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!
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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
Big plans this summer - we're moving ahead with scheduled development of the new trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail. Protection of this new trail from motorized traffic hinges on the new gate we installed Monday (May 16th).
Granted, there was a West Side logging operation last summer/fall that disrupted the beginning of the ski season on the West Side trails. But as a result of that timber sale, we'll be able to convert a logging road into a new route that will connect the west end of Excelsior Road with the inner loops of the West Side Trails. Take a look at the map (below) where the orange colored trail shows the new trail to be bulldozed and seeded later this summer.
This trail measures 1.3 km in length. From its starting point at Letter Y, the new trail meanders through the woods, dips and rolls, and gradually climbs to a high point a few hundred meters south of Letter Z. At that high point, there's a nice vista to the east from where you can appreciate the distant hills of the East Side of the trail system.This trail is going to be a wonderful addition to the West Side trails. We expect to groom it this coming winter. Click here for the countdown to Winter 2022.
Thanks to Rusk County Forestry for supplying the gate. Many thanks to our volunteer members that supplied the knowhow, tools, machinery and muscle power for the gate installation: Sam Behrends, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, Steve P, and John Waldron.
Winter 2021-22 was a roller coaster weather ride. The thrills really took off with the 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. On December 11th our groomers worked 20 hours and skiers enjoyed really nice conditions -- for a couple days. But a few days later record warm temps were accompanied by rain and tornadic winds, and almost all that snow disappeared by December 15th. How cruel!!!
Just after Christmas, wintry weather returned, and we had decent skiing conditions by New Years. The rest of the winter, temps fluctuated between subzero cold and temps in the teens and twenties. Precipitation often was in the form of dry snow. Following that nasty rain event in mid December, it didn't rain again until March 5th. As a result, we experienced good skiing without icy conditions for most of the winter - pretty unusual.
We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. Our groomers worked approximately 350 hours during that time. Much of the grooming was in the dark of night, during cold temps, and challenging weather. Hats off to our groomers!
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. Good skiing lasted until mid March. The last grooming of the season on March 19th created rocket fast conditions on the East Side Core Loop, a great way to say goodbye to winter. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
The infamous Blue Hills Bill shut off his alarm and casually stretched. This year, it wouldn't take him long to dig out his front door.
Snowfall this winter hasn't been great, luckily just enough to keep him cozy during January's cold. After munching a quick breakfast, Bill started digging. Just in the nick of time, he crawled out of his burrow at 7:27 this morning and delivered his annual prognostication to downtown Bruce, WI. Unlike last year's sparsely attended event, there was a big crowd of boosters awaiting his presence.
Big snows on Bill's burrow,
His sleep was so thorough;
Then a night to remember,
Bill hunkered down deep,
And focused on sleep;
Cold winds came his way,
And skiers did play.
Alas winter's so short,
Not nuff time to cavort;
No shadow this morning,
Snowmen take warning.
Comments from the crowd
- 2/2: I've heard the Blue Hills ski trails are in great shape. Gotta go check out Excelsior Road again! -Eau Claire, WI
- 2/2: Pull the kids out of school, let's head to the Hills. –Madison, WI
- 2/2: Bill says winter’s gonna disappear early. We'd better get our kicks while we can –Rice Lake, WI
- 2/2: Thanks for the advice, Bill. Just enough snow, so little time, never enough winter… –Winter, WI
Weather forecasters predicted a narrow band of heavy snow for northwest Wisconsin. For our area, we were hoping for a nice 4" snowfall to add to our early season thin base. As the storm moved in, late the evening of Friday (December 10th) we measured 7", and awoke Saturday to snow accumulations guesstimated at 14"-18" in the vicinity of the Blue Hills Trail. WooHoo! Biggest snowfall in YEARS! First double digit snowfall since a 10-inch snowfall November 10, 2014.
At that point, the grooming challenge begins for two tough guys: fight your way to the trailhead while the snowplows are out working the main highways; use our Honda Pioneer UTV and Arctic Cat Bearcat to bust through the deep snow as you start to open some select trails; return home for a change of dry clothes; come to the rescue of the local plow operator when his big snowplow truck got stuck in the ditch near the trailhead; grab some hot food from town (10 miles away) because the grooming wouldn't end anytime soon; deal with dry slick snow that made it difficult for the grooming machines to climb the hills without the tracks slipping (note: there are lots of hills in the Blue Hills); burn up gas like it's going out of style; stop and remove snow sticking to the rollers; after sunset enjoy the clear skies and a winter wonderland. And hope skiers the following day would appreciate your efforts.
