Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Good fall color. Good hiking and biking throughout the trail system. A small segment of the East Side trails still needs mowing (look at the mowing report below). As of September 1st, THE ENTIRE TRAIL SYSTEM has been cleared of downed trees resulting from the devastating December 2022 ice storm. Click here for maps showing the open trails. Trails involved in logging this past year have a dirt surface rather than grass (see logging notes under 'Important Updates').
Insect activity is low.
1-Logging on the West Side between intersections Y & Z is done for now.
2-Autumn 2022, loggers cut a large timber sale on the East Side. It's probably wise to avoid hiking those trails in all but very dry weather. Click here for a map showing the involved trails.
April 30: damp leaf top dusting
grooming & MOWING
After the December 2022 ice storm brought down an incredible number of trees throughout our 20+ miles of trails, spring of 2023 our officers weren't confident we'd be able to remove all the damage before the winter of 2023-24. At best, we hoped to clear the damage from our favorite trails. But guess what? As of September 1st 2023, 100% of the trail system has been cleared of downed and leaning trees. Amazing! Amazing!! Amazing!!!
Here's a time capsule of the removal of the storm damage...
- Late December we spent close to $7500 when we rented and operated heavy equipment (backhoe and skidsteer) to clear about 40% of the East Side Trails. Good skiing followed.
- Early January the Rusk Forestry Department contracted removal of downed trees from Excelsior Road on the West Side. And we thoroughly enjoyed skiing that segment.
- January/February BHTA volunteers (Blue Hills Trail Assn) spent several days clearing a few important trails on the East Side. Really tough work removing ice encrusted tree tops buried in 2+ feet of snow.
- We enjoyed some mighty fine skiing on the open trails -- and enjoyed the overall record snowfall and winter that wouldn't quit.
- In May, our volunteers provided 4 separate sessions of tree removal that buoyed our spirits. Then the bugs moved in.
- During June/July/August, we hired an affordable work crew from the Flambeau Correctional Center to clear most of the West Side trails, and several important loops on the East Side. They worked 7 full days for us! And did a great job in prepping for winter (removing not only the downed trees, but also the leaners that would block the trails when snow loaded).
- Once the bugs backed off in August, we organized several mornings for our volunteers to continue chainsaw work on the East Side. The last session was August 30th as we cleared the 'Far East' trails.
I think this is a fair estimate of the degree of damage we dealt with this past 9 months: 100 trees removed per km, 10 trees removed each 100 meters. That's an average, some areas weren't too bad, other areas were an unbelievable tangled mess. We removed many small trees, many medium size trees, occasional very big trees. For our 35+ km of non-motorized trails, that amounts to 3500 trees cleared to make way for our hunters, bikers, snowshoers, and skiers.
In between sessions to clear trees, we've found time to mow most of the East Side of the trail system. Those trails are in great shape, just in time for fall weather. The Rusk County Forestry Department is handling most of the mowing of the West Side - hopefully that mowing will soon start.
When you ski the Blue Hills Trail this winter, pause and reflect on not only the beauty, but the work involved. If you'd like to help us financially, here's the link where you can donate.
Happy Labor Day!
How to view images: To see larger versions of the thumbnail photos above, click on the thumbnail. If you want to save the image for yourself, simply right click the full size image to obtain the original. Higher quality images are available by contacting our website. To avoid copyright infringement, reprints must credit the Blue Hills Trail Association, Inc.
Image information: If you want to save any images from this blog post for yourself, simply right click the full size image to obtain the original. Higher quality images are available by contacting our website. To avoid copyright infringement, reprints must credit the Blue Hills Trail Association, Inc.
Additional Recent Posts
In mid December 2022, a destructive ice storm spread an unbelievable amount of damage throughout our trail system - and throughout the surrounding counties. After the deep snow pack finally melted, on April 26th we had a crew of 7 rough & tough workers clean up the ice storm debris at the trailhead around the warming house and pit toilets. They turned an unsightly mess into organized chaos. The grounds looked much more inviting after the work was completed. Once again, the warming house welcomes you.
A HUGE THANK YOU! to... Sam Behrends, Shelly Grendahl, Jan Paulsen, Tom Paulsen, Jerry Schneider, John Waldron, & Kevin Westlund.
