The guy in the picture is Dirk van Wijk. Do you see the striking resemblance to Kevin Costner? No? When you realize what Dirk has done you just might. Even if you don't you'll want to congratulate him.
Do you remember the movie "Field of Dreams"? Right, the "If you build it, they will come" movie. No Dirk didn't build a baseball field where ghost of legendary players come to play. No, Dirk is not a movie star either, although he does drive a very recognizable SUV which I'm sure you've seen parked at P8 on weekends while he and his family are out training in the park. It's the vehicle with "Owl Rafting" on the side in huge yellow letters, which is the name for the whitewater rafting and touring business that Dirk and his wife Claudia run. The van Wijk family are all cross-country skiers and big supporters of the sport. As such, Dirk has laid the foundation for a Nakkertok Nordic Centre near the existing Nakkertok South trails. In time this Nordic Centre will be a modern ski racing facility complete with a stadium for racing and teaching, lights for night skiing and a chalet. Just what Ottawa ski racers have been missing!
I'm not sure when it all began, but last winter Dirk got inspired to buy some land near the Nakkertok South trails in Cantley, Quebec, and work on developing the existing race course a bit. Some of his inspiration came from a conversation he had with XCOttawa skier and long time Nakkertok racer Tom McCarthy. On a long ski together at Nakkertok, Tom mentioned that what the Nakkertok trail system was missing was a long gradual hill, a leg killer, just to really make the course hard. Dirk must have remembered this because the new course has a killer hill called "McCarthy Hill" - partly at Tom's request but also in recognition of Jim McCarthy's long term service to the club.
The work Dirk did on the trails last winter improved on the existing race course nicely. After all that work, Dirk must have been really disappointed when cold weather cancelled the annual Nakkertok invitational race. He dealt with his disappointment well; He bought most of the land on which the Nakkertok South trail system is located. Then he set to work laying out a new stadium and creating a new racing trail system. By mid-September Dirk had hired a few big machines and a bulldozer to do some yard work. In less than two months, of what must have been long hard days of solid work, the trail and stadium, complete with lights for night skiing, are ready to go. Another nice feature of the trail system is that all the trails are built on sand and gravel, so that very little snow cover is needed before you can start skiing.
Now Dirk didn't tell many people what he was doing - he was probably too busy. But we did run into Dirk at P8 one day and we were invited to tour his "improvements at Nakkertok". Karl, Ed and I thought we were headed out to get a tour of a few new trail improvements: wider trails, maybe even a few banked corners and stuff like that. Even that would have been great. We weren't prepared for the completeness of Dirk's "improvements". We drove up a new access road, parked in the new parking lot and what lay before us was a stadium that is 125m long and 60m wide - complete with lights for night skiing! The night skiing loop now extends over 2km and when the snow flies I'll bet a lot of the light from the stadium extends even beyond that.
Speaking of the stadium, it's a great example of modern, spectator-friendly race course design. On any lap of the course you enter the stadium 3 times, not including the start and finish shoots. Thus all the parents and spectators are given a minimum of 5 chances to catch all the racing action. The stadium does double duty as an area for teaching and coaching. The trail loops off the stadium nicely so that it can be used to create a variety of challenging courses and is not limited to a single 5km loop.
While we walked the trails, Dirk pointed out all of the changes and explained his vision for the trails and how all forms of racing: sprints, mass starts, maybe even duathlon could be hosted there in the future. Along the way all of the expected trail improvements were there: wider, flatter, steeper, longer. While the course builds on a lot of the existing trails, the addition of "McCarthy Hill" and "Dirk's Dive" will make it more challenging and fun.
Dirk's built it, and when snow comes so will the skiers!