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Hopkinton ski club earns grant money for new grooming equipment

As snowfall becomes more sparse and winter shortens, the BlackWater Nordic Ski Club in Hopkinton is spending $18,000 of federal grant money to make sure its members can glide along the area’s trails as much as possible this year.

Earlier this year, the New Hampshire Recreational Trails Program awarded the club $14,000, which will be matched by $4,000 in donations from its own members.

Now, club President Rob Nadeau is just waiting for the new grooming equipment to arrive – and for the snow to fall.

“I think (the new equipment) is going to increase the amount of on-snow days considerably,” Nadeau said.

The club moved its activities from the Hopkinton Fairgrounds to winter trails at the Gould Hill Orchards during the last few winters, Nadeau said. The orchard offers more challenging and dynamic trails, but some members missed the flatter trails on the fairgrounds.

But the club had only one set of grooming equipment, and transporting the heavy machines between sites would be too difficult.

“There were a lot of folks that love the fairground, love the fact that it was a little more tame, but we didn’t have a means to do both,” Nadeau said.

The orchard is also more exposed to high winds that can blow snow cover off the trails, Nadeau said. For the club, that meant those trails sometimes didn’t have enough snow for skiers, even after a storm. Coupled with fewer inches of snowfall in the past several years, Nadeau said the club was itching to spend more time on its skis.

“We’ve certainly had a couple of lean winters early in the last couple of years, and the snow has come late,” Nadeau said.

Since earning the grant in the spring, the club has purchased a snowmobile used to help maintain trails, along with two other types of groomers. Nadeau said the 80 families and individuals who are members of the club will now be able to have the option of skiing at whichever location has better snow coverage. If the orchard can’t open, the club will be able to groom the fairgrounds for its members instead.

“I think that grooming in New England, especially in our part of New England, can be a challenge,” he said. “Big snowstorms are wonderful, but they take a long time to groom. . . . With both sets of equipment that we have, it allows us to deal with those things again.”

The club’s members range from older skiers just looking for some fresh powder to the high-school skiers Nadeau coaches to kids learning how to ski through the Bill Koch Youth Program.

“We would love to see the membership expand, not only getting more people out skiing but financially making us more viable. . . . Just to turn the key, so to speak, is pretty expensive,” Nadeau said.

Chris Gamache, chief supervisor at the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, said his office administered more than $900,000 in federal grant money during the last round of awards.

This grant money “makes trails and trail projects viable,” Gamache said. “Nordic organizations like this usually live by donations from people to cross-country ski.”

The Recreational Trails Program grants are awarded to both motorized and nonmotorized trails, and the program is about to open its last guaranteed round for applications. Gamache said the federal funds for the program, which come from a gas tax on all highway vehicles, are tied to the highway bill that expires next year.

“In this case for the Nordic ski club, this is the only grant program that funds nonmotorized trails in the state of New Hampshire,” Gamache said. “So without these federal funds . . . there would be no money available for them.”

The club is still scraping for the $4,000 it needs to match alongside the funds from the Recreational Trails Program. Nadeau said the club sent an initial plea for donations to its membership last week.

In the past, the club has rallied together to raise money for a new snow machine in just weeks, Nadeau said.

“The support is in the community, so we’re hoping that continues,” he said.

He’s just hoping the snowfall continues as well. In Nadeau’s ideal world, snow would start falling at the beginning of December and keep falling until the end of March – and he would be on the trails through it all.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of gliding on the snow on one ski, once you’ve experienced that,” he said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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