The Blue Hills Trail website. At the top of the page, find daily updates by clicking on 'Trail Conditions'. Explore the top menu items to find the links and information imported from the old website. Scroll down the home page to enjoy the many features it offers.
The Blue Hills Trail blog where you can scroll back in time to relive the history of the trail in pictures and text. Be sure to visit the blog to find more information regarding our new website and maps. (Find the 'BHTA Blog' within 'THE TRAIL COMMUNITY' menu at the top of the website page.)
Kristine Paulsen. She's a photojournalist living in Missoula MT where she combines tech savvy skills with a flair for the artistic. A huge thank you for donating the many many hours and knowledge required to create the new website, migrate loads of information from the old website, and work out the bugs.
Kirk Paulsen. He's a transportation engineer living in Portland OR where he realizes his passion for cycling on an everyday basis. A huge thank you for the many hours and expertise that resulted in maps that are loaded with information and easy to read.
We'd greatly appreciate feedback regarding these changes - thank you!
Sam Behrends (president) John Waldron (vice president) Tom Paulsen (secretary / treasurer)
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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.
The Blue Hills Trail is a favorite place for many hunters during the fall. Since it is non-motorized, it provides solitude that’s hard to find elsewhere. Bird and deer hunters are especially appreciative.
For many decades, a certain group of hunters from the Chippewa Falls area has camped in the parking lot by the warming house during the Thanksgiving gun deer hunt. Their tradition includes decorating their campsite with Christmas lights and inflatable characters. Quite a site!
The Blue Hills Trail has 20+ miles of trails that grow on you, and many trail users give back in their own way.
The group from Chippewa Falls has ‘given back’ by helping develop the signage for the Blue Hills Trail. At each of 60 intersections you’ll find a metal map holder that protects our laminated maps from the weather and curious critters. Each trail that branches from an intersection has a metal reflective sign providing directions. Thank you to our friends from Chippewa Falls for their part in keeping us oriented and safe on the Blue Hills Trail.
It was a busy summer and fall for volunteers maintaining the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin. For the past few years, wet summers have aggravated areas prone to erosion. Fortunately, the latter part of this summer was quite dry. As a result, several important projects were completed.
Here’s a quick summary of our accomplishments:
Approximately 50 hours of trail mowing.
Mowed and trimmed the trailhead (warming house etc) on three separate occasions.
Repaired 1200 feet of badly eroded East Side trail by dozing and seeding.
Filled erosion adjacent to an important East Side culvert by placing bundled straw and shoveling soil.
Cleaned out three areas of creek debris requiring chainsaw work.
Dealt with 3 plugged culverts that flooded and created impassable trail segments.
Repaired the crumbling floor in our older shipping container.
Cleaned and stained the warming house exterior.
Replaced a failing culvert on the West Side
Built a new bridge to cross a small intermittent stream on the West Side
Brushed and cleared branches and windfalls from about 70% of the trail system, East & West.
Brushed out a large portion of the snowshoe trail.
Repaired the log corduroy of an East Side stream crossing.
Chainsaw work on the West Side.
Repaired (shoveled) ruts on a short section of the West Side trail.
Replaced cable barriers at two vulnerable intersections along Rut Road (East Side).
Details regarding some of the major accomplishments…
Erosion control is always an ongoing battle in the Hills. The annual spring runoff and all-too-frequent summer deluges take their toll on the downhills. Our bridges appear to be in good shape. However, on the East Side the long downhill north and southeast of intersection #5 really took a beating this summer. The washouts in this area were repaired with bulldozing performed in early August, with grass seed spread quickly thereafter. Many thanks to DNR Forester Gary Sarauer for his dozer skills, and the Rusk County Forestry Department for donating the cost of Gary's dozing time.
Staining the warming house
Our lovely warming house at the trailhead was built in 1998. Since it's on County land, technically it belongs to Rusk County. However, it really 'belongs' to our membership since we're responsible for its upkeep. It's been stained on two prior occasions since it was built. This summer, we hired Dave Roth (Ladysmith professional painter) who performed an exterior beauty treatment. Thanks to Dave for his extra special attention in cleaning with an industrial cleaner, then pressure washing, then returning a couple days later to brush on a Benjamin Moore ArborCoat translucent waterborne stain. In the absence of power and running water, that was quite a challenge. Thanks to Bjorn Hanson (Burnell's Decor in Rice Lake) for donating the stain. Thanks to Jeld-Wen Windows (Hawkins) for donating and replacing all the windows in January 2020.
