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ENE Blog: Exploring Bethel & Oxford, ME

By Tom Richardson; Photos by Cat Moss & Camden Spear
The entrance to the Oxbow Beer Garden and cross-country ski center in Oxford, Maine.

Last week saw the ENE TV crew on another Maine winter shoot, this time in Oxford and Bethel, in the western part of the state. We kicked things off with a visit to the Oxbow Beer Garden and cross-country ski center (formerly Carters XC Ski Center). Oxbow is conveniently located on Rte. 26, and offers ski, fat bike and snowshoe rentals through the nonprofit Portland Gear Hub. The dog-friendly trails are free to use, so we immediately strapped on our new Asnes Falketind 62 Xplore skis (on loan from our friends at REI Co-op) and headed off on one of the loop trails that snake through the woods.

The author, right, shares a laugh with Oxbow Brewery founder Tim Adams.

Soon we happened upon a little hut in the forest, where skiers were lounging around fire pits with frosty refreshments served by Oxbow Brewery founder Tim Adams and his wife, Birch. After filming an interview with Tim, he led us along some more trails until we found ourselves at the Oxbow restaurant, taproom, and outdoor beer garden. The restaurant is housed in a 200-year-old barn, which Tim and his crew renovated. They also built a series of cozy A-frame shelters with tables and propane heaters. Tim set us up with a couple of delicious wood-fired pizzas—made with local ingredients of course— then bid us adieu as he headed back to this beer hut in the woods.

Skiers take a break at the trailside beer hut at the Oxbow Beer Garden.

As the sun set and heavy snow squalls began rolling though the area, we drove farther west to the town of Bethel and paid a visit to the Bethel Ice Palace. This surreal attraction is the creation of Lester Spear, who happens to be the father of our cameraman, Camden. Lester and his father, Rod, along with helper Jerry Scarborough, began building the palace in December, starting with a series of ice columns to establish the basic layout of the structure. The columns were then encased in layer upon layer of ice provided by sprinklers that run constantly through the winter. The result is a magical structure with tunnels and fantastical stalactites of ice, all illuminated by different colored lights after dark. As you can imagine, it’s a big hit with kids.

Jerry Scarborough carves away with a chainsaw at the Ice Palace.

After leaving the ice palace, Camden and I checked into the Holidae House B&B. Owned and operated by John and Jenette Poole, recent transplants from Tennessee, the B&B is a beautifully renovated home originally built in 1906 and featuring big comfortable rooms. The Pooles are friendly and attentive hosts, and Jenette’s home-cooked breakfasts are amazing!

The Holidae House B&B served as our home base during the Bethel shoot.

The next morning, fortified with Jenette’s scratch-made blueberry pancakes, Camden and I drove to Davis Park and our meeting with Marianne Borowski, founder of the recently created xNHAT multi-use trail, which stretches 83 miles between Bethel and Woodsville, NH, with most of it running along the northern edge of the White Mountains. The temperature was 10-below with the wind chill, which made for some challenging filming conditions, but we bravely headed off down the trail, our cross-country skis scratching across the ice, as Marianne spoke on camera about the trail and its formation. The xNHAT is a four-season, multi-use system that’s accessible to cyclists, hikers, skiers, ATV riders and snowmobilers. Marianne explained that the different user groups work cooperatively to maintain the trails, and everyone seems to get along.

xNHAT founder Mariannę Borowski poses in front of an old barn.

After thawing out a bit back at the Holidae House, Camden and I drove to the sprawling Bethel Inn Resort. There we met with Gabe Perkins, Director of Inland Woods & Trails, which offers fat-bike, cross-country ski, and snowshoe rentals from the inn’s Outdoor Center and winter trails network. Gabe and I donned helmets, grabbed a pair of fat bikes, and headed off down one of the trails. As Gabe explained on our ride, the Bethel Inn trails are groomed for both single-track and skate skiing, and can also be used for snowshoeing and, of course, fat biking. The trails are open to the public for a small daily fee, with season passes available.

Lester Spear is the creator of the Bethel Ice Palace.

On our last morning in Bethel, we packed our bags, said farewell to the Pooles and headed to Carters XC Ski Center on Intervale Road, not far from the Sunday River Ski Resort. Jess Carter is the third generation of Carters to run the ski center, which offers 15 kilometers of groomed Nordic, snowshoe, and fat-bike trails. The trails cover a wide range of terrain, ranging from flat, wide-open pasture to shady woods to advanced trails on steeper slopes. Gear rental is available, as is a food truck that serves up all sorts of delectable dishes. Carters is also dog-friendly, and we encountered numerous cross-country canines on our visit.

An aerial view of the Pasture Trail at Carters Xcountry Ski Center.

The trail conditions during our visit were fantastic, to the point where it was hard to leave! However, other duties called, so we packed up our skis and boot, and headed back down Rte. 26 toward home, with another great episode in the can.

Jess Carter of Carters XCountry Ski Center displays her first set of skis, fashioned from a pair of barrel staves.
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