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Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.

Today we're rolling out...

  • A totally redesigned Blue Hills Trail website and blog
  • New and redesigned Blue Hills Trail maps
  • Our first official Instagram account @bluehillstrailwisconsin

Please check out...

  • 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 maps. The big change is the all new West Side map. It's formatted to mimic the East Side map, and it includes Excelsior Road (groomed for the first time last winter). The East Side map is now even more accurate than before. Both maps are available for download to your smartphone using the Avenza Maps app.
  • 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.)
  • Our fairly new Instagram account @bluehillstrailwisconsin. Add hashtag #bluehillstrailwisconsin to photos of your Blue Hills Trail adventures. Feel free to share this account widely.

A big shout out to...

  • 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)

The new home page, a unique gateway to the Blue Hills Trail. Have fun exploring the Hills!

trail maps for Blue Hills Trail
This is what the new 'MAPS' section looks like. Highly accurate and informative maps. Click the 'Get the Avenza map' button to easily download our maps to your smartphone.

Blue Hills Trail trail conditions
Access updated trail conditions easily from the top of the page

Blue Hills Trail home page gif
Check out our new Instagram account!

New West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
new West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
old West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
old West Side map for the Blue Hills Trail
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Additional Recent Posts

Big snowfalls (10+ inches on November 27, 7+ inches on December 1, 4+ inches December 9) have kept our groomers busy. Early December hasn't provided this type of wintry weather in recent memory. Groomers worked 66 man-hours wrestling the heavy snow into shape for the weekend of December 7/8 when conditions ranged from fair-good-excellent.

A couple news worthy items...

  • WE NOW ARE GROOMING EXCELSIOR ROAD up to and well beyond Letter A on the West Side. There's great skiing available out to the end of Excelsior Road, 3 km in one direction if you start at the Firelane Road. Either park along Firelane Road (well to the side of potential logging traffic), or at the warming house. Please do NOT try to drive on Excelsior Road up to Letter A, that's where we plan on grooming. Look at the modified West Side map (below) to better understand this change.
  • If the beginning of Excelsior Road is rutted (hunters may be driving there until the gun deer hunts are completed December 15), you can enjoy the West Side trails by starting at the warming house on the East Side and skiing the trail that crosses from East to West at Letter L. Or you can park at Letter L - just be sure to leave plenty of room for logging trucks.
  • Loggers have been working on the northwest part of the East Side this fall - along Rut Road in the vicinity of intersections 20-21-22 and Hemlock Canyon Trail between 21 & A - avoid this area until they're done. Images below include an East Side map that shows trails that are groomed, and how to avoid the logging activity.

Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.

good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
December 7, 2019 - East Side 'Core Loop' near #5
good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 7, 2019

We performed some long anticipated trail work today. Read on...

Several years ago, about 1 km of East Side ski trail was heavily damaged when a truck was driven on soft trails. The perp cut through a heavy chain securing a cable barrier, then drove 2/3 the distance from #2 to A1 before turning around at a muddy water crossing. What a mess! (Refer to map image below to get your bearings.)

Since that damage occurred, we've added more signage reminding visitors that the trails are non-motorized. Ever since that trail damage, we've been planning on replacing two cable barriers with more substantial gate barriers. Other trail maintenance issues received higher priority until we found the time today to install these gates.

The Rusk County Forestry department donated the gate materials -- in exchange for our volunteers supplying the concrete and labor.

A group of five of us set aside Sunday (November 17) as our gate work day. The weather forecast called for 1" of fresh snow and temps in the 30s.

We awakened to 2+ inches of wet snow. Not to be discouraged, we met at the warming house at 11 a.m and collectively identified spots for the gates, then went to work. This included:

  • Measuring 16'4" between post centers.
  • SB started melting snow to prepare hot water to mix with the quick set concrete.
  • JW used his tractor and power auger to start the holes.
  • When the auger was stymied by rocks, we took turns using long pry bars and post hole diggers to approach our target depth of 4 feet (that's a pretty deep hole when considering the glacial rocks in the way).
  • SB set up his transom to make sure the depth of the holes would result in a level gate.
  • We placed the gate posts in the holes, made sure they were plumb, added hot water in the bottom of the holes, then added 4 bags of quick set concrete in each hole.
  • After allowing the concrete a few minutes to start setting up, we were able to place the gate on the poles and fine tune the position of the posts.
  • Fitment was very good!
  • After completing the gate at #1, we moved down the 'Gravel Road' and repeated the process at #2.

