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Fun in the sun

A few winter venues attract new crowds for summer activities

During the summer, the Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford hosts a coed 21-plus volleyball league and a youth camp, offers free swimming in the pond, and has a Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill. During the summer, the Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford hosts a coed 21-plus volleyball league and a youth camp, offers free swimming in the pond, and has a Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill. (Jon Mahoney for The Boston Globe)
By Brion O’Connor
Globe Correspondent / July 21, 2011

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New Englanders know all too well the vagaries of the calendar, and most of us thrive on weathering the change of seasons as a personal badge of courage.

For seasonal businesses, however, the temperature swings from January to July can be particularly daunting. To prosper out of season, organizations both public and private have remade their recreation venues into scenes that can feel like Christmas in July.

Spinning their wheels

At the newly rededicated Ed Burns Arena in Arlington, a small rebate from recent renovation work proved to be a windfall for summer skating buffs. Dave Cunningham, the facilities manager at the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex, took those savings and invested in some 400 pairs of lightly used roller and in-line skates, allowing the town to open the rink this month to roller-skating enthusiasts on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to utilize the facility in the off-season, so we jumped on it,’’ said Cunningham.

“People who went out there said it’s so smooth, it’s almost like skating on glass,’’ said Joe Connelly, Arlington’s recreation director.

“It’s smoother than the street, it’s smoother than any wood surface. So the kids who’ve been out there have told us, ‘This is unbelievable.’ The concrete looks like they just poured it,’’ he said.

The sports complex also hosts the town’s summer camp program, and the rink has been used in the past for baseball, soccer, and lacrosse practices. Cunningham said his wife, an Arlington native, recalls roller-skating being offered there many years ago. So now the rink has come full circle.

“It’s not only a great addition for us, but for the community and the surrounding communities, to have a venue like this where people can do something as a family,’’ said Cunningham.

The local roller-hockey contingent has also gotten wind of the venue, and the Recreation Department is already fielding requests for rentals and leagues. The rink also hosts informal summer practices, at $5 per player.

“Next year, now that we have the system down, we’re planning on entertaining anyone who wants to come in and start a league,’’ said Connelly.

The early returns have Connelly and Cunningham optimistic about seeing the arena used year-round.

“We’re not going to make our money back this summer, but this is something going forward that would be a great use of the facility during these three dead months,’’ said Connelly.

“We hire a couple of skate guards, open the concession stand, but you don’t need a Zamboni driver, and you don’t need to turn on the compressors,’’ he said. “You just flick on the lights, put on the radio, and there you go.’’

Of course, no roller-skating venue would be complete without a disco ball. Fortunately, the rink already had one, for public skating. “I honestly think it was installed back in the 1970s,’’ said Cunningham.

Après-ski season

Several years ago, a pair of Nashoba Valley Ski Area executives, Michael Barry and Al Fletcher, went for a walk on the Westford resort’s property to discuss off-season opportunities.

Mountain biking enjoyed a brief moment in the sun here in the 1990s, said Fletcher, but erosion concerns scuttled that plan. A coed volleyball league was established, but the numbers were flat, and the pair were looking to inject some energy into the area’s summer offerings.

Barry, Nashoba’s food and beverages manager, and Fletcher, the venue’s general manager, were strolling past the resort’s acre-and-a-half spring-fed pond, surrounded by pine trees, when a “Field of Dreams’’ moment struck. Why not build a bar?

The result of that brainstorm was the Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill, a wildly popular addition to Nashoba’s off-season menu. Combined with the revitalized volleyball program (which also makes use of the property’s Outlook Restaurant) and summer day camps, the Tiki Bar ensures that Nashoba keeps percolating from sunrise to well past sundown.

“It’s been great,’’ said Barry. “Ski resorts are famous for not having any business eight months out of the year. This has been a really pleasant surprise.’’

Part of the reason is the ski area’s location, close to Boston, its suburbs, and major roadways, such as Interstate 495 and Route 2. Another is the summer beach volleyball league, which has called the Nashoba resort home for more than 20 years and complements the Tiki Bar like hamburgers and buns.

