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mowing

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 pat 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)

Realizing 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.

Our Honda Pioneer on the rack while Mattracks are installed
Our Honda Pioneer gets a lift while mounting its new Mattracks
Our Honda Pioneer on the rack while Mattracks are installed
John Waldron inspects the new industrial strength Mattracks
Mattracks installed, ready to trailer to our trailhead.
Mattracks installation is completed. Loaded on JW's trailer for the trip to the trailhead.
Honda Pioneer arrives at our trailhead.
Honda Pioneer arrives at the trailhead
Honda Pioneer checking out the Blue Hills Trail
Honda Pioneer checks its new footing
Closeup image of the industrial strength Mattracks
Closeup photo of the industrial strength Mattracks
modifying the cargo bed
Cargo bed of the Honda Pioneer - with some personalized modifications
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender
Bob W did a great job designing and fabricating our extended hitch
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender - rear view closeup
Closeup view of the hitch support fabricated (welded) by Bob W
Fabricated (welded) hitch extender - side view
Side view of the hitch support fabricated by Bob W
Read more >

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:

  • Approximately 50 hours of trail mowing.
  • Mowed and trimmed the trailhead (warming house etc) on three separate occasions.
  • Repaired 1200 feet of badly eroded East Side trail by dozing and seeding.
  • Filled erosion adjacent to an important East Side culvert by placing bundled straw and shoveling soil.
  • Cleaned out three areas of creek debris requiring chainsaw work.
  • Dealt with 3 plugged culverts that flooded and created impassable trail segments.
  • Repaired the crumbling floor in our older shipping container.
  • Cleaned and stained the warming house exterior.
  • Replaced a failing culvert on the West Side
  • Built a new bridge to cross a small intermittent stream on the West Side
  • Brushed and cleared branches and windfalls from about 70% of the trail system, East & West.
  • Brushed out a large portion of the snowshoe trail.
  • Repaired the log corduroy of an East Side stream crossing.
  • Chainsaw work on the West Side.
  • Repaired (shoveled) ruts on a short section of the West Side trail.
  • Replaced cable barriers at two vulnerable intersections along Rut Road (East Side).

Details regarding some of the major accomplishments…

 

Bulldozing

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.

Blue Hills Trail warming house after cleaning and staining
Warming house got a bath before staining the exterior
Blue Hills Trail map highlighting an area of erosion
Badly eroded trail needed bulldozing
freshly dozed trail
Dozed and ready for grass seed
spreading grass seed on freshly dozed trail
Spreading a mix of annual rye, perennial rye, and clover
replacing flooring in an older shipping container
Sam removing the bad section of flooring in the older shipping container
Blue Hills Trail has new flooring in our older shipping container
New flooring (on the front right) - topped with snowmobile glides for protection
plugged culvert with water flowing over the ski trail
Plugged culvert between #23 & Letter L. Water flowing over the trail.
water flowing around and over a plugged culvert
Long piece of birch used to probe the culvert from the downstream side
reopened culvert with water moving through the culvert
Culvert is unplugged. Whirlpool formed above the upstream opening of the culvert.
dry ski trail after culvert was unplugged
Water level has dropped, trail is again passable.
volunteers at the annual workday for the Blue Hills Trail
Part of the 'socially distant' workday crew - September 26, 2020
flooded trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
Flooded trail at low spot between J-K
previously flooded trail now needs dirt fill
Flooded area has been drained. Red arrows show location of failing culvert.
new culvert and surrounding fill
Culvert was replaced. Then added fill and leveled the trail.
new and larger culvert on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
Forestry Department donated a 30-inch metal culvert as the replacement
deep wet trench on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail needs to be bridged
Badly eroded trench on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail keeps getting deeper each year. It's time to build a bridge.
first stages of bridge construction
Round concrete barn pads provide support for the bridge stringers.
bridge stringers have been placed across the trench
The trick was getting everything level and square.
selfie image of some of the volunteers
Time out for a selfie
golden retriever supervising the bridge construction
The bridge passed inspection
bridge with decking in place
Log 'corduroy' at both ends of the bridge created a ramp of sorts.
the volunteers that set the decking in place
Part of the decking crew
Read more >

