Mention the Bethel Outing Club, and many area residents think of the annual ski sale that takes place at the Gould Academy field house.
In the 30+ years since the club was founded, it has both expanded its ski-oriented activities and branched out beyond its initial mission of promoting family-oriented cross-country skiing in the area. Membership now stands at between 300 and 400, according to club President Norm Greenberg.
The club sponsors free after-school ski programs, with equipment, for kids at Crescent Park Elementary School. It also supports programs at the Woodstock and Andover elementary schools, as well as skiers at Telstar and Gould, and facilitates the sharing of resources among programs.
On winter weekends, BOC offers the Bill Koch Youth Ski League. The Koch League is the largest membership group in cross-country skiing in the U.S. Its purpose is to introduce young people to cross-country skiing. Kids between ages 5 and 14 participate, and the program offers more challenging activities for interested youngsters.
Every Sunday through mid-March, the local league alternates skiing among The Bethel Inn, Carter’s and the Sunday River Outdoor Center.
To help young cross-country skiing competitors travel to races and training, the club also provides a scholarship program.
The annual ski sale helps fund the many club programs.
Another, smaller fundraiser is the annual Flying Moose Classic cross-country race. This year’s event took place two weeks ago.
“The BOC has been great for me and my family,” said Nancy Babcock of Newry. “In Kyler’s Bill Koch League days (up to 8th grade) we certainly enjoyed getting together with other families with kids to cross-country ski at the different ski centers in the area, as well as to enjoy the Bill Koch Festival at the end of the season.”
She said the BOC’s Google group also provides “a great way to be in touch with others who might want to go skiing, hiking, biking, paddling, dancing, or whatever. Anyone can post something they’l like to do, looking for others who are interested.”
And, said Babcock, while the sale makes money for the club, “it is just as much a way to connect people with the gear they need.”
The club has also become more active in recent years in some warmer weather sports.
Several years ago members took over staffing the Kids Triathlon, a swim/bicycle/event event for 5 to 14 year-olds that takes place the same weekend as the traditional Maine State Triathlon. Both events are sponsored by the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce. The Kids Tri draws an average of 40 to 50 youngsters.
The BOC has also moved into other sports, including mountain biking and trail running (running on hiking trails), according to Greenberg.
The club started a trail running series on Monday nights beginning in the summer of 2013. It was held weekly on the Pine Hill Trails on Grover Hill Road, with 20 to 30 runners participating in a timed 5-kilometer and 5-mile loop. Runners included adults, Telstar and Gould high school students, and younger children.
in addition, said Greenberg, “Many members mountain bike, road bike, participate in group rides organized by Bethel Bicycle.” There are currently no specific BOC mountain biking activities, but “endurance recreation is growing in popularity, especially mountain biking locally,” he said.
There have also been intermittent paddling activities for members on Songo Pond from time to time.
Greenberg is a four-year member of the club.
“I joined in 2009 to become more involved with Nordic Skiing in the Bethel area, to learn to be a better skier, to meet individuals and families interested in human powered outdoor recreation, and to provide a great place for my family to enjoy the outdoors with other like minded families,” he said. “I became president in order to further the goals of the club, to promote Nordic skiing and other forms of outdoor endurance recreation in the Bethel area.”
Future goals for the BOC, he said, include facilitating the consolidation of various efforts by different community groups to provide endurance based recreation in the area, improving the quality and effectiveness of recreational programming offered by the BOC, increasing membership, and supporting local skiers who are competing at a state, regional, or national level.
Greenberg said he hopes to help bring the annual Bill Koch League Festival to the Bethel area the next time it is in Maine, in 2018.
For more on the club go to www.bethelouting.org.