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
cross country skiing Wisconsin
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!
A very destructive 2022 ice storm (December 14/15) initially shut down our skiing & snowshoeing by dropping a shocking amount of trees, limbs and branches on our ski trails (not to mention area power lines and houses). The storm began with rain, then switched to ice, followed by 6 inches of very wet snow. The storm abated for 12 hours, then returned with 10+ inches of VERY dense damp snow. This second snowfall clung to the ice coating the trees, and created a once-in-a-generation swath of tree damage to area trees.
Area residents dealt with power outages lasting up to 5 days or more. It took more than a week before the access road to the ski trail was cleared of trees and plowed and we could reach our trailhead. Then the hard work began.
December 26-28 we rented – and our groomers operated – heavy equipment to remove debris from a select part of the East Side trails – and we began grooming the ski trails. On January 12th the Rusk County Forestry Department cleared trees from Excelsior Road (West Side of the trail system). We then groomed Excelsior Road so it could be enjoyed right away.
Initially, the amount of ice damage gave thought to the idea of closing the ski trails for the winter. But we decided to try to save winter in the Hills. Although the number of open trails is limited, we have very good skiing on 14 km of some of our favorite trails. 46% (11 km) of the East Side trails – plus Excelsior Road (3 km in length on the West Side) – have been cleared of downed trees. Weather permitting, we have plans to open more of the trails. Feel free to bushwhack any of the ungroomed trails.
Snowshoers: the entire Ridges Snowshoe Trail has been cleared of ice damage. We prefer you use that trail as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
Thanks to everybody that helped during our annual Work Day on October 1st!
Here's a list of our eager volunteers : Sam B, Carolyn C, Ron J, Jan P, Tom P, Kate P, Joel R, Geary S, Bob S, John W, Kevin W, Bob W, and John Z.
Intermittent light (somewhat unexpected) rain showers kept us cool as we picked rocks, threw branches, removed logs -- generally getting the trails ready for our favorite time of the year: winter x-country skiing! We probably totaled about 50 human-hours of labor while enjoying nice fall colors.
If you weren't able to help on the designated work day, we have some leftovers for you. Contact our secretary (Tom) via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to see which trails will benefit from additional trail clearing. You are especially encouraged to visit the new trail on the West Side (between Y and Z) for an enjoyable hike -- feel free to throw a few rocks off the trail while you're at it. We're expecting this new trail to offer a great way to access the inner trails on the West Side, while challenging your degree of fitness (plenty of ups, downs, and rollers).
If out hiking the trails this fall, please contact our website if you find tree falls that need chainsaw removal.
During the past two weeks, the anticipated new trail on the West Side of the trail system was bulldozed, including the placement of three new culverts. The overall dozing results are graded as A+ (many thanks to DNR Forester Bob Hauser who did the expert dozing). This new trail (Y to Z on the map image below) will be a great addition! The new trail connects the west end of Excelsior Road with the 'Lollipop' loop (D-E-D). Check out the photos with this email message.
We started our summer trail mowing on June 22nd. The map (below) shows the trails mowed as of July 8th. Mowing is accomplished in stages during the months of June/July/August. For an updated mowing report and map, visit our website and click on the 'Trail Conditions' link at the top of the page.
- We have 22+ miles of trail that need mowing.
- Our crew of mowing volunteers usually mows a total of about 50 hours each summer.
- Prior to 2003, the Rusk County Forestry Department mowed the entire trail system. They were using a tractor with a deck mower -- and the tractor often created deep ruts that negatively impacted the goal of a smooth trail surface.
- In 2003, we (BHTA) purchased a trail mower to be towed behind an ATV so we could mow the softer trail segments. Even that was less than ideal, still leaving tire ruts that later needed repair.
- In 2014, we switched to mowing using a John Deere Gator on tracks. That's when we organized a trail crew to handle the mowing. Using tracks on the soft trail segments has greatly improved the trail surface when it's time to start wintertime grooming.