Fun day sharing the work, we finished in about 3 hours. Glad we didn't let the weather get in the way. Relieved to find the grassy surface had prevented deep frost. Pleased to see the concrete set up so quickly - it should be solid before it has a chance to freeze.

We realize that barriers tend to keep out only the honest folks. The chosen gate locations will hopefully discourage trail damage, these new gates are more obvious and much safer than cables, and the gates visually are a nice addition.

Many thanks to our work crew of 5: Sam Behrends, Lori Larsen, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. Special thanks to Sam for rounding up the concrete and many of the tools; and to John for braving slippery roads to trailer his tractor and power auger to/from the trailhead.

Picture(s) with this message were taken November 17, 2019.

volunteers digging post holes while installing gates
Taking turns digging a post hole
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #1
the volunteer crew that installed two gates in November 2019
Gate crew at intersection #2
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #2

After the September 28th annual trail work day, we realized the West Side of the trail system needed plenty of additional work. Here's the story...

On the September 28th work day, John Ziemer and Tom Ralston rode an ATV and brushed and cleared many of the trails on the West Side. In addition, they identified a localized blowdown of large oaks on the Lollipop Trail (D-E-D); and an unexpected deep wet spot between Letters J-K.

At that point, we asked for help from two of our most trusty volunteers: woodsmen and chainsaw experts Steve Porn and Jerry Schneider. 

This past week we had a limited weather 'window' of several days of dry weather. So Jerry and Steve spent October 9th navigating and repairing damaged West Side trails. They spent 1.5 hours removing a big oak blowdown on the Lollipop Loop (very challenging chainsaw work). Then they removed a number of smaller downed popple trees from the West Side trails. Then they repaired a washed out trench west of Letter I by dragging logs out of the creek that were placed as log corduroy in that trench in October 2018 (washed downstream with the abundant meltwater Spring 2019). Below are 5 photos taken October 9th.

Then Steve & Jerry explored a newly flooded trail segment located at the deep dip between Letters J-K - where they were surprised to find a massive (125 yards in length) beaver dam that was built since mid August; plus another large dam terraced to a different water level. Not to be discouraged, they scouted access to this flooded area of willows and Steve returned October 11th with chest waders, hand saws and a dam busting tool.

The 7th image (below) shows the currently flooded trail between J-K; the next four photos show the large flooded area located south of trail segment J-K on the West Side. (As of October 11th, it was flooding the trail with water 2 feet deep.) In those photos, the red arrow points to a very large beaver lodge. As you can see, with a bit of handiwork, the dam in that area was breached October 11th. The next dam, located a bit further east, was also breached October 11th.

But when inspecting those dams October 12th, they had been rebuilt overnight!

So there's more work to be done in that area.

The last 3 photos show another flooded trail segment, 100 feet in length - before and after repair work.  In July, we discovered this 100 foot section deeply flooded by a beaver dam situated on top of the trail. We encouraged the beavers to move out; the next to last photo shows the trail in September after the water receded. The last photo shows the trail after it was bulldozed October 9th to make it passable again. Many thanks to Gary Sarauer (DNR forester & dozer operator) for his fine work.

Picture(s) with this message were taken early/mid October.

downed trees blocking one of the ski trails on the Blue Hills Trail
West Side blow down near Letter E - challenging chainsaw work
chainsaw work in the process of clearing the ski trail
A can do attitude helps a lot!
trail reopened and ready for skiing the Blue Hills Trail
Trail re-opened -- ready for skiing this winter

Plenty of trail news from this past week. Find a comfortable spot, grab your favorite beverage, and read on...

1 - Trail Conditions

Fall colors are very good right now. Ignore the damp weather and go hike the Hills. The trails are firm, well mowed, and a great place to unwind. Be sure to wear a bit of blaze orange: it's archery season for deer, there's a youth deer gun hunt this weekend, bear season is winding down, and various bird hunts are taking flight.