Just a couple weeks ago we were out hiking bare ground. Skiers on Sunday (December 12th) enjoyed a wintry wonderland. The select trails that were groomed on the 11th weren't in top shape, but they provided loads of fun. The 14" snowfall (dry snow!) compressed into a 2" base that was thick enough to allow the use of good skis. Sure, skiing wasn't perfect today, but who's complaining? Take a look at the following photos of happy skiers as we begin winter 2021-2022.
The many acres of trails on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail are often home to beavers. In years past, we've been able to tolerate a few of their permanent dams while trying to maintain the adjacent trails in the summer, and groom next to their dams in the winter.
Sad to say, too often we've resorted to trapping to remove 'nuisance beavers' (we report the problems to the County Forestry Department, and they hire out the work to a professional trapper).
All summer we've observed an active 200-foot long beaver dam that is located next to the ski trail (between intersections I and H), with about 130 feet of the trail wet enough to perhaps make it difficult to groom and ski this winter. Instead of trapping out the beavers at this spot, we decided to try a different approach. We'd like to learn how to coexist.
The first photo (below) shows this location in early September. See the small bridge? Beyond the bridge the trail has water slowly moving over the trail. We've debated various options, and yesterday (November 13th) decided to install a small beaver deceiver (pond leveler) device.
Here's what Sam, Benny, and Tom did...
· Purchased five 10-foot lengths of 4" corrugated HDPE pipe ('drain tile') and one filter
· Breached the beaver dam with the goal of dropping the water level about two feet
· Screwed the pipe sections together, and fastened the filter on the upstream end
· Drilled holes in the first 20 feet of pipe (to allow trapped air to escape)
· Attached a weight five feet from the upstream end (to hold the pipe underwater)
· Waded into the pond with the upstream end of the pipe (and the weight)
· Placed the downstream end of pipe (30 feet in length) through the breach in the beaver dam, and under the bridge on the ski trail
· Dropped the upstream end (and weight) into water that was probably five feet deep
· Placed a vertical wood post in the breach of the dam, and attached the pipe to that post
· Confirmed a nice volume of water flowing through the downstream end of the pipe
The materials cost about $30. We’re hoping the beavers quickly show up and repair the breach in the beaver dam. This hopefully would seal the pipe into the dam at a height that will control the water level – leaving enough water for the beavers to use the pond, but keeping the water level low enough to minimize the tendency for water to leak through the dam and flow over the ski trail.
We learned a lot from this first attempt at installing a pond leveling device. It was a nice muddy day playing in the beaver habitat, here’s hoping we can coexist.
Each summer, we evaluate our 20+ miles of trails to look for areas in need of bulldozing. The goal is to control erosion and/or improve trail segments to enhance skier enjoyment. The Rusk County Forestry Department usually donates the cost of two days of dozing plus the necessary grass seed; the dozing is performed by highly skilled local Wisconsin DNR foresters. We're fortunate to benefit from this ongoing relationship.
This summer, all of June and the first half of July were very dry for a change. This created an opportunity to bulldoze areas that would otherwise be too muddy for dozing. So we focused this year's dozing on two areas on the East Side trails: the Roundabout intersection, and the lower half of the Hairpin Trail.
The Roundabout Trail was created several years ago. It's a great way to climb to the Ridgeline, or to quickly descend from the Ridgeline on the way back to the warming house. It flows beautifully, and is one of our favorite trails. However, when this trail was built conditions were too muddy to create the ideal junction between the Roundabout Trail and the Rollercoaster Trail. When skiing downhill, we've been forced to stop and make a hard left turn to switch from the Roundabout to the Rollercoaster.
Good news - we just completed dozing that added a sweeping left hand turn that will allow skiers to maintain their speed while dropping from the Roundabout Trail onto the Rollercoaster Trail. It's gonna be sweet!
On the Hairpin Trail, the lower half (the southern half) had several rocky and rutted areas that made grooming a real challenge. As a result, that trail hasn't been groomed and skied very often. On their way back from working on the Roundabout Trail, dozers spent time improving several segments of the lower half of the Hairpin Trail. This should be a welcome improvement for groomers and skiers alike.
Our volunteers spread grass seed August 20th, first spreading an annual rye, then spreading a perennial mix that includes clover (makes for nice grouse habitat).