Unplugging a culvert that was flooding the trail
In July we discovered a plugged culvert on the trail that crosses from the East Side to the West Side trails (this culvert is located between #23 and Letter L). The plugged culvert caused water to back up parallel to the Fire Lane Road for about 1/2 mile. Water was briskly flowing over the ski trail, and threatening to wash out the trail and culvert. In August, Steve P and Jerry S teamed up to open the plugged culvert, and rescue this section of trail. flow, then photos showing the trail after the culvert was functioning normally. A huge thank you to Steve and Jerry!
Replacing an aging culvert
On the West Side, the steep down/up segment of trail between J-K has presented an always changing challenge for trail maintenance. Seems like each year the water passing through that narrow valley (and associated culvert) finds a new way to make for a difficult trail crossing. We've tried various methods to negotiate the water that often flows over the trail: a sheet of plywood supported by 2x4s; taking delivery of a dump-truck load of rock to create a rock ford; bulldozing to repair the erosion; or in many winters, simply waiting for cold weather to freeze solid the standing water.
This summer, that area between J-K was flooded with knee deep water. After draining that water, we recruited a heavy equipment operator to evaluate the site. At his advice, we replaced the failing culvert where the stream crosses the trail. His backhoe work widened and smoothed the trail, and created a spot where high water events can bypass the culvert.
Bridging a small intermittent stream
For many years, we've battled with erosion problems at a specific trench on the West Side of the trail system. It's located about 200 meters west of Letter I (refer to the above map). It's a 'choke point' for all the water that drains the west loop (D-F-G-H-I). As this trench has gradually enlarged and deepened over the years, it's posed an increasingly challenging obstacle for wintertime grooming and summertime mowing.
We've used various options to fill the deep trench, but they’ve all been washed out the next Spring. So now we decided to try placing a bridge at that site. In general, we try to avoid the use of bridges on the trail system since they're more difficult to maintain, especially with climate change triggering more numerous and heavier downpours.
The bridge was built in stages over the course of a couple weeks. The finished bridge looks pretty nice, it’s solid, and hopefully will withstand springtime runoff.
Mountain biking at the Blue Hills Trail is most enjoyable on the West Side of the trail system. The East Side trails tend to be more damp and softer, and take quite a bit of dry weather before they dry out. The West Side trails are more firm, with only occasional wet spots.
In mid June, biking the entire West Side was a good workout. Grasses were only mid calf tall, and soils were firm. One short portion of trail between J-K was flooded knee deep, but could be crossed on foot.
Since so much of the trail system remains soft throughout the year, fat tire biking is a great alternative. The trails are wide, the curves are easily negotiable. It’s a great way to explore the trails during summer / fall.
10+ inches of heavy snow November 27, 7+ inches of heavy snow November 30, 4+ inches of dense snow December 9, 2.5 inches of light snow December 12. Groomers had their hands full throughout December. This made for very good skiing over the Christmas and New Year Holidays. January added 14" of snow in generally light snow falls. February was dry, only 5" of snow. We had only one major rain event (1.5" of rain December 28), and the rain was absorbed into the abundant base. Trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Then warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie. The last grooming was March 13, but we were able to enjoy decent skiing into the beginning of April. All thanks to the big snows in late November.
We groomed a total of 57 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: once in November, 18 times in December, 19 times in January, 16 times in February, and 3 times in March.
Our head groomer and his crew were very willing to use our rollers - both of our rollers were used more this past winter than at any time in the past. As a result, this past winter the trails were groomed wider, and the edges were more firm. Groomers were very willing to try different techniques, and performed far more evening grooming than at any time in the past. This allowed the grooming to set up by the time skiers arrived in the morning. The classic track was in generally good shape most of the winter - the groomers were responsive to input from some of our most enthusiastic classic skiers. Thank you groomers!
The ABR compaction drag (we call it the 'Blue Thing') also was used more frequently this past winter. It was especially helpful removing high spots in the center of the trail, and when the trails needed a quick light touch-up of the skate lane.
