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Outdoor enthusiasts adapting to snowless winter west of Boston

The Weston Ski Track, among the local cold-weather sports venues able to operate this winter, had made enough snow Tuesday to accommodate high school teams. The Weston Ski Track, among the local cold-weather sports venues able to operate this winter, had made enough snow Tuesday to accommodate high school teams. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / January 15, 2012
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Not to complain, but . . .

That’s become a common refrain during these unusual winter days. Hardy New Englanders may be used to fickle weather, but that normally means a prolonged winter, or summer heat that makes us secretly long for central air conditioning that we publicly insist we don’t need. And possibly a freak October snowstorm.

But negligible snow in January? Really?

Across the region, people who usually like to ice skate or snowshoe at this time of year are adapting. And they are getting help from some creative recreation venues, which are acclimating to this odd winter because, well, what choice do they have?

At the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk, bird-watchers are happy, but snowshoers are a little bummed, according to Doug Williams, the facility’s director.

Normally at this time of year, Stony Brook’s wetlands and ponds have frozen over and the migratory water fowl have left for warmer climes. But this year, Williams said, he is still seeing Canada geese, mallards, and black ducks. “It’s been kind of fun and very interesting,’’ he said.

Last month was the second warmest December on record, according to the Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center in Milton, where the average temperature was 37.5 degrees, or 7.9 degrees warmer than usual. As of Monday, this month’s average temperature was running 6.6 degrees higher, according to observatory official Don McCasland.

In Carlisle, the ski touring center at Great Brook Farm State Park advertises on its website a start date of Dec. 1, “snow conditions permitting.’’ But as of last week, Mother Nature had not yet bestowed the roughly 4 inches of white stuff needed to open for cross-country skiers, said Steve Carlin, the park supervisor.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that things pick up here,’’ he said.

A recent posting on the Great Brook Ski Touring Center’s Facebook page said: “Still waiting. . . . If you’ve been doing a snow dance, please try a different one now. Thanks!’’

Still, outdoors enthusiasts are making do. Because of the warmer weather, the park is seeing plenty of people hiking, biking, and riding horses, said Carlin.

A new public ice skating rink was supposed to open last weekend in Newton Centre, but Jack Frost was apparently too busy sunning himself.

Ever the optimists, folks in Newton were plowing ahead last week, building another new outdoor rink in Newtonville, according to Aaron Goldman, a spokesman for Mayor Setti Warren.

“In this case, some cold weather would be helpful,’’ said Goldman, both for the new surfaces and rinks in Newton Highlands and Newton Lower Falls that were popular last winter.

“Hopefully, when they do open, we’ll still have some time left in the skating season.’’

For most people, visiting the Weston Ski Track facility last week would have been a little surreal, a veritable oasis in the snowless desert, at least before Thursday’s drenching rains. With the operation’s five snow guns, the staff had been able to open a little more than a kilometer of trails, according to manager Bryce Morris.

For comparison, last year Weston had all 15 kilometers of trails open from Christmas week through early March, he said.

People are coming out, Morris said, but certainly numbers would be higher if snow actually fell from the sky.

“Snow is the best marketing tool,’’ he said. “New England has these cycles. That’s why we make snow, because we know it’s not always reliable.’’

Traditionally, WinterFest at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard has meant sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, said Maggie Green, its director of education and public programming.

This winter has required thinking outside the blizzard. One of the museum’s partners in WinterFest, which runs on weekends in January and February, is Eastern Mountain Sports. The sporting goods retailer has recalculated its contributions to WinterFest, and if there’s no powder afoot, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing will be replaced by clinics on topics like layering and outdoor preparedness, said Green.

“They’re really drawing on other parts of their inventory,’’ she said of the chain.

Another WinterFest program, which has participants looking for signs of animals, may be a little different thanks to the unseasonable weather.

Without snow, you won’t see the usual snow tunnels created by voles and mice while hiding from predators, said Mary Marro, environmental education director for the Nashua River Watershed Association, which leads the event’s animal signs program. But people might see signs (think scat) of skunks and possums, which are normally dormant this time of year, she said.

“They have been out like crazy because it’s been so warm,’’ said Marro.

It might not be the kind of winter that New Englanders are used to, but trading in the ice skates and ski poles for shorts has not exactly been a hardship.

Stony Brook has seen a lot of visitors enjoying the balmier weather, said Williams, who likes to snowshoe, but also has been making do.

In place of a regular winter program, “Spontaneous Snowshoe,’’ Williams has been offering an outing he calls “Spontaneous Exploration’’ instead.

“What we’re looking at is just the vagaries of weather,’’ he said. “Snow or no snow, there’s always something to see.’’

Lisa Kocian can be reached at

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