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mowing

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
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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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