Logging along Rut Road kept us from grooming that part of the East Side Core Loop the entire winter. Toward the end of that logging operation, it also disrupted our access to the West Side using the usual East-West crossover trail. However, one of the real pluses this past winter was the newly permitted use of Excelsior Road on the West Side for grooming and skiing. In the middle of December, after the gun deer hunts were done, a berm was plowed to block off traffic at the east end of Excelsior Road. We then groomed the entire 3 km length of Excelsior Road, and skiers were uniformly thrilled with the results.
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
Skiers February 12th enjoyed wonderful conditions. Following the arrival of 2" of fresh snow on February 9th, our head groomer worked the evenings of February 9/10/11 and created some of the finest grooming of the winter. Firm trails, wide flat skate lane with corduroy that was often seamless across the skate deck, and a solid classic track with great pole plants. The photos with this message were taken February 12th on the West Side trails.
Next grooming is anticipated either Friday evening (Feb.14) or Saturday morning - probably touching up the most heavily skied trails so Saturday's skiers will be able to enjoy primo conditions.
Knowing he had a lot of work ahead of him, the infamous Blue Hills Bill rolled out of bed early today. Eager to get a start on things, he munched a quick breakfast, and started digging. With loads of snow cover, he dug & dug & dug… and dug & dug & dug… and just in the nick of time, he crawled out of his burrow at 7:26 this morning and delivered his annual prognostication to the awaiting crowd in downtown Bruce, WI. Read on…
Blue Hills Bill Awoke from his slumber; Winter started early Too many days to number.
His shadow distinct Bill scurried away; 6 more weeks of winter Lots of time to play!
Comments from the crowd
2/2: Never know when another big storm is gonna head our way. Better ski when the trails are firm! -Eau Claire, WI
2/2: This winter in southern Wisconsin has been crummy, pull the kids out of school, we’re staying in the Blue Hills. –Madison, WI
2/2: Bill says winter’s gonna stick around. I like the cold, it makes for easy waxing, great classic skiing. More time to get our kicks! –Rice Lake, WI
2/2: Thanks for the advice, Bill. So much snow, so little time, never enough winter… –Sumner, WA
Thanks to Kate P for dressing our snowperson (photos below) for February.
First things first: packed powder conditions, skiing is great, especially in the classic track set this past weekend; and on the skate deck where touch up grooming was performed Tuesday evening (January 28th). Don't let the East Side logging operation scare you away. We are currently grooming 17 km of trails on the East Side, 9.6 km on the West Side. As an example, if you ski all the trails on the West Side, it'll add up to 14 km by the time you're done.
Here's our latest 'Gator Tale'. A true example of rolling with the punches...
A few days ago we performed scheduled maintenance on our Gator. Oil change, check fluids, lube the Camoplast tracks, and check tightness of the hub bolts that secure the bearings and hold the tracks in place.
Three of the four hub bearing bolts were a bit loose (that's why we check them). We removed and replaced two bolts.
Shockingly, when removing the third bolt it snapped off. Now what??? (photos below show a partially removed bolt and washer on the left; snapped off bolt is shown on the right).
We had access to the tools needed to extract the broken bolt. But we decided to enlist the help of a professional machinist from CPH Enterprises on County Hwy O, located just 3 miles away. With a bit of begging, one of their pros came out to the trailhead to help us out.
These bolts are held in place using red Loctite. Removal of the broken bolt required drilling a hole in the center of the bolt, inserting an extractor (a special tool), and repeatedly heating the bolt with a torch while trying to extract it. The heat helps loosen the Loctite.
After many attempts, the broken bolt seemed to move slightly - but at that point the extractor snapped off. Another 'Now What???' moment. Those might not have been the exact words we used.
Next step? We were stuck. Late afternoon on Tuesday. Next step would require the use of a generator to weld a nut on the end of the broken bolt and use that nut to back out the bolt. This was set up for Wednesday morning.
When cautiously trying to move the Gator from the shed to the parking lot on Wednesday morning, the bearing mechanism on the right rear track started shifting - which meant the entire hub assembly and track could fall off - with possible serious mechanical damage to various components.
The crew of two that was working on the Gator on Wednesday was able to use several ratchet straps to secure the Camoplast track enough that it was moved to the parking lot.
A nut was welded onto the end of the broken bolt; then with difficulty, the bolt was removed and replaced with new parts.
The last challenge? Prior to the welding operation, the Gator battery needed to be disconnected by removing the positive lead. When doing that, the battery terminal broke off (a bit rusted). This meant a trip to Ladysmith to buy a new battery terminal (connector), then returning to the trailhead to repair the positive battery lead and tuck the Gator in the shed.