- At this time, the Rusk County Forestry Department mows the driest trail segments with their heavier equipment, this amounts to about 1/4 of the trails.
- The Blue Hills Trail Assn mows the remaining 3/4 of the trails using our 2020 Honda Pioneer (with tracks) pulling our AcrEase Trail Mower that cuts a 57" width.
- The 2003 mower was replaced in 2012 with an updated model; and last year we replaced the 2012 engine with an upgraded Briggs & Stratton engine that is working well.
- Mowing typically begins in late June, and the bulk of the mowing is completed by mid August.
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.
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 Blue Hills Trail is excited to partner with the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation for the 2021 Birkebeiner (Birkie) Ski Race. SCROLL DOWN TO SEE THE THREE COURSES we've outlined that will satisfy distance requirements for either the Prince Haakon, Kortelopet, or American Birkebeiner races. Our trail system is very well marked - but you will need to carry your own race directions.
Join in the fun by completing the race from Feb. 20 to 28. You are free to ski any of our trails that you please, they'll be open to racers and non-racers alike. The Blue Hills Trail is a Tier 3 Virtual Partner, and we are committed to grooming frequently during Birkie week. Track will be set prior to the week of the Virtual Birkie, and as needed thereafter. See the Virtual Race page on the American Birkebeiner website for additional information on choosing the virtual option.
To help plan your outing... At the top center of our website, 'Trail Conditions' are updated twice daily (this includes grooming reports).
To help you find your way around...
- Click this link to use ‘Avenza Maps App’ and download our WEST SIDE MAP to your phone
- Click this link to use ‘Avenza Maps App’ and download our EAST SIDE MAP to your phone
To print the following maps, right click any of the images to 1) open in a new tab and print from there; or 2) save to your computer and print from your computer.
Prince Haakon 14K virtual race 2021
The following map shows our suggested Prince Haakon Route (13.99 Km)
Firelane Road ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
Kortelopet 26K virtual race 2021
The following two maps show our suggested Kortelopet route (26.26 Km)
Kortelopet LAP 1:
Firelane Road ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A
Kortelopet LAP 2:
A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ J ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
American Birkebeiner 43K virtual race 2021
The following two maps show our suggested Birkebeiner route (43 Km)
This route combines loops that add up to 43K. Starting at the warming house, you’ll ski 19K on the East Side trails, then cross to the West Side trails for another 24 K. Scroll down to look at BOTH maps that guide you through the East Side to the West Side trails.
Virtual Birkie East (19K):
1 ⇢ 26 ⇢ A1 ⇢ 2 ⇢ 3 ⇢ 4 ⇢ 5 ⇢ B1 ⇢ B2 ⇢ B3 ⇢ 9 ⇢ 8 ⇢ 7 ⇢ 6 ⇢ C1 ⇢ C7 ⇢ C6 ⇢ C2 ⇢ C1 ⇢ C7 ⇢ C6 ⇢ C5 ⇢ C4 ⇢ C3 ⇢ 17 ⇢ 16 ⇢ 8 ⇢ 9 ⇢ B3 ⇢ B2 ⇢ B4 ⇢ B3 ⇢ 9 ⇢ 10 ⇢ 13 ⇢ 12 ⇢ 11 ⇢ 10 ⇢ 13 ⇢ 14 ⇢ A5 ⇢ A2 ⇢ 25 ⇢ 24 ⇢ 22 ⇢ 23 ⇢ 24 ⇢ 22 ⇢ 23 ⇢ L
Virtual Birkie West (24K):
L ⇢ K ⇢ J ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ D ⇢ E ⇢ E ⇢ D ⇢ F ⇢ G ⇢ H ⇢ I ⇢ C ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ B ⇢ C ⇢ I ⇢ H ⇢ G ⇢ F ⇢ D ⇢ C ⇢ I ⇢ J ⇢ B ⇢ A ⇢ X ⇢ A ⇢ Firelane Road
Blue Hills Trail
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