Click here for an Instagram Post where Jan captured the action in a music video.
We have plenty more ice storm damage throughout the trail system, and will ask for your help later this summer and fall. Please consider lending a hand. Everyone is welcome.
Cleanup crew at work...
After the cleanup...
The past couple weeks, John Kann (our Snowshoe Superman) has been busy laying out a new snowshoe trail, and improving the existing Ridges Snowshoe Trail. Here are the details:
- First he added more ropes to the existing northwest loop of the Ridges Trail – human tow ropes – to help ascend/descend steep hillsides. With the addition of these ropes, he decided to name that trail segment the “Rope-A-Dope Loop". Find it on the map photo(s) below.
- Then John created a great new loop that branches off the existing Ridges Trail – it measures about 2 km in length, heads to the northeast, climbs to the east side ridgeline near intersection #12, then descends back to its origin. John named it the “Highland Loop". Look carefully at the images below.
- The snowshoe trails are marked with a variety of yellow symbols. To find your way, look for yellow snowshoe symbols, yellow signs, plastic yellow tags, or yellow paint on trees.
- Some time soon, our official map designer will add the Highland Loop to our online maps. Until then, go explore the woods and follow the yellow stick road.
During the middle of January (2023), we've twice been set to send out a team of chainsaw experts to work on opening more of the Core Loop on the East Side Trails by removing ice storm debris. However, equipment issues negated those plans.
Here's a bit of background: we prefer to groom as a team with our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 UTV accompanied by our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile. Here are the latest equipment challenges our groomers have faced:
- On the evening of January 13th 2023 (Friday the 13th), our Arctic Bearcat workhorse snowmobile overheated shortly after grooming began. The overheating of the snowmobile was an intermittent issue most of last winter as well - and led to several different interventions - each seeming to help temporarily. After overheating on January 13th, the snowmobile was parked at the trailhead, and our head groomer worked alone past midnight using our Honda Pioneer. Great skiing the next day thanks to his dedication.
- On January 15th, we trailered the snowmobile to Bloomer WI Arctic Cat for an in-depth evaluation of potential causes of overheating. Everything checked out OK – no obvious explanation – pretty frustrating that we couldn't identify the cause.
- We decided to discuss the overheating symptoms of the snowmobile with an Arctic Cat expert in New Hampshire who has given us sound advice on several occasions in the past. Right away, he said the symptoms pointed to the likelihood of an airlock in the cooling system. Luckily, while the snowmobile was in the Arctic Cat shop in Bloomer the day before, we had requested replacement of the coolant (anti-freeze), and as part of that replacement, it's routine protocol to perform special maneuvers to purge the cooling system of trapped air. Picture raising the front end of a heavy workhorse snowmobile 3-4 feet and operating til warm then venting the radiator -- and repeating that with the rear end elevated 3-4 feet -- and possibly doing the same with the sled tipped to one side, then the other. Since purging and burping the snowmobile, it's been running fine. Cross your fingers.
- On the evening of Saturday January 21st, our grooming team set out with the goal of using our 'trail renovator implement' to improve the edge of the skate deck. However, about 2 km into the grooming, a big stick worked under the rear comb of the renovator and popped out several rivets – which deformed the comb and created a grooming mess. The groomers returned to the trailhead, parked the 'trail renovator', and groomed using both of our Tidd Tech Generation 2 implements. That created nice skiing conditions for the following day.
- Toward the end of the grooming on that same evening of January 21st, all of a sudden our Honda Pioneer UTV started vibrating when the cooling fan operated. The groomers parked the Honda in its shed, and the next morning we started sharing ideas regarding a potential repair (on site vs at a dealership). Incredibly, while skiing on Sunday the 22nd, my wife (Jan) noticed an oddly shaped WHITE object on the surface of the snow as we skied up the Elevator Trail. Looking closer, we realized it was a plastic object – clearly part of a fan blade! Apparently one of the blades had broken off the cooling fan!!! And there's no reason to explain that – the cooling fan is located behind the radiator inside a protective shroud. But at least we now had an idea regarding what kind of repair was needed.