Many thanks to our DNR dozer operators (Bob Hauser and Colton Erickson), they did a super job!
Check out the following pictures taken August 20th...
Our new workhorse has arrived!
After selling our 2014 Gator to a private party, in early April we finalized plans to purchase and modify a 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 Deluxe side-by-side that now makes its home at the Blue Hills Trail.
Beginning in February, recognizing it was time to replace our Gator, here's the process we followed...
- Researched UTVs that would meet our needs
- Researched industrial strength tracks that would be superior to the Camoplast tracks we've used since 2014
- Inspected and test drove several UTVs
- Visited the nearest Mattracks dealer (Winter, WI) for a first hand look
- Spoke with groomers at ski trails with experience using the Honda Pioneer, and Mattracks.
By late March, we felt the Honda Pioneer 1000 was a good choice for our new UTV. And Mattracks became our choice for a tougher set of tracks. Recognizing the need to pay attention to our space limitations (the doors opening into our storage shed are 83" wide and 83" tall), we...
- Downloaded specs for Mattracks and the Pioneer
- Made multiple careful measurements of the Pioneer
- Realizing the vertical fit would be close, we decided to purchase the Pioneer (with a backup option of modifying the storage shed doors)
Recognizing the current Coronavirus Pandemic has greatly disrupted supply chains and the availability of manufactured items, we felt fortunate to locate a UTV that could fit our needs (a 2020 Pioneer was available at Zacho Sports Center in Chippewa Falls). We made a down payment on the Pioneer. Simultaneously, we ordered the Mattracks from TRACKIT trail grooming located east of Winter, WI (just before a big price increase). Zacho Sports Center did nice work adding a front receiver hitch, interior storage compartments, front and rear LED lights, special dashboard rocker switches to operate our grooming implements, and a second stronger battery to handle the extra electrical load.
Once all the modifications were completed on the Pioneer, we sealed the deal and chose May 12th as the day to transport the Pioneer from Chippewa Falls to Winter (Wisconsin) where the tracks were installed. Then from there to the Blue Hills Trail -- all in the same day. A HUGE THANK YOU to John Waldron for his time and mileage (220 miles that day) as he trailered from Rice Lake to Chippewa Falls to Winter to our trailhead transporting the Pioneer.
Once at the trailhead, we were relieved our new Pioneer fit the vertical opening into the storage shed with about 3 inches to spare! WooHoo!!!
The next major step was to fabricate a special extended rear hitch for towing our grooming implements and trail mower. Bob Wieckowicz (our member with special welding expertise) evaluated the Pioneer, and decided to weld the extended hitch at his shop. The welding and painting was accomplished in a couple days, and the Pioneer returned to the trailhead just before rainy weather moved in. Considering the tight spaces that are present when the cargo bed is tilted, the fabricated hitch and welding support is really quite brilliant! Thanks Bob!
Many thanks to the following members that helped research the new machine and tracks: Sam Behrends, Ron Beebe, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. And thanks to Bob Langer for help with trailering as part of the rear hitch fabrication.
And many thanks to our members and donors. The Pioneer + Mattracks is a big investment, we genuinely appreciate your financial support.
The COVID pandemic has pushed many more people into the out of doors this past year. This has clearly added to the enjoyment of the beauty of the Blue Hills Trail, we've been experiencing a big increase in the numbers of first time visitors this past year.
Thanks to COVID, for the first time, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation partnered with multiple 'Virtual National Venues' for the 2021 Birkebeiner (Birkie) Ski Race. Here at the Blue Hills Trail we outlined three courses that satisfied the distance requirements for either the Prince Haakon, Kortelopet, or American Birkebeiner races. Give credit to our vice president (John Waldron) for pushing the Blue Hills Trail Association to link with the American Birkebeiner for this year's event - the 47th annual American Birkebeiner Ski Race. And credit our president (Sam Behrends) for providing hydration and energy snacks at key locations.
We were pleased to see so many skiers join in the fun by completing their races at the Blue Hills Trail during the Virtual Week of Feb. 20 to 28. Racers were free to ski any of our trails that they wanted, many skied their own routes, quite a few followed our suggested routes. The Blue Hills Trail was a Tier 3 Virtual Partner, and we groomed the heck out of our trails during Birkie week. We could brag about the dynamite conditions, but it's better to let the following pictures convince you. Thanks to Jan Paulsen, Steve P, and Dave Putnam for the majority of these photos.
Blue Hills Trail
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