2 - Work Day results

Our Annual Trail Work Day (Saturday morning, Sept 28) was attended by 15 volunteers, and their 40+ hours of work accomplished a lot - THANKS! Kneeling in the group photo below are Tom Paulsen, Sam Behrends, Ben Behrends, Jenna Behrends; standing are Tom Ralston, Lori Larsen, John Ziemer, Paul Johnston, John Olson, Irene Olson, Mike Cragg, and John Hinde; photo take by Jan Paulsen; missing from the photo are Frank Lowry and Kate Plachetka. Their accomplishments:

  • As the above photo shows, we like to start 'em young. An eager two-year-old makes a good helper when cleaning the roof on the warming house.
  • We brushed and cleared branches and windfalls from about 70% of the trail system.
  • Two East Side bridges had their lifespan extended by adding fill and/or riprap rock where it had disappeared.
  • Trenched a 30-foot section at the edge of an East Side trail to help channel water off the trail.
  • On the East Side ridge-line, saved a culvert by exposing a hidden bypass water channel - filling it with rock then topping with soil.
  • Cleaned interior and exterior of warming house.
  • Stuffed gaps in the warming house logs with wool batting.
  • Caulked cracks on top surfaces of warming house logs (to avoid standing water).
  • Caulked a gap in the soffit.
  • Removed dirt adjacent to the foundation, wire brushed the exposed pink foam insulation, painted the foam with a foundation protector, then replaced the dirt.

3 - Camoplast tracks - SOLD!

The evening of Sunday, September 29th we posted an ad to sell our old set of Camoplast tracks that were installed on the Gator in 2014. The listing appeared on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Already Monday morning there was a big response, and the tracks sold the next day (the 30th) to the first person to inspect them. We're now running the Gator with a new and improved set of Camoplast (Camso) tracks. Your financial support keeps things running smoothly!

4 - Busy Beavers

In mid August, when performing touch-up mowing on the West Side, we were stunned by the amount of recurrent and new beaver activity that was flooding the trails. As of this past week, with a little help from our friends, the beavers have vacated the premises, water levels have dropped, and trails appear usable. Over the past several years, West Side beaver flooded trails have been a persistent and worsening problem. To address this, we met with the Rusk County Forestry department; and at their September departmental meeting, we were granted permission to close off and groom Excelsior Road during the winter months. In the future, if we need to abandon certain West Side trails, we can instead use Excelsior Road (this is the road we all use to access the West Side trailhead) as an option for skiing routes that wouldn't be impacted by beaver activity. In fact, there's a pending West Side timber sale that will eventually create a hauling road that could connect the Lollipop Loop (near Letter E) with Excelsior Road. Check out the West Side map, and use your imagination - this could develop into a very good ski trail, similar to our favorite 'Gravel Road' on the East Side. We'll see how this develops as the winter progresses.

5 - East Side logging    

Take a look at the map (below) that shows a Timber Sale that impacts the East Side of the trail system. On our East Side map, the active logging is south of Rut Road between 20-21-22, and on either side of Hemlock Canyon from 21-A4. We were expecting this timber sale to be logged during the winter, thus disrupting our East Side core loop - but good news! I hiked in that area a few days ago, and quite a bit of that sale has been logged. Most of the logging is a 'select cut' which leaves a beautiful hardwood forest standing. Kudos to the County Foresters for preserving a buffer for the ski trail, and for preserving the beauty of the forest. A few pictures (below) were taken on the lower portion of Rut Road to show you why you should avoid this fairly muddy area when hiking this fall. And prepare for a different vista - as you ski toward the warming house down the long gradual downhill that is Rut Road, at the spot where you bank off Rut Road, there now is a clearcut in the distance - as shown in the photo. And compare the 2013 photo of the skier with the last photo that shows essentially the same corner as you bank off Rut Road. We'll try to put up some signage in that area to make sure folks stay oriented. (Note: Loggers are expected to ditch and smooth the trails once they're done.)

6 - November 2nd Fundraising Banquet

Our guest speaker at this year's fundraising banquet is Birkie Founder and Legend... Ernie St. Germaine! If you've already registered, help spread the word. You can find a banquet link on our home page on your computer or smartphone.