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Blue Hills Trail

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@bluehillstrailwisconsin
Nice day for a walk in the woods. Pause to appreciate the hidden gems. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #naturegems #springawakening #ruskcountywi
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Crazy is as Crazy does. Had to cross multiple stretches of bare ground to find skiable snow on the East Side Ridgeline yesterday. A laughing fun adventure - shared with the snow fleas. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #snowfleas #snowinthewoods #skiingondirtisbetterthannoskiing #skiingondirt
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Sap’s running. So are my skis. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #springskiing
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What a fantastic week of skiing it was! Celebrate our week long ‘Virtual Birkie Races’ by visiting our blog. Link in bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkiefever #winterwisconsin #wisconsinwinter
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Fresh snow Wednesday morning, fresh grooming Wednesday evening, then Thursday sunshine and temps in the mid thirties. A perfect Bluebird day in the Blue Hills - another memorable day for Virtual Birkie skiers. Congrats to all! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluebirdday
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2” fresh snow Sunday evening, then groomed about 3/4 of the trail system Sunday night. Found untouched fresh corduroy this morning. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #freshcorduroy #skitrails #skitrailgrooming #winterwisconsin
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Mighty fine skiing today. Look at all these smiley faces! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #nordicskiing #kidsonskis #winterfun #ruskcountywi #birkiefever2021 #birkiefever
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Classic classic track. Shady Way trail on the East Side. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkebeiner #waxmyskis #snowisfun
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Monday sunrise -25 F was coldest day of this otherwise mild winter. Reached zero by mid afternoon when classic skiing was a kick! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #colderthanapolarbearstoenails #winterfun #belowzero
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Cold, sunny days. A good time to explore our snowshoe trails. Human rope tows are a FUNctional assist on the steeper hills. Swipe to see a video example. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinsnowshoeing #northwoodswisconsin #ruskcounty #subzerofun
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Come ski the Hills! Virtually! The Blue Hills Trail is excited to be a BIRKIE VIRTUAL VENUE PARTNER. We've outlined three separate race routes for our trail system. A snapshot of one of those routes is shown with this post. VISIT OUR BLOG to see the rest of the routes and get the details. Link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #birkiefever #americanbirkebeiner
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Single digits Fahrenheit. Toko mint grip wax. A classic day on Excelsior Road. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skiclassic #tokowax #kickwax #wisconsinwinter
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This is the steep straight down/up portion of our trail that connects our East and West Side trails (located between J and K on the West Side). Swipe to see what’s hiding under the snow. Last fall Scott Gudis Sand & Gravel (Bruce, WI) did a great job of replacing a damaged culvert. Thanks to Scott, we can safely ski this hill. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #culvertreplacement #heavyequipmentoperators #brucewisconsin #skiingisfun
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Excelsior Road and West Side trails: THE place to ski yesterday. Fantastic conditions! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #groundhogsday #classicskiing #skateski
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Another day full of smiles at the Blue Hills Trail. Ain’t winter great! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #aintwintergrand #wisconsinwinter #xcskiinglife
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The equipment that grooms our ski trails takes a beating. We recently were again amazed by the capabilities of a nearby machine shop that fabricated a special washer for improving the durability of our Camoplast tracks. Visit our latest blog post to be amazed: link in bio⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #cphenterprises #waterjetcutting #ruskcountywi
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Gator rescue! Our John Deere Gator suddenly stalled out on a steep hillside a couple days ago. Yesterday we got it running, and were able to move it back to our trailhead before it quit again. Swipe to see the 5 videos showing the rescue. Now it’s time for Dr. Gator. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #gatorrescue #winterchallenges #skitrailgrooming
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Dynamite grooming. Dynamite skiing. Come Ski the Hills! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #covidescape #skiforfun #ruskcountywi
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Video shows our groomer looking ahead while setting classic track behind. Swipe for photo of finished results on ‘Excelsior Road’ trail. Nice to see the sun again. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skitrailgrooming #powdersnow❄️ #foresttherapy #freshcorduroy #fluffypowder
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Rollercoaster Trail at Blue Hills Trail. Built a dozen years ago, anyone can ski it in the uphill direction. Downhill, it’s a bit of a thrill. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #rollercoasters #rollercoasterride #skicrosscountry #funonsnow
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At the Blue Hills Trail, “what goes down, must come up”. Plenty of hills to satisfy your training needs. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #getoutside #cardioworkout #crosscountryskiing #skateskiing
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January 20, 2021. A very good day. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #otterslide #fastskis #skinnyskis #ruskcountywi
