several developments. Over the summer, Central Maine New England Mountain Bike Association and Quarry Road volunteers constructed approximately 3 miles of mountain biking trails, which double as snowshoeing trails. Also, a new Nordic Ski loop called Wally’s Way was constructed in the northernmost portion of the property, and lights were added to the 1.5-mile loop where snow is made.

“We tripled the amount of lights,” Mathes said. “It helps both our snowmakers and the public that come out to ski at night. It’s been used quite a bit.”

The lights turn on at dusk each day and remain on until 9 p.m.

“I’ve seen a huge amount of interest this winter,” said Mathes. “We have people from Bangor coming down for ski lessons or just consistent skiing.”

At the welcome yurt, Mathes has noticed a lot of new visitors to the recreation area lately, and they aren’t just coming from Bangor. Visitors are showing up from all over the state, including southern Maine and coastal areas where snow cover is currently scarce or non-existent. And these new visitors aren’t just coming once, they tend to return.

“People call it a gem — and it is,” Mathes said. “You feel like you’re out in the woods and you’re right by downtown. It’s a wonderful, wonderful treasure.”

To learn more about the Quarry Road Recreation Area and Trails, and to view a calendar of their upcoming community events, visit quarryroad.org.

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...