Hiking: lots of rain the last part of May. Hot weather is drying the trails, hiking conditions have improved again. Grasses are knee high (or taller) and growing fast.
Biking: the West Side trails may provide some decent biking. That area tends to be the driest.
Bugs: bring insect repellant.
April 24, 2021: snow showers
Summertime mowing usually starts in late June. Check back for updates.
March 6th: groomed the skate lane on parts of the East Side and West Side ski trails. With a BIG warm-up in the forecast, this was the final grooming of the winter.
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:
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.
Enjoy the photos that follow.
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...
December 18, 2019 meeting of the Forestry Committee
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.
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:
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.
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.
Plenty of trail news from this past week. Find a comfortable spot, grab your favorite beverage, and read on...
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
After a lot of thought, time and effort, our idea of revising the Eastside map and trail signs is close to becoming reality. Our current (old) map defies logic and is too confusing. Our volunteer traffic engineer (he lives in Portland, OR) is close to finalizing the details on the new Eastside map.
Once the map is ready to go, we'll send it to the printers where the maps will be laminated. The ALL NEW TRAIL SIGNS (165 directional signs!) were printed in August using a heavy gauge aluminum material with a reflective yellow coating - they're waiting to be put in place. Soon we'll need a few volunteers to remove the old maps and signs, and put up the new. Watch for an email message seeking volunteers for that task.
This past weekend, we couldn't help jump starting the process of erecting the new signs. With rain in the forecast, we decided to go ahead and put up the new maps and signs on the trails furthest from the warming house that tend to become soft and muddy during damp weather. New signage was placed yesterday on most of the intersections on the trails named "Far East" and "Otter Slide".
Each intersection requires one map, one sign with the 'number' of that intersection, and each diverging trail receives one sign that identifies where that trail is headed. There are 45 intersections on the Eastside. That equals lots of maps and directional signs. Follow this link to view the new maps. Take a few minutes to appreciate the many features of the map. Here are just a few...
Overall the trails are in great shape. Bug activity is low, fall colors are exploding, this is a great time to enjoy the trails!
Whew! Our annual trail work day accomplished a lot. Over the first weekend in October (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) twelve volunteers each donated several hours of their time. With the goal of having safe clear passages for skiing, they...
We're very pleased to have that above list out of the way. Many thanks to the helpers this past weekend: Dan Bale, Mike Cragg, Ron Jasperson, Shane Klein, Peter Neal, Jan Paulsen, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, Jerry Schneider, Jason Sirek, John Waldron, and Jerry Wilkes. And a huge thank you to all of you that have helped with the many tasks this past summer (mowing, tree removal, equipment repair, equipment storage, eradicating carpenter ants, fixing the doors of the warming house, etc). If we tried to list all your names, we'd miss some. Please know that your volunteer efforts are greatly appreciated!
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