Picture(s) with this message were taken late September.

volunteers cleaning pine needles from Blue Hills Trail warming house
September 28, 2019 - Annual Work Day
volunteers at annual work day for the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
September 28, 2019
volunteers cleaning pine needles from Blue Hills Trail warming house
September 28, 2019

Our 2014 John Deere Gator 825i went to the beauty shop today. It's time for its annual preventive maintenance -- and if you missed an earlier message -- the original Camoplast tracks that we mounted on the Gator in 2014 have worked hard for 1200 hours (7500 km) and are being replaced with new upgraded tracks. The old tracks will be put up for sale and provide many additional hours of service.

We've seen online videos of the new tracks, endorsing the improvements that were introduced in 2017. But today was the first time we've seen the redesigned tracks in person. And wow! are they impressive!

Not by choice, several of us involved with maintaining the Gator have become well acquainted with the original tracks. Since we purchased the Gator in 2014, most of its mechanical problems have been related to issues with the tracks. The new tracks have a tougher frame, improved mechanisms for adjusting track tension and alignment, improved ability to float over the trail surface, an even better rubber track, and a better system for lubricating the main hub bearings.

Seeing is believing. The following pictures show the Gator (with the original tracks) getting a shower; and the new tracks fresh from Canada.

Somewhat cooler weather has suppressed the bugs. This is a good time to enjoy our 20+ miles of non-motorized trails. The last photo shows folks 'Out There' near intersection A5 on the East Side. As a reminder, on the East Side, this fall you probably should avoid Rut Road (logging activity); on the West Side, the trail is currently flooded and impassable near Letter F, and between K-L -- busy little beavers.

If needed, click here for a link to our Trail Maps.

Picture(s) with this message were taken late August.

August 29, 2019 - our workhorse Gator gets a bath
August 29, 2019 - new Camso tracks for the Gator

A gorgeous day in the Hills! What a nice way to cap off our winter. This morning's grooming began at 5:30 with the temps around 15 degrees F. By the time skiers started arriving at 8 a.m. the East Side Core Loop had a nicely scratched up sugar snow surface that gave great edge control on the rocket fast trails. Thrilling!

At 10 a.m. an enthusiastic group of volunteers pitched in to make quick work of tucking the grooming implements into their summer lodging (our 40-foot shipping container). It went like this:

  • We mounted special wheels to our 8-foot Tidd Tech grooming implement, and it was backed into the shipping container with an assist from the Gator.
  • We switched the wheels to our 9-foot Tidd Tech grooming implement and backed it in with the Gator getting credit for another assist. 
  • Our blue trail compactor was moved into the shipping container using human power alone! 
  • We placed our two rollers in the shipping container, and called it a wrap.

Let's not forget how really strange this roller coaster winter was. Here's a quick summary:

  • The first part of the winter - up until February 5th - delivered very little snow, 4 separate meltdown events, 5 separate rain events, with a Polar Vortex thrown in for variety. Despite all that, we found enough snow to groom 13 times and periodically enjoyed some pretty good skiing. Audie Flowage served as a beautiful alternative to trail skiing.
  • Then on February 5th the Snowmaggedon hit! I recorded about 53" of snow between February 5th and March 9th. (Click here to check out our snowfall summary since 1999.) To say the least, our groomers were challenged. They groomed 18 times in February, and 10 more times in March. Often it meant long hours spent grooming, frequently in bitter cold temps. In all the deep snow, I lost track of the number of times the groomers needed to use their front-end winches (and multiple lengths of tow straps) to pull themselves out of trouble.
  • During the peak of the snowfalls, we were forced to deal with a couple of major equipment problems with our Gator. Taking the bull by the horns, we completed the repairs in the field ourselves - minimizing down time and keeping labor costs to a minimum.
  • Last point, something definitely worth noting: as of this morning, the snow to the side of the trails has solidified like a rock. On mornings following an overnight freeze, crust skiing can carry you anywhere you want to go. Let your imagination be your guide.

Maple syrup time, Ski the Hills!