- Monday morning the 23rd we started contacting nearby Honda dealerships to request help replacing the cooling fan (online videos show a fairly complicated challenge to access the fan). We arranged for overnight shipping of a new fan, and on Tuesday trailered the Honda to AirTec Power Sports in Rice Lake for repairs. The fan replacement – and several additional preventive maintenance items – were completed within 24 hours!
- Regarding our '54-inch Trail Renovator Implement' -- it's been used aggressively this winter in deep snow and icy conditions to remove the ruts from the heavy equipment used to clear ice storm debris. As a result, the comb and side flaps have taken a beating. We have a replacement comb and side flaps on order. (FYI - the rear comb on any grooming implement is what creates the corduroy on the surface of the skate deck).
- Once the equipment issues are under control, we'll again try to coordinate work crews (chainsaw experts) to clear additional ice storm debris and open more of the East Side Core Loop. For now, that's our 'What Next' project.
As the saying goes, you don't own equipment, it owns you. This winter in particular, we need to appreciate good skiing when it's available.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
A very destructive 2022 ice storm (December 14/15) initially shut down our skiing & snowshoeing by dropping a shocking amount of trees, limbs and branches on our ski trails (not to mention area power lines and houses). The storm began with rain, then switched to ice, followed by 6 inches of very wet snow. The storm abated for 12 hours, then returned with 10+ inches of VERY dense damp snow. This second snowfall clung to the ice coating the trees, and created a once-in-a-generation swath of tree damage to area trees.
Area residents dealt with power outages lasting up to 5 days or more. It took more than a week before the access road to the ski trail was cleared of trees and plowed and we could reach our trailhead. Then the hard work began.
December 26-28 we rented – and our groomers operated – heavy equipment to remove debris from a select part of the East Side trails – and we began grooming the ski trails. On January 12th the Rusk County Forestry Department cleared trees from Excelsior Road (West Side of the trail system). We then groomed Excelsior Road so it could be enjoyed right away.
Initially, the amount of ice damage gave thought to the idea of closing the ski trails for the winter. But we decided to try to save winter in the Hills. Although the number of open trails is limited, we have very good skiing on 14 km of some of our favorite trails. 46% (11 km) of the East Side trails – plus Excelsior Road (3 km in length on the West Side) – have been cleared of downed trees. Weather permitting, we have plans to open more of the trails. Feel free to bushwhack any of the ungroomed trails.
Snowshoers: the entire Ridges Snowshoe Trail has been cleared of ice damage. We prefer you use that trail as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
The year that was (2021-22):
- December 2021 early snowfalls were encouraging, then we received a near-record 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. We spent about $400 grooming that snowfall, skiers enjoyed it for a few days, then the weather gods were cruel enough to give us rain, tornadic winds, and a major meltdown. The weather shifted in our favor just after Christmas, and by late December we again were busy grooming. January and February were cold, and during those two months we received about 20 inches of snow, with 7 of those inches on Tuesday February 22nd just prior to the Birkie. The overall snowfall for the winter measured 67 inches, but only 26 inches fell when we could use it. Much of the grooming this past winter was done in the evening – producing nice firm trails to start the day – and skiers were uniformly happy throughout the winter. Logging of the West Side ‘Lollipop Timber Sale’ in the late fall necessitated removal of those logs after the ground froze. As a result, the logs were hauled on the ski trails up until mid January. We weren’t really able to ski those involved trails until late January after enough snow accumulated. On the East Side, a small logging operation near the warming house in late February was minimally disruptive thanks to a cooperative effort to minimize equipment crossing the ski trail. The trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie, including ice and rain on March 5th (actually the first rain since late December). The last grooming was March 19, but cold weather allowed skiing until late March. We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. There still was ‘skiable’ snow in early April.
- Our “Blue Hills Trail Fun Day” never materialized this past winter due to cntinuing COVID precautions.
- Each summer, one of Wisconsin's 30 County Forests hosts the annual WCFA Summer Tour. It's a unique opportunity for one county to share the best of its forest lands. This year was Rusk County's turn to host the Summer Tour, and the Rusk County Forestry Department invited the Blue Hills Trail Association (BHTA) to show what we have to offer. In late June, three busloads of foresters pulled into the parking lot by the warming house, 100+ attendees piled out of the buses (this included members of the Rusk County Forestry Committee and the Rusk County Board), then listened to brief presentations from the Forestry Department and from the Blue Hills Trail Association. One point emphasized was the many benefits to the ski trails that result from the good working relationship between BHTA and Rusk County Forestry.
