Norwich’s Shaw Outdoor Center boosts its activities, adds ‘Fat Bikes” for winter use

Shaw Outdoor Center manager Collin O'Neil shows off the new "Fat Bikes" at the center, which can be used to ride in winter on snow. As the new head of the center, O'Neil is trying to boost its outreach and use of the gear on Paine Mountain.

Shaw Outdoor Center manager Collin O’Neil shows off the new “Fat Bikes” at the center, which can be used to ride in winter on snow. As the new head of the center, O’Neil is trying to boost its outreach and use of the gear on Paine Mountain.

Feeling that the Shaw Outdoor Center is underused and more students could benefit from its programs, the center’s manager is introducing several new and improved outdoor activities, as well as boosting efforts to attract visitors.

“Nowhere near enough people know about the Shaw Outdoor Center. We’re working with the (Norwich) Office of Communications right now in an effort to get the word out about our existence and to establish tools to communicate with the student body easily and effectively on a regular basis,” said Collin O’Neil.

O’Neil, who has a background in recreational activities, including previous ownership of a rock climbing gym, came on board this year to run the center. He said there are many new features, one of which is the addition of wide-tire mountain bikes, called Fat Bikes, that will now be available for use and riding on snow. The center also has snowshoes, skis and offers disc golf.

“We are introducing Fat Bikes, which are mountain bikes with four inch tires. The Shaw Center is purchasing a few Fat Bikes and working with the local bike shop, Bicycle Express, (and) we are going to have a few of their demo bikes as well.”

O’Neil explained, “We’re going to start off the year with four – one small, two medium, and one large, that students will have access to free of charge.”

Designed to use on soft terrain such as snow and sand, O’Neil believes the Fat Bikes will help keep the Shaw Center and Paine Mountain busy even in inclement weather and conditions that previously would limit riding. “The beautiful thing about Fat Bikes is that barring ice, it doesn’t really matter what the conditions are. You could have dirt patches, snow, or a mix and still be able to get out and use the trail network.”

Around this time of year, the trails would usually be closed off to mountain biking, he said.

santa-fatbike-poster-students O’Neil added that efforts that are being made to increase the popularity of Fat Biking on Paine Mountain with both students and the general public. Again partnering with Bicycle Express, as well as a local bike club, the Shaw Center is planning to host a Fat Bike race on Saturday, Dec. 19.

Beyond biking, the trails are also used for skiing and there is also a focused approach on the grooming being done to the trails this year, according to O’Neil.

“We intend to improve the ski trails, so that if you ski up, you’ll have better glades skiing back down. That’s a long-term effort to thin out low limbs and to reclaim some of the old ski trails,” said O’Neil.

Although cross country skiing has been maintained on the mountain, O’Neil described the process of bringing back more downhill back-country skiing, saying, “What we haven’t done in recent years is keep up on cutting down saplings and maintaining downhill skiing routes. (Cross country and back country skiing) will share the same trails going up, but then we will have glades trails for downhill skiing coming back down.”

So far, the downhill trails have only been maintained by people on their own but he has plans to “formalize it and make that part of the routine maintenance on the mountain.”

A whole new activity brought to Paine Mountain this year is in the disc golf course. “We built an intro course this fall. It is only six holes – with a standard disc golf course there is 18 holes – and the six holes are relatively short compared to most disc golf courses,” he said.

There are plans, though, to make the course larger once spring comes around. O’Neil said he plans to grow the course to nine holes and hopefully, by next fall, have an 18-hole course.

Snowshoeing is one of the many activities offered by Norwich's Shaw Outdoor Center. The activities are free to students, faculty and staff.

Snowshoeing is one of the many activities offered by Norwich’s Shaw Outdoor Center. The activities are free to students, faculty and staff.

Aside from all of these additional activities, O’Neil said they are also stressing input from others on what they would like to be added. O’Neil has enlisted help from members of the Norwich Office of Communications to try and get word out about the facilities at the center.

Annee Newton, who works as a graphic designer the NU Office of Communications, spoke about some challenges with the Shaw Center. “There’s not a lot of visibility on campus, because it’s not on campus. It’s not on the campus tour for perspective students, a lot of people don’t know how close it is,” she said, noting it is, in fact, right across the street from the main campus and the adjacent green.

Newton said she is working with O’Neil in making some posters, some business cards to hand out, and also some table wraps for various fairs he attends. There has also been a much greater attempt to get word out online. According to Mark Peal, who works as the Web Developer in the office of communications, there was previously very little online information about the Shaw Center.

“It was a considerable embarrassment when I realized we had very little on the Shaw Center (on the Norwich University website.) We try to have everything that is longstanding like the Shaw Center and describe its activity and availability.”

Director of Web Services Loida Alvarez-Thamm said the Shaw Center would be part of a redesign for the main Norwich website. “I am working on a brand new edition on a whole new website for Norwich.edu. My goal is to have a lot more dynamic content, video, images, galleries. The new website will feel more like a mobile app in terms of responsiveness and interactivity.”

Aside from the university’s website, Peal also mentioned that a large amount of social media usage now occurs on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube and the office hopes to get people to like and follow the Shaw Center on Facebook, where they can get updates and information on upcoming activities and events.

Located at the foot of Paine Mountain, the Shaw Outdoor Center is expanding outreach and activities to attract more users to its extensive offerings.

Located at the foot of Paine Mountain, the Shaw Outdoor Center is expanding outreach and activities to attract more users to its extensive offerings.

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