All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!
A reminder.... When you're out enjoying a groomed ski trail, give special thanks to the groomers and volunteers that are so integral to cross country skiing on groomed trails.
We have a great new section of trail for skiing. On the West Side of our trail system, beginning this winter, we have permission to close off and groom Excelsior Road for skiing. Look at the map (in the images below) to get an idea where it's located.
Excelsior Road has great potential for skiing, but closing it for skiing upset the hunters/trappers that have used that road for decades. To paraphrase Jeremy Koslowski (Rusk County Forest Administrator), we all want to play in the same sandbox, we just need to figure out how to get along.
At the December 2019 monthly meeting of the Rusk County Forestry Committee, the wintertime use of Excelsior Road was on the agenda. After much discussion, a new compromise for shared use was passed by the committee. Please read on...
Out of control beaver activity on the West Side trails in August was highly discouraging
Because of the beavers, we pictured a future time when we might be unable to maintain parts of the West Side - including the East/West crossover trail
The idea of closing and grooming Excelsior Road was discussed
A proposal to close and groom Excelsior Road during the winter ski season was presented by BHTA to the Forestry Committee at their September meeting; it passed unanimously
With the unexpected early arrival of wintry weather in late November, we started grooming Excelsior Road approximately December 5 during the muzzleloader deer hunt season
Vehicle traffic continued on Excelsior Road despite signs requesting it be considered non-motorized
After discussions with Jeremy K, we decided to hold off on more grooming until the antlerless deer hunt ended December 15
The evening of December 15, we again groomed Excelsior Road and also arranged for a large berm to be snowplowed into place - effectively blocking car/truck access where Excelsior Road meets the Firelane
Hunters expressed their concerns to the Rusk County Forestry Department
December 18, 2019 meeting of the Forestry Committee
One of our officers represented BHTA and sat next to the three hunters in attendance
The hunters don't want to lose access to the many acres along Excelsior Road where for years they've hunted with their dogs; hunted coyote & rabbit through the winter; bow hunt deer into early January; trap during the winter
There was a reasonable exchange of ideas, BHTA tried to represent our membership
Forestry Committee then unanimously passed a resolution to allow limited motorized access during the winter ski season - allowing ATVs and snowmobiles on the south side of the road, with the north side reserved for ski trail grooming
BHTA continued the dialogue with the hunters outside the meeting room
We're going to try sharing Excelsior Road and plan on continued exchange of ideas
We're going to give this a try (the newly passed resolution), and review the results at the January 2020 Forestry Committee meeting. Our officers are hoping to dialogue with the hunters and discuss various options prior to the January meeting. We respect their right to use the County Forest, and recognize their time in the out of doors is an example of a healthy activity - not unlike the hunting and trapping that many of our members enjoy.
Mid December conditions on the West Side are excellent. Don't let the idea of sharing Excelsior Road with ATVs & snowmobiles scare you away, we expect that traffic to be light. Ski Excelsior Road when you can, any feedback is welcome.
Every other year our volunteers replace all the intersection maps. That’s 60 maps, but who’s counting? Combined with excellent signage, it makes it easy to get your bearings on the Blue Hills Trail. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #trailvolunteers #xcskitrails #foresttherapy #findyourselfoutside
Good hiking in early December. Frost is entering the ground, the ski trails are ready for snow. Photos show the biggest oak tree in the County Forest; hiking on the ‘Far East’ trail; and our Gator doing some trail work on the West Side trails. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #trailwork #hikingwisconsin #weneedsnow
Big News! Wisconsin's Blue Hills Trail has revised its website, its maps, its blog - and added an Instagram account. Spread the word. VISIT THE BLOG for details – link in bio ⬆️
#bluehillstrailwisconsin #crosscountryskiing #skinnyski #ruskcountywi #ricelakewi #travelwisconsin #tomterrifik
1.5” big fluffy parachute snowflakes today. Might actually be able to ski on some of our trails — even though the underlying ground isn’t yet frozen. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #winterinwisconsin #crosscountryskiing #xcskiing
After unseasonably warm weather in the first week of November, more wintry weather will start to freeze the trails. Hopefully x-country skiing is just around the corner. This photo was taken on the East Side trails - it shows one of our most important bridges.