FORT KENT – Cross-country skiing is going right to town in northern Maine, known for decades as the snow capital of the state.
While snow is still being awaited in the region, the anticipation is especially high at Fort Kent Elementary School, where a new program is waiting to go.
The school has acquired some grant money to develop a “ski park” in the school yard, where cross-country skiing will be used in the physical education program for all youngsters, kindergarten through grade 8.
MBNA America bought into the program, offering $12,000 if the school could come up with $6,000 of local money. The Fort Kent Lions Club jumped in to guarantee the needed $6,000, and volunteers are coming through with another $8,100 in in-kind services and needs.
“It’s a go,” Gary Stevens, school principal, said Wednesday. “The idea which sprang up last spring has grown from a borrowing and begging idea to being able to buy the equipment we need.
“It will be great for the kids,” he continued. “Anytime you can get them out and active is a change because there is already enough to keep them inside with sedentary activities.”
Kindergarten through grade six pupils will be involved in the program once a week. Seventh- and eighth-graders will participate twice a week in the program during physical education.
The idea started last spring with members of the Fort Kent Cross-Country Club, a decades-old group that has about 30 miles of cross-country trails throughout town. David Mitchell and Bonnie Cyr of the club are assisting the school
Max Saenger and the staff of the Maine Winter Sports Center are involved with training local personnel, and assisting with equipping the idea and program.
The idea of a ski park comes from Sweden, Stevens said.
“It’s novel in Maine and the country,” he said. “Its also exciting, the cadre of people we have who are willing to help and get trained to help the kids.
“This kind of activity is also very good in helping child development,” the school administrator continued. “Who knows, we may get students good enough that they would enjoy cross-country skiing for life.”
In the end, it may help students to learn the sport before they get to high school, and then to compete interscholastically.
It also could help students develop a liking for the sport and continue it into biathlon competition, he said.
Another positive aspect of the park will be its availability to the public during nonschool hours.
The park will involve the creation of small hills, using bales of hay under the snow, the creation of tunnels and obstacles, and the use of snowbanks created by the snowplow clearing snow from the area. There also will be jumps, and the use of a natural hill near a rail line, toward the rear of the school yard.
The ski park will include signs, and a number of games will be developed to make the program even more interesting than skiing alone, Stevens said.
The trail will be maintained by the Fort Kent Cross-Country Club.
The grant money, according to Stevens, will be used to purchase 120 sets of skis and boots, trail-making equipment, the building of a hut for the equipment and a storage area.
“It’s an ideal setting behind the elementary school for a cross-country skiing program for our children,” Marc Chasse, a spearhead in the Lions Club for the project,” said. “The schoolyard’s varied terrain makes it a perfect location for a ski park.”
Chasse said the group will be selling baseball-type hats to raise the money.
The hats, which will include the emblem of the Maine Winter Sports Center, will be on sale at several Fort Kent businesses and from members of the Lions Club for $25 each. All of the funds from the hat sale, excluding expenses, will go directly to the ski park project.
“This is just in time for Christmas, and the hat is a wonderful gift for family members and employees,” Chasse said. “Here’s an opportunity for everyone to help out.”
Chasse can be contacted at 100 East Main Street in Fort Kent, by telephone at 834-3406 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.