Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
The trails are in good shape, they have a thin layer of crusty snow.
Heads Up! There's active logging on the East Side (details below).
1-Avoid the following East Side trail segments where there's active logging: 4 to 5, 4 to B1, B1 to 5.
2-Logging on the West Side between intersections Y & Z was done in June.
3-Autumn 2022, loggers cut a big 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.
December 9: 1/2" wet snow
grooming & MOWING
Grooming Report / Plans:
Ski trail grooming begins some time in early-mid December after the deer gun hunts wind down, and the weather cooperates.
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!
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.
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 pay 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)
Recognizing 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.
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…
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
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