New Years Day 2019 skate skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
January 1, 2019 - near Letter C on the West Side
skate skiing on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
January 11, 2019 - on the western most loop of the West Side
January 2019 classic skiing on the Blue Hills Trail
January 28, 2019 - on the Hunter-Walker Loop of the East Side
happy skate skier at the Blue Hills Trail
February 2, 2019 - great skiing on the East Side 'Gravel Road'
classic skiers enjoying the 'Gravel Road' at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
February 16, 2019 - near intersection #3 on the East Side
Blue Hills Trail February 17, 2019 Grouse Trail (East Side) during the snowmageddon
February 17, 2019 - Grouse Trail (East Side) during the snowmageddon
wonderful skating on the East Side 'Up & Down' trail
February 17, 2019 - wonderful skating on the East Side 'Up & Down' trail
excellent cross country skiing on the 'Roundabout' trail
February 19, 2019 - near intersection #A5 on the 'Roundabout' trail
Blue Hills Trail snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail
February 21, 2019 Blue Hills Trail snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail
snowshoes resting outside the warming house
February 27, 2019 outside the warming house
near the Roundabout intersection on the East Side f the Blue Hills Trail
March 5, 2019 near the Roundabout intersection on the East Side
snowshoeing on the 'Ridges' trail at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
March 11, 2019
Blue Hills Trail volunteers help move equipment into storage
Volunteers help move equipment into storage March 23, 2019

Despite the current dry spell and the lack of groomed ski trails, there's decent lake skiing available. Audie Flowage (2 miles northwest of the warming house) has a 2"-3" snow cover in most places. Skiing there today was very enjoyable despite requiring a bit of work -- the snow surface was a bit crusted, with a tendency to punch through the crust. However, the wilderness experience at Audie is definitely worth the effort (notice the otter slides in the photo?). You can access the Lake by parking either at the campground or the boat landing.

On December 3rd we groomed the 2 km length of the Eastside 'GravelRoad'. It's barely skiable, rock skis only, and watch your balance if you catch an edge. We need a few more inches of snow before we can consider grooming the Trails. Until then, feel free to bushwhack the trails, hike the trails, and hike the snowshoe trails.

The furnace in the warming house is on, stop by and thaw out.

Cross country skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Fun times skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Lake skiing on Audie Flowage in northwest Rusk County
Just enough snow on Audie Flowage for great lake skiing
Otter slides on Audie Flowage
Otters out having fun sliding around on December 10, 2018

Some equipment information we think will interest you... On a warm day while grooming this past March, the Hyfax slides on our new snowmobile overheated and needed replacement. (The slides are a hard plastic material attached to the metal rail - positioned between the moving rubber track and the metal rail, they shield the metal rail from abrasion - however the slides can overheat if operating in 'dry' conditions).

We've never needed snow scratchers before, but realized this is a must adaptation to help kick up snow/ice and cool the slides when grooming on hardpack snow - i.e. 'dry' conditions. We purchased cable (reversible) snow scratchers locally and earlier this week - after a bit of trial and error - installed them on our Bearcat snowmobile (the scratcher tips are carbide & replaceable). Everything lined up nicely. It's easy to hook the scratchers on the rail when you need them out of the way. Preventing equipment problems keeps our ski trail groomers happy and on the go.

With that task completed, we decided to check the state of the snowmobile battery, drive belt, and driven belt sheaves. First we used our lever lift stand to elevate the Bearcat's rear end. After napping for 6 months, the 'Cat fired up on the 2nd turn of the key, purred like a kitten, then roared as the track turned a few revolutions quite nicely. We again disconnected the battery and put her back to sleep -- waiting for snow!

Lastly, a modification that was installed a couple weeks ago... During the grooming season, the Bearcat sleeps in a shipping container where ice tends to build up under its track. To make entry and exit less harrowing for the operator, we placed an eyebolt in the threshold; then created an easily removable setup where we can secure a piece of salvaged snowmobile track to the threshold so the 'Cat can get a good toe hold. The trails are in great shape, go take a hike!

Bearcat snowmobile in storage
Bearcat snowmobile in storage
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp for snowmobile
entrance ramp

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Blue Hills Trail

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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
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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
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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
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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
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Tight corner. Placed orange driveway markers at the edge. Gotta keep our groomers on track. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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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. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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Bridge building in October successfully spanned a small creek that was always a challenge to summertime mowing & wintertime grooming of our ski trails. #bluehillstrailwisconsin
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