“It’s definitely been a real win-win,’’ said Kristen Bowes, who manages the 21-plus coed league for Nashoba. “The volleyball players love it. Some of our players will skip out on going upstairs to the Outlook when it’s a nice night. They’ll go straight to the Tiki Bar, especially when you can hear all the music playing from the volleyball courts.’’

Nashoba also hosts several large-scale events, such as the Blues ‘n Brews Festival on Aug. 20 and the Pin ‘n Pepper Fest on Aug. 21. Weekday camps for youngsters ages 4 to 14 run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, and feature swimming, field games, drama instruction, a wood shop, and art classes. The evening action gets going at 5:30, when Red Cross-certified lifeguards open the pond for free swimming and the Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill opens for business (the bar is 21-plus after 9 o’clock).

“It’s also a hit with the kids,’’ said Barry. “We didn’t realize this, but last year when we opened it to the public at 5:30, Mom was there with the kids and the beach towels. She’d be meeting Dad for dinner, and the kids went swimming. It just fell in our lap.’’

Trading skinny skis for a sand wedge

The winter-summer conversion formula can work in reverse as well. A perfect example is the Leo J. Martin Memorial Golf Course in Weston.

The rolling green fairways of the 18-hole layout, originally designed by the legendary Donald J. Ross, first opened in 1930. However, many winter enthusiasts in Greater Boston know the property better as the Weston Ski Track, which began hosting cross-country skiers in 1973.

“They were here before me, and I’ve been here 32 years,’’ says Michael Wortis, the PGA pro at Leo J. Martin. “It was something I inherited. We have an amicable relationship. They’re very good, and so we get along, no problem.’’

In the 1950s, the golf course got a makeover to make way for Route 128. At least four holes and the clubhouse were moved. Two decades later, the Weston Ski Track was established. Today, the track offers more than 15 kilometers of trails, and hosts several prestigious events, including last winter’s TD Bank Eastern Cup, a Junior Olympic qualifying race.

However, come springtime, the golfers return to the Leo J. Martin like migrating waterfowl, regardless if there’s still snow on the links.

“We opened April 10, which is about on par. We had a few holes with snow, but these golfers are in heat,’’ said Wortis with a gruff laugh. “They haven’t played in seven months. They wouldn’t care if there are elephants or coyotes out there.’’

The par-72 public course, measuring 6,320 yards from the blue tees (5,250 yards from the front markers), falls under the auspices of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, and hosts several afternoon leagues.

Wortis acknowledged that there is some inconvenience associated with the Weston Ski Track relationship.

He must pack up his pro-shop retail business in late November, and put everything in storage before he sets sail for a winter working in Florida.

But he added that he likes the idea that this golf course, with its long history as a public venue, offers residents and visitors an outlet in the winter as well as the other three seasons.

“This is the people’s course,’’ said Wortis. “It’s one of the few courses left for the people with very few restrictions.’’

Brion O’Connor can be reached at brionoc@verizon.net.

Nashoba Valley Ski Area
79 Power Road, Westford
Winter: Alpine skiing, snowboarding, and tubing
Summer: Coed 21-plus volleyball league, Monday-Thursday
Summer camp, ages 4-14 (weekly sessions)
Free swimming at the pond, 5:30 p.m. to dusk (lifeguards on duty)
Sunset Tiki Bar and Grill, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday-Saturday, with full menu and live entertainment most nights (no cover charge; 21-plus only after 9 p.m.)
Various festivals (www.skinashoba.com)
Phone: 978-692-3033
Ed Burns Arena/Veterans
Memorial Sports Complex
422 Summer St.,
Arlington
Winter: Ice hockey, figure skating, public skating
Summer: Roller skating and inline skating, 7-9 p.m. Friday, 4-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in July ($3 children; $6 adults; skate rentals, $5). The complex also hosts the town’s summer camp program, and offers roller hockey and birthday party rentals.
Phone: 781-316-3887
Leo J. Martin
Memorial
Golf Course
190 Park Road, Weston
Winter: Weston Ski Track, featuring 15-kilometer trail network for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
Summer: 18-hole, 6,320-yard state-owned golf course, originally designed by legendary golf architect Donald Ross and first opened in 1930.
Various golf leagues, pro shop, lessons, and driving range.
Phone: 781-891-1119, 781-894-4903