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A History of the Ski Trails

by Tom Jacobs

     The first lighted cross-country ski trails in North America opened in Crandall Park in December of 1971. The history of the development of these trails will provide an insight into the current need for modernization and rehabilitation of the trails.

     Dan Reardon, the former Director of Recreation for Glens Falls, wanted to offer more winter activities in the park, in addition to ice skating. He was intrigued with the idea of cross-country skiing and had a notion that the lovely wooded park would make a good setting for that kind of skiing. Dan talked to me of his ideas, knowing that I grew up on cross-country skis as a youth in New Hampshire. I was very doubtful that the local citizens, young or old, would care to take up cross-country skiing as a leisure time activity. I had never done “ski touring” just for the fun of it. I had only raced in grueling cross-country ski competitions all through high school and college. At that time, the sport was esoteric and primarily for racing, at least in this country.

     I explained this to Dan, but he was not to be deterred. He arranged a walking tour through Crandall Park woods with Mayor Bob Cronin and councilman Mangine and presented them with his idea. Much to my disbelief, they liked it!

     Limited funds were allocated to brush cut and illuminate two kilometers of ski trails on the terraces of Halfway Brook. Rough bridges were built from wooden pallets. The whole project cost only $3,000.00.

     John Caldwell, a 1952 Olympic Ski Team-mate, was the coach of the U.S. Ski Team in 1971. I asked John to bring the team to Glens Falls for a night ski race on the new trails. He agreed. We arranged the “First International” and the opening dedication. It was a great success. Good snow and the fledgling U.S. Ski Team were excellent ambassadors. In later years, it became somewhat expensive for the Adirondack Ski Club to entertain the U.S. Ski Team at the “International”.  In the first few years, the team was billeted in private homes, and lasting friendships have resulted.

     A large trophy for the “International” was handsomely engraved by Tiffany’s in New York City for this first race, compliments of an enthusiastic new industry in Glens Falls by the name of Kamyr, Inc. Winners’ names engraved on the trophy, over ensuing years, read like the “Hall of Fame” of cross-country skiing.

     The two kilometer lighted loop sufficed for seven years. Activity on the trails was heavy. Snow was skied off quickly. There were minor grumblings from world-class racers who came to Glens Falls annually for the “International” that our short two kilometer trails were “boring”. We continued as their favorite stop on their tour because of spectator interest and community enthusiasm. We were aided by valuable prizes and a banquet offered by the Downtown Merchants Association, directed by Chris Scoville.

     Thirty-five acres adjacent to the trails were owned by the firm of Reardon and LaPann. Permission was requested and graciously granted to use this acreage for skiing, with the understanding that the land had been purchased years previously as an investment and was for sale. The Aviation Mall being built next to the land was enhancing its value. As asphalt was laid and the mall expanded, trees were cut on the fringe of the acreage belonging to Reardon and LaPann. Excess run-off water from the mall parking lots flooded the trails and the skiers objected. Glens Falls High School students, directed by Bill Parks, organized a 1,000 signature petition urging acquisition and presented it to the common council.

     A watch-dog group of interested citizens formed a low-profile organization to attempt fund raising to aid in the expansion of the trails. They chose the name, “Friends of Cole’s Woods”. Mrs. Joyce Thompson is the perennial chairperson. Bill Dixon represents the foot runners. Bob Kafin volunteers legal guidance. The “Friends” remain quietly active.

     Reardon and LaPann received many fine offers for their property, but the Friends of Cole’s Woods asked the firm to please consider the loss to the community if more asphalt was poured and trees were wantonly cut. Perhaps the earlier tree-cutting incident by the mall developers provided even more sensitivity for the need to preserve this land for year-round recreation.

     Doug Neely, the city Recreation Director, had arranged to have the ski trails registered with the Department of Interior in Washington, D.C. as part of the National Heritage Trail System. This is the only ski trail in the country (Alpine or Nordic) to receive such status. The Assistant Secretary of the Interior personally dedicated the trails at the start of the sixth annual International Race. With this designation, matching funds became available for up-keep and expansion.

     Kamyr, Inc., directed by Glens Falls’ good friend, Oliver Laakso, had many employees who enjoyed skiing. This influenced Kamyr’s decision to help purchase the thirty-five adjacent acres. Kamyr’s contribution, along with additional funds from Washington, D.C. (via the National Heritage Trail System) and from community development funds allowed the city to acquire the land, thus preserving it for recreation and nullifying any future commercial development.

     With the new acreage firmly annexed to the city, plans were made to expand the trails. Bill Parks and I cruised the new area and laid out a trail system expanded from two kilometers to seven kilometers. We attempted to add as many hills and dales as possible. We agreed the old trails were somewhat “boring” to ski. Perhaps we overdid it a bit, with “the wall” — needed for FIS (International Ski Federation) homologation. However, we provided a cut-off, and the skiing is now truly interesting and challenging. With “short-cut” terrain available for the less experienced, the trail system has versatility and offers skiing for all ability levels.

