Friday (evening update)
Great skiing on the East Side trails today. The classic track on the East Side Core Loop is fairly deep, firm, and fast. There are some oak leaves in the classic track on the Core Loop, but they're not too bothersome. Skating conditions are very good to excellent. Conditions on the north half of the West Side are probably very good - its skate deck was groomed Wednesday evening. Excelsior Road (West Side) is in good to very good condition - the snow cover on the east half mile is a bit thin, but you can use your good skis the full length of Excelsior Road.
All the East Side trails are open and groomed for skating; the most frequently used East Side trails are groomed for classic skiing. The north half of the West Side has been groomed for skating & classic skiing. Wednesday evening we opened more of the West Side trails, including Excelsior Road.
West Side logging was completed January 18th. Be sure to READ THE IMPORTANT UPDATES INFO section regarding the status of the West Side trails.
Due to recent logging on the West Side, the trails where trucks hauled logs has thin snow cover and skiers probably should use rock skis on this list of trails: the loop between intersections D-E-D, and from A-B-C-D. Click here for details including a helpful map. The involved trails - including the east 1/2 mile of Excelsior Road - need more snow before they can be aggressively groomed.
January 23/24: 2 inches dry powder
January 22 (evening): dusting
January 21/22: 1.5" fluffy powder
Thursday evening (January 27): set classic track on many of the trails that branch off the East Side Core Loop.
Wednesday evening (January 26): groomed the skate deck of the West Side trails. This included the full length of Excelsior Road which required aggressive grooming of Excelsior Road between intersections A and X.
Tuesday midday (January 25): set classic track on the East Side Core Loop.
Monday evening (January 24): packed (rolled) the powder snow on most of the East Side trails. Great results!
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...
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.
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