CARLISLE — The Great Brook State Farm Ski Touring Center will eventually open this winter season, but a contract dispute between the state and man who operates the touring operation kept the popular venue shut down during last week’s record-setting snow.
Stuart Johnstone, who prepares and operates cross-country ski trails at Great Brook Farm State Park, said last Friday that it will take “several weeks” for him to open his tours this season after months of not having an approved contract with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation.
Although he accepted the department’s recent offer to extend his contract for another winter season last Friday, Johnstone still has no explanation as to why it took the department four months to offer him the extension.
Johnstone, a native of Carlisle, has been overseeing ski tours through 10 miles of brush-mowed trail from Dec. 1 to Mar. 21 since 1988, usually operating on a five-year permitting agreement with the state. He usually charges $13 for a daily ticket to take a cross-country ski tour, along with offering walking trails. His usual agreement has him paying the Commonwealth a percentage of revenues collected from trail fees, rental equipment and sales from the snack bar.
Great Brook is hugely popular with cross-country skiers from throughout Greater Lowell, Greater Boston and southern New Hampshire.
Johnstone said the last agreement expired in March 2018. On Nov. 28 that year, he got permission from the state to extend the contract for another season. He does not know why DCR only offered him a one-season extension instead of a new five-year agreement as usual. He also noted that this was very close to his typical opening date of Dec. 1, meaning he had to clear the skiing path and prepare available skiing equipment in two days. Johnstone referred to that time frame as “inadequate.”
The DCR issues one-year permits to organizations as a short-term agreement that affords the department flexibility if plans change over time.
Since he went through a similar situation last year, Johnstone tried to get ahead of the curve and make sure he had a further extension for this winter season. However, Johnstone said he hadn’t heard from the department about a contract extension from mid-August to last week, despite trying to contact them half a dozen times.
Johnstone said the department finally got back to him on Monday, Dec. 2, offering him a one season extension on his contract.
“I replied that, before I sign, I would like an explanation for the delay and the lack of communication,” he said. “I care about my job and want to do it well. To not have communication on whether or not I have a job is distressing. This deserves a long-term agreement and the public deserves an explanation.”
The DCR confirmed last Friday that it authorized the permit extension to Johnstone on Dec. 2, the same day the department sent the permit extension to Johnstone for him to finalize. Department Press Secretary Olivia Dorrance declined to discuss the matter publicly.
Johnstone said he started to do preparation work on the trail last Saturday to prepare for his now-delayed winter season.