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Friends of Nansen Ski Jump are setting timelines for its efforts

June 25, 2014
BERLIN — The state-owned eight-acre site on which the historic 171-foot-high Nansen Ski Jump is located in Milan near the Berlin City line will likely be completely cleared by the end of August, reported Director Ben Wilson of the state Division of Parks and Recreation's Bureau of Historic Sites on Wednesday, June 18. The group expects to soon formally become the "Friends of the Nansen Ski Jump" and be able to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) detailing its relationship with the state.

Wilson had explained back in Oct. 2013 that he and regional state forester Maggie Machinist had started the ball rolling to clear-cut the site, from boundary line to boundary line, making it easier to plan how its rich history might be more easily available to Androscoggin Valley residents and the traveling public.

Last week the group met again at the Northland Dairy Bar.

First, however, some preservation enthusiasts toured the Nansen site, where two former ski jumpers, Shawn Costello and Vaughn Roy, plus local history buff and successful grant writer Walter Nadeau who is active the Berlin and Coos County Historical Society explained that a big race in the late '30s could draw a crowd of between 25,000 to 30,000 people to venue. They and Dona Larsen also told stories about how the means by which snow was hauled up to chute had changed over time.

Completed in 1937, the remarkable structure was at that time the largest steel ski jump east of the Mississippi River and possibly beyond. It was used for local, state and national ski jumping contests, but the jump has not officially been used since the 80s. A state historic marker on the edge of Route 16 in Milan outlines the jump's historic significance.

After some years of neglect and flooding, the state-owned Nansen Wayside Park on the Androscoggin River across Route 16 received some much-needed drainage and maintenance work last summer.

Wilson told the group that he is prepared to recommend that state "Moose Plate" monies be spent on historical research, site improvements and interpretive signs and that he would support the "Friends" group as it fills out grant applications, likely using the nonprofit Nansen Ski Club as its fiscal agent.

Wilson said that the state agency would pay for a professional consultant to assemble, organize, document and write a history of the Jump and its importance, that is detailed enough to use when seeking National Landmark status and-or listing on the National Register. He hopes to be able to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant within the next month or two.

The locals on hand said they also plan to seek individual and possibly business donations, to hold fund-raising events to help raise any needed matching dollars and to sponsor work-days.

The Conservation Fund of Arlington, Va., recently bought acreage adjacent to the Nansen site that is part of a larger transaction that apparently reaches across state lines, and Wilson said he would like to secure a deeded right-of-way (ROW) to an existing gated logging road that leads up to the steel structure and includes a small log-landing parking lot.

Wilson envisions that a new viewing platform could be erected and that the judges' building could be stabilized or restored.

Scott Andrews, curator of the Maine Ski Museum in Kingfield, Me., briefly described the legacy of the family-owned Hussey Manufacturing Company of North Berwick, Me. From the '30s into '50s, its Winter Sports Engineering Service helped develop ski facilities across New England, including the Berlin jump, and well beyond, Andrews said. The company remains in business as the Hussey Seating Company, now producing stadium seating, including those at Gillette stadium, home of the New England Patriots. Earlier it also produced chairs for chairlifts, and its close association with New England's ski industry is well documented.

Nick Rudowski, who works for the Enriched Learning Center in Berlin, hopes to develop a Nansen Ski Jump website and to capture residents' oral histories on video.

Wilson said he hopes that fund-raising, historic documentation efforts and site planning would allow substantial work to be done in 2015 at the Nansen Ski Jump.

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