- A round of applause please for everyone that provided volunteer help this past year. Our volunteers, members & donors are very giving – THANK YOU!!!
Here are some specific thank you notes…
- Thanks to last year’s grooming team for creating great skiing conditions. They groomed a lot, we skied a lot – and groomers never complained about the need to use their winches to pull themselves out of deep snow.
- Thanks to John Waldron for serving as emcee at our November 5th banquet!
- Thanks to Jan Paulsen and Vickie Waters for decorating the banquet site.
- Big thank you to John Kann & Dan Bjugstad who continue maintaining our network of dedicated snowshoe trails – they’ve got their work cut out to reestablish the trails through the areas that were logged this past year. Watch for email messages if they request help removing the logging slash.
- The entire trail system was mowed this summer, thanks to our volunteers for removing downed trees & their 50+ hours of mowing.
- Thank you to the volunteers at this year’s fall work day. We brushed out most of the trails, and tidied up the warming house and trailhead.
- Thanks to the Rusk County Forestry Department and the Wisconsin DNR for bulldozing, culverting, and grass seeding the new West Side trail (between Letters Y and Z). This trail will be loads of fun to ski (it climbs, rolls and dips) as it provides a new loop for your enjoyment.
- Thanks to Bob Wieckowicz for his clever welding jobs on our Honda Pioneer (he added solid support for the extended hitch, and creatively modified the aftermarket bed rails to fit).
- Thanks to a dry summer, erosion problems have been limited this year.
- The distant loop on the West Side (C-D-F-G-H-I) remains beaver territory. For now, we’d like to coexist and avoid removing the beavers. In fact, their two active dams undoubtedly help control runoff during heavy rain events – thus minimizing erosion of the ski trail.
- There are two timber sales on the East Side that have been logged this fall. Details are on maps below.
- Remember, the entire trail system is non-motorized. If you find motorized vehicles on the trails, educate their operators to the contrary. And consider reporting this to the Rusk County Sheriff’s department.
Equipment and Monies:
Our equipment is valued at close to $90,000 – 2020 Honda Pioneer with Mattracks tracks, 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile, 2 rollers, 3 Tidd Tech implements, an ABR trail compactor, & various state of the art attachments. Thanks for your financial support that helps keep the equipment running well.
- Our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 with Mattracks & enclosed cab (cost of $41,000 when purchased April 2021) is a great asset – thanks again for everyone’s financial support in helping us afford the Pioneer. This summer, the Pioneer transmission acted up and required two trips to the dealership in Chippewa Falls before repairs were completed to our satisfaction. Thankfully we had purchased an extended warranty that covered the repairs.
- Our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers’ Special snowmobile is a big workhorse, powerful and maneuverable. It nicely complements the Honda Pioneer. Unfortunately, it overheated on multiple occasions this past winter, presenting a diagnostic challenge that took two months to figure out. We’re pretty sure it’s good to go.
- Our AcrEase trail mower gets plenty of use each summer. It was purchased 2012, and the engine was replaced spring of 2021. This summer we replaced all the wheel bearings (8 wheels, 16 bearings total). It does a great job handling the tall grasses.
- For working the snow surface, our Tidd Tech implements (called “G2s”) do most of the work. They measure 6, 8 & 9 feet wide with the outside flaps extended, & each works well in different snow conditions.
- The donation pole in the parking lot last winter added $3900 in revenue – thanks for spreading the word about the Blue Hills Trail – please remind visitors to plug that donation pole!
- This fall’s membership & fundraising drive has already generated more than $19,000 ($5200 from business donors, $5000 from individual donors, $6700 in membership fees, $1300 from raffle tickets) – that’s about 75% of our budget – and your generosity with this year’s auction will hopefully raise another $2000+ – thank you!!! Whenever you can, please thank the many businesses and individuals that support the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.
This map shows the new West Side trail that was bulldozed and seeded in August 2022. It runs from Y to Z.
Status of active timber sales as of late October 2022:
Refer to the first map below...
