In a summer of major campus construction (four major renovations or new buildings are in-process right now), it's easy to ignore the less obvious improvements that are happening around campus. However, if you wander down to the Nordic Center and listen carefully, you will hear the sounds of chain saws, nail guns and a mini-excavator echoing through the woods. Backtracking along marker flags through the woods will bring you to a remarkably Dublin construction project.
The Dublin School Nordic Center is one of the best facilities in the East. A sinuous system of racing trails winds up the backside of Beach Hill terminating just under Eagle Rock. The development of this incredible resource was inspired by the vision and generosity of Michael Lehmann, the son of the Dublin School founder. The Lehmann family believes in the importance of encouraging kids to explore the woods both for exercise and to appreciate the natural gifts of Dublin.
While the Nordic Center was primarily designed as a facility for Nordic racing and training, it also serves as the primary home to our Mountain Bike Team. The elevation change, wide-open trails, and multiple curves and switchbacks, makes for a great Mountain Bike racing venue. However, as designed, it was missing any Singletrack sections which can offer highly technical riding. Last year, a couple of short sections of Singletrack were completed by students.
Stew McIntosh (P'18 Robyn McIntosh) has been designing and building Singletrack trails for over 20 years in his home of Western Quebec. He looked at the Dublin course (Robyn is an experienced Nordic skier) and imagined the possibilities. Somehow he convinced a friend and co-trail builder, Brent Belzac to take a ten-day "vacation" to come south to voluntarily build trails. Brent, a self-described trail junkie, jumped at the opportunity, saying "I dream of building trails at night..."
The story gets more complicated. The existing ski trails were built with a full-sized excavator owned by Dublin Trustee, George Foote. That equipment is simply too big for Singletrack work. Without significant horsepower, only a limited amount of trails can be built by hand in the time that the team had available. The ideal piece of equipment for such work is a mini-excavator. Stew is in the wood pellet business. Over the years, he has been a friendly competitor to Steve Walker, a Monadnock area, serial entrepreneur, and friend of the school. Steve Walker happens to own a mini-excavator that he offered to Stew for the project.
Steve Sanders, Dublin’s resident groomer, has built a lot of trails in his life and made the ideal choice to operate the mini-excavator. Stew and Brent would spend their time flagging, cutting and fine tuning the trails. Steve would follow Stew and Brent through the woods roughing out and smoothing the trails to articulate their vision.
At the Nordic Center, Stew and Brent have designed a series of trails that connect the larger ski trails. The trails wind gracefully through the wooded "islands" that separate the existing ski trails. To reduce erosion, none of the new Singletrack trails head straight down the fall line. Instead, they meander and switch back across the slope to hold the soil. They also take advantage of natural features such as boulders, crossing them to create mini-jumps and to slow riders down at major turns. Like the ski trails, they reverse and loop in accessible places that will make for ideal viewing by spectators.
Brent says that this kind of trail building is often a three-year process. The first year construction establishes the trail route and makes it rideable. The second-year requires a bit of maintenance as the soil stabilizes, rocks "grow" out of the ground, and roots need to be cut back. By the third year, as the trails get ridden, packed and faster, the corners often need to be adjusted and softened to reflect the increasing achievable speeds.
Unlike winter trails when the world is frozen, these trails need to deal with water. That is where the fourth member of the team, GH Werowinski ('17) comes in. GH is an accomplished endurance athlete (he will be attending St. Lawrence University in the fall to ski and row), who has been working with Buildings and Grounds this summer. Among many interests, GH spent a lot of time in the woodshop at Dublin, building furniture and perfecting his woodworking skills. He has been tasked with building a series of small and long bridges over swales, streams and low lying areas on the trails. Using recycled lumber from some old bridges on campus he has been knocking out a series of ridable structures at an astounding pace. When he finishes, Stew and Brent move in to adjust the grade of the trail to meet the ends of the bridges.
So with a little ingenuity, a great amount of volunteered labor, and some borrowed equipment, the Nordic Center is being reshaped to increase its utility and to get more students out into the woods.