×

Foundation for a Future: Ascutney Outdoors Opens Community Center

  • People participate in yoga in a field nearby the new Ascutney Outdoors Center in Brownsville, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. The whole point of yoga, according to leader of the class Amanda Yates, is to connect back to nature and self. About 300 people showed up to celebrate the opening. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Barbara Rhoad, of Windsor, Vt., hikes down a slope that will be used for skiing in the winter at the opening of the Ascutney Outdoors Center in Brownsville, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. Rhoad's three daughters learned to ski on Mount Ascutney and her husband was on the ski patrol. Rhoads said she was excited to see it used differently. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Erin Kershaw and her dog Deeks lead a hike at the grand opening of the Ascutney Outdoors Center in Brownsville, Vt., on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. Formerly a ski resort, the facility will now specialize in trails for hiking, biking, skiing and tubing among other activities and events. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2018

Brownsville — Close to 300 people gathered in front of the new Ascutney Outdoor Center during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sunday afternoon, a celebration that included plenty of food from local vendors and live music. For locals, the festivities felt like the coming together of a rejuvenated community, reviving something that had been lost.

An outdoors center wasn’t the first step Ascutney Outdoors, the nonprofit charged with managing the former Ascutney Mountain Resort ski area, has taken to rebuild the property. It might be the biggest step — a project that includes a new T-Bar ski lift and a snow tubing hill worth, an investment of more than $1 million of which more than 80 percent came from community donations.

For Steve Crihfield, chairman of development and fundraising for Ascutney Outdoors, the new outdoors center might also be the organization’s most important step.

“(When) we started this project, we really had a five-year plan,” Crihfield said to the crowd during the ceremony on Sunday. “We accomplished that plan in 18 months, which is, I think, unbelievable.

“Today is about completion of this building. It’s a gift to the community. But, in many respects, we really view this as the beginning of a new era for Ascutney Outdoors and our various partners and the community.”

The Mount Ascutney ski area has a turbulent past. Crihfield hopes a new outdoors center can help stabilize its future.

Ascuntey Mountain Resort closed permanently in 2010 because of financial problems, the second occurrence for the 70-year-old ski area, which had spent the better part of two decades struggling to stay afloat. In the last eight years, the ski property has been re-imagined as a haven for recreation, fueled in large part by a network of mountain biking trails, including those on the abutting town forest. A rope tow was later installed, adding a winter sports element to the 470-acre property, which the town bought in 2015. A new outdoors center was the next step. Construction off of Ski Tow Road began last year on the site of former base lodge that was destroyed in a fire in 2015. It was undergoing the final stages of completion last week.

A snow tube hill is being constructed below the center, along with the T-Bar lift up the mountain from the outdoor center’s base. Crihfield said on Sunday he hopes construction of the T-Bar lift will begin this week.

Shelley Seward, who along with her husband, Glenn, are active Ascutney Outdoors board members, said the outdoors center was imagined as a way to expand the property’s offerings.

“The goal was always recreation, but also non-recreation,” Shelley Seward said during a walk-through of the newly constructed facility on Wednesday. “That’s what really prompted the building. It’s a place for the whole community. Not everybody skis. Not everybody bikes. So it’s perfect for other things like open mic night, an art show, movie night, so people can come up and enjoy the mountain and enjoy the facility without necessarily being an athlete.”

The outdoors center itself is a two-story structure, with a large gathering hall on the second floor and smaller spaces on the first floor. Both Crihfield and Seward said the plan is to use to the spaces for large community events, while keeping the bathrooms and locker rooms open for those using the mountain during hours in which the facility is not fully staffed. Seward also said a space on the first floor could be used as a place to rent mountain bikes as well.

“I love it. It’s a great place,” said Jim Bertrand, a 62-year resident of Brownsville, on Sunday. “We all, everybody here, used to be like a community. We’d meet here, we’d ski here. Now we’re going to have it back. … Everyone went their own separate ways. A lot of people here we haven’t seen in years.”

On Sunday, Crihfield and other board members thanked donors and volunteers for their hard work and support. In some ways, he admitted, Ascutney Outdoors’ work is done. Volunteers will still be needed to staff various events and activities that the new outdoors center might host and help run the day-to-day operations of the property.

A new communal center is, for the former ski area, a light at the end of a long tunnel.

“Now it’s the grand opening, now it’s really the start of building, revitalizing,” Crihfield said on Wednesday. “We’ve had events; we have mountain biking and the rope tow, but this ties it all together. It really is a good reason for celebration.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.