     The philosophy of the Friends of Cole’s Woods prevailed in the development of the new acreage. It was a volunteer effort. The city purchased wire and lights. The clearing and brushing was aided by the Adirondack Ski Club. Track-setting equipment was donated by Inside Edge. Glens Falls High School students organized fund drives, car washes and dinners. The Town of Queensbury assisted with a gift of a double-tracked Alpine snow machine needed to pull track setting equipment over the new hill and dale trails. The wiring and lights were installed on the five new kilometers by ski clubbers spearheaded by Tom Jenkin, Charlie Ackley, Bill Besse, Dave Welch, Steve Kvinlaug and Dave Hodgson on a cold November week-end, just before the snows arrived. The expanded trails were opened in December of 1977 and were greeted with wild enthusiasm. The whole project was very inexpensive for the city.

     The community received worldwide and national publicity as a result of the new seven-kilometer lighted trails. Articles were published in a number of national periodicals. One such article in SKIING magazine in December, 1979, titled “The Night Gliders”, resulted in a mass of out-of-town visitors coming to inspect the “glowing” report of the lighted trails. The article ended with a paraphrase from Robert Frost...“ ‘the woods are lovely, dark and deep’...and the skiing’s fine in Glens Falls, New York.”

     The 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid coincided with the 10th anniversary of the Glens Falls International Race. A sanction from the FIS was applied for and awarded for Sunday, February 10, 1980 for an Olympic warm-up race to be twelve kilometers for men and six for women. Both Kamyr and the city fully supported the Adirondack Ski Club and the race was to be covered by live T.V. Invitations were accepted by the Russians, Finns, Italians, Austrians, Americans and many others to compete in Glens Falls for four days before the opening ceremonies in Lake Placid.

     It was a terrible winter — no snow!! Putney, Vermont called their FIS race off two weeks before Glens Falls. We tried everything to save the race for Crandall Park. Mike Brandt offered to make and haul snow from West Mountain. The weather remained warm, with no possibilities. Totally frustrated, we were forced to call the race off on Friday, February 8th. Had we been able to hold our 10th anniversary “International”, I believe we would have drawn larger crowds in Crandall Park than Lake Placid drew into the cross-country venue for their Olympics.

     After the disappointment of the “open winter” in 1980, the Ski Club has concentrated more on local events. The activity in the park has expanded both in the summer and winter because of the trails. Glens Falls has become a real “ski town”. The trails are an epicenter for competitive cross-country skiing in the eastern U.S.A. Hosted events by Johnstown, Gloversville, Guilderland and other communities are held here in Glens Falls. Youngsters who have learned the thrill and discipline of ski competition have taken their talents on to colleges. A number of valuable collegiate ski scholarships have been awarded to area youngsters over the years.

     With the international publicity given to the city from the trails comes a responsibility to offer a “quality experience”. Visitors come from all over the U.S.A. to try the “International” and the trails need to be prepared constantly for the best possible conditions. Mayor O’Keefe has responded to this need in a positive fashion. With well-prepared tracks under all sorts of snow conditions, we can ensure that the visitor will have that “quality experience” in Glens Falls and perhaps return here for more reasons.

     Currently, cross-country skiing has undergone a technical revolution with the skating stride now firmly entrenched into the sport. As a result, ski trails throughout the world will either be widened and modernized or possible abandoned.

     The plan of action for the Glens Falls International is a modern plan. Mayor O’Keefe will explain the details here tonight, timely with the 15th anniversary of this unique facility.


Addendum — Summer 1994

      The plan of action called for in 1986 was completed successfully. Garry Nelson, the city forester, marked the trees to be cut. A logging contractor harvested the trees for no charge and the cleanup work was accomplished by the Bill Koch Ski League directed by Keith Perry, Dave Welch and a host of other dedicated volunteers. The City Recreation Department rebuilt bridges and Brian Downing brought students and equipment onto the trails from B.O.C.E.S. to grade, widen and smooth the track. Trout Unlimited, directed by Dr. John Braico, improved the flow and cleanliness of Halfway Brook. The ski trails in Crandall Park became modernized. Chris Kapostacy, from T.V. channel 13, did a broadcast live from the trails to help us all celebrate.

     Four season activity has continued to flourish on the trails. Hikers, bikers, walkers, skiers, runners, nature lovers and dog-walkers continue to enjoy the facility year-round.

     The Inside Edge Bicycle Time Trials started in 1991 using mountain bikes, replacing the road bicycle time trials, and are held every Tuesday evening throughout the summer. Sixty or so competitors from ages 12 years to 65 years gather to race against the clock on the trails. Local high school interscholastic cross-country foot races are held in the Fall. Cross-country ski races are run almost every week and week-end all winter long.

     Ski racers from the Bill Koch League, interscholastic and U.S. Ski Association sanctioned races bring hundreds of people to Glens Falls from other communities to compete and to enjoy and admire this wonderful facility. Best of all, this facility has been built and maintained with minimal government money and maximum volunteerism.

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