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Busy Sunday in the Blue Hills. Skate skiing on the ‘Gravel Road’. Classic skiing on the East Side Ridgeline. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #snowislife #skiforfun #wisconsinlife
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Photo shows our trails midday today. Surprisingly firm and skiable despite warm temps and some rain. We’re gonna try grooming this evening. Please be patient, it might take a few days to get yesterday’s new snow up to snuff. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #skitrailgrooming #aintwintergrand #heavywetsnow #wegotsnow #winterwisconsin
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A quick lesson in ski trail grooming: With snow headed our way, this was a good day to use our trail compactor to level the high spots and washboard on a few select trails. Should result in a smoother skate deck. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skitrailgrooming #snowgrooming #skateskiing #skateski #ruskcountywi #bluehillstrail
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Hoar frost / Rime frost topping on the trails today January 12th. Wonderful skiing - do yourself a favor and SKI THE HILLS January 13th - you’ll be happy you did. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #bluehillstrail #foresttherapy #ruskcountywi #getyourvitamind #iloveskiing #escapetothehills #winterinwisconsin
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As Good As It Gets! Two January 10 videos show great skiing on Excelsior Road - Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #xcclassicski #skiclassic #skateski #asgoodasitgets #januaryinwisconsin #wisconsinwinter
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Another fun day getting my kicks in the Hills. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #xcclassic #xcskier #chasingyourdream
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Not much snow, but our groomers have made the most of it. Two videos showing good skiing on the East Side trails - January 6, 2021. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #januaryinwisconsin #wisconsinlife #wisconsinoutdoors #wisconsinwinter #skateski #ruskcounty
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A ‘Rime Frost’ blue skies sunny day - fun day for skiing the Blue Hills Trail. Pictures are from the West Side of the trail system. Swipe for video taken on the ‘Lollipop’. Trail conditions updated daily at website, link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #fundayonskis #wisconsinwinter #sunnyski #mansbestfriend🐶 #justenoughsnowforme #justenoughsnowtoski
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Sun burnt off the fog, visitors enjoyed a hoarfrost snowfall on the trails. Great place to socially distance with family & friends! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #sociallydistanceoutdoors #hoarfrost #wevegotsnow #fasterskier #skiwithfriends
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Packed powder skiing on New Year’s Day. Loads of visitors welcomed 2021! Video shows the East/West crossover trail. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #packedpowder #skateski #classicski #welcome2021
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Good skiing through the hoarfrost on New Years Eve day. Get the daily scoop by visiting ‘Trail Conditions’ on our website - link in bio⬆️. Wishing you a happy healthy 2021! #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skinnyski #skinnyskis #crosscountryskiwithkids #xcski
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Excelsior Road (West Side) and The Gravel Road (East Side) were groomed last evening. Skiing this afternoon I was treated to 1” of feathers on top of the fresh grooming! Gonna groom these same trail segments again this evening. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #silentsports #silenceofnature🌳⛅️🗻 #skiingonfeathers #beautyofwinter
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Many of our 20+ miles of ski trails have received initial grooming in the past several days. The best skiing is shown as green highlights on the attached maps. And did you know our West Side trails are dog friendly? Be sure to visit our website where you’ll find ‘TRAIL CONDITIONS’ updated daily: link in Bio ⬆️ #bluehillstrailwisconsin #skijoring #foresttherapy #classicskiing #dogsonsnow
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Christmas in the Blue Hills. Very good skating on Excelsior Road this afternoon; pretty good striding as well. Groomers will be out working again tomorrow. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #christmasski #ruskcounty #skateskiing #skiwithdogs
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After yesterday’s rain, Santa brought snow - enough to start grooming the ski trails! This afternoon we rolled the ‘Gravel Road’ on the East Side trails, and ‘Excelsior Road’ on the West Side. Thanks Santa. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #earlywinterskiing #xcs #xcskiing #skinnyski
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A little more snow and we may be able to do some grooming. Today we moved our workhorse snowmobile to its winter home. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinoutdoors #ruskcountywi #weneedsnow #crosscountryskiing
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Lunch time. Even busy beavers need a break now & then. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #busybeaver #busyasabeaver #timber
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Not enough snow to ski the trails. BUT very good skiing on Audie Lake - 2.5 miles northwest of the warming house. Audie is always an enjoyable getaway. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #wisconsinwinter #xcskiingonlakes #xcski #frozenlakes #silenceofnature
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Pictures from our ‘Rabbit Trail’ where bunnies made a fresh appearance on the Blue Hills Trail today. It felt like October today - 48 degrees F - way too warm for December! It’s time to cool down, then Santa needs to bring us some snow. #bluehillstrailwisconsin #whereiswinter #xcskiingwithoutsnow
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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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