1. North of warming house – this was a select cut of red pine. The cutting is done, almost all the logs have been hauled out, and bulldozer repair of the ski trails is happening now. Our volunteers are in the process of reestablishing the ‘Nordic Pines’ snowshoe trail. One big plus: the ski trail that provides access to our trailhead storage has been greatly improved (ditched & culverted) to now allow heavy traffic to reach our storage sheds.
2. To the Far East – this very large sale (174 acres of a hardwood select cut) was cut in ‘record’ time this fall. Currently, the involved trails are rutted and muddy – and have an amazing amount of wood piled up waiting to be hauled to market. If the weather cooperates for the loggers (frozen ground before snow accumulates), the logs will be hauled to the west (down Rut Road to the Firelane Road), then the trails will be dozed in time for skiing. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and that plan doesn’t materialize, then the affected trails on the Core Loop will be repaired in time for ski season – and the logs will be hauled to the east using a route that doesn’t involve the Core Loop (refer to the second map below). We probably should anticipate a good portion of the Far East trails will be unavailable this winter. But they should be repaired and ready for skiing next winter. PLUS – we have a great new trail planned for the Far East that will be our payback for disruption of those trails.
Pink Line = East Side Core Loop
Aqua = water flow
Thanks to everybody that helped during our annual Work Day on October 1st!
Here's a list of our eager volunteers : Sam B, Carolyn C, Ron J, Jan P, Tom P, Kate P, Joel R, Geary S, Bob S, John W, Kevin W, Bob W, and John Z.
Intermittent light (somewhat unexpected) rain showers kept us cool as we picked rocks, threw branches, removed logs -- generally getting the trails ready for our favorite time of the year: winter x-country skiing! We probably totaled about 50 human-hours of labor while enjoying nice fall colors.
If you weren't able to help on the designated work day, we have some leftovers for you. Contact our secretary (Tom) via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see which trails will benefit from additional trail clearing. You are especially encouraged to visit the new trail on the West Side (between Y and Z) for an enjoyable hike -- feel free to throw a few rocks off the trail while you're at it. We're expecting this new trail to offer a great way to access the inner trails on the West Side, while challenging your degree of fitness (plenty of ups, downs, and rollers).
If out hiking the trails this fall, please contact our website if you find tree falls that need chainsaw removal.
During the past two weeks, the anticipated new trail on the West Side of the trail system was bulldozed, including the placement of three new culverts. The overall dozing results are graded as A+ (many thanks to DNR Forester Bob Hauser who did the expert dozing). This new trail (Y to Z on the map image below) will be a great addition! The new trail connects the west end of Excelsior Road with the 'Lollipop' loop (D-E-D). Check out the photos with this email message.
We started our summer trail mowing on June 22nd. The map (below) shows the trails mowed as of July 8th. Mowing is accomplished in stages during the months of June/July/August. For an updated mowing report and map, visit our website and click on the 'Trail Conditions' link at the top of the page.
- We have 22+ miles of trail that need mowing.
- Our crew of mowing volunteers usually mows a total of about 50 hours each summer.
- Prior to 2003, the Rusk County Forestry Department mowed the entire trail system. They were using a tractor with a deck mower -- and the tractor often created deep ruts that negatively impacted the goal of a smooth trail surface.
- In 2003, we (BHTA) purchased a trail mower to be towed behind an ATV so we could mow the softer trail segments. Even that was less than ideal, still leaving tire ruts that later needed repair.
- In 2014, we switched to mowing using a John Deere Gator on tracks. That's when we organized a trail crew to handle the mowing. Using tracks on the soft trail segments has greatly improved the trail surface when it's time to start wintertime grooming.
- At this time, the Rusk County Forestry Department mows the driest trail segments with their heavier equipment, this amounts to about 1/4 of the trails.
- The Blue Hills Trail Assn mows the remaining 3/4 of the trails using our 2020 Honda Pioneer (with tracks) pulling our AcrEase Trail Mower that cuts a 57" width.
- The 2003 mower was replaced in 2012 with an updated model; and last year we replaced the 2012 engine with an upgraded Briggs & Stratton engine that is working well.
- Mowing typically begins in late June, and the bulk of the mowing is completed by mid August.
Blue Hills Trail
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