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
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!
The year that was (2021-22):
- December 2021 early snowfalls were encouraging, then we received a near-record 14-inch snowfall on December 10th. We spent about $400 grooming that snowfall, skiers enjoyed it for a few days, then the weather gods were cruel enough to give us rain, tornadic winds, and a major meltdown. The weather shifted in our favor just after Christmas, and by late December we again were busy grooming. January and February were cold, and during those two months we received about 20 inches of snow, with 7 of those inches on Tuesday February 22nd just prior to the Birkie. The overall snowfall for the winter measured 67 inches, but only 26 inches fell when we could use it. Much of the grooming this past winter was done in the evening – producing nice firm trails to start the day – and skiers were uniformly happy throughout the winter. Logging of the West Side ‘Lollipop Timber Sale’ in the late fall necessitated removal of those logs after the ground froze. As a result, the logs were hauled on the ski trails up until mid January. We weren’t really able to ski those involved trails until late January after enough snow accumulated. On the East Side, a small logging operation near the warming house in late February was minimally disruptive thanks to a cooperative effort to minimize equipment crossing the ski trail. The trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie, including ice and rain on March 5th (actually the first rain since late December). The last grooming was March 19, but cold weather allowed skiing until late March. We groomed a total of 49 times this past winter: 13 times in December, 16 times in January, 17 times in February, and 3 times in March. There still was ‘skiable’ snow in early April.
- Our “Blue Hills Trail Fun Day” never materialized this past winter due to cntinuing COVID precautions.
- Each summer, one of Wisconsin's 30 County Forests hosts the annual WCFA Summer Tour. It's a unique opportunity for one county to share the best of its forest lands. This year was Rusk County's turn to host the Summer Tour, and the Rusk County Forestry Department invited the Blue Hills Trail Association (BHTA) to show what we have to offer. In late June, three busloads of foresters pulled into the parking lot by the warming house, 100+ attendees piled out of the buses (this included members of the Rusk County Forestry Committee and the Rusk County Board), then listened to brief presentations from the Forestry Department and from the Blue Hills Trail Association. One point emphasized was the many benefits to the ski trails that result from the good working relationship between BHTA and Rusk County Forestry.
- A round of applause please for everyone that provided volunteer help this past year. Our volunteers, members & donors are very giving – THANK YOU!!!
Here are some specific thank you notes…
- Thanks to last year’s grooming team for creating great skiing conditions. They groomed a lot, we skied a lot – and groomers never complained about the need to use their winches to pull themselves out of deep snow.
- Thanks to John Waldron for serving as emcee at our November 5th banquet!
- Thanks to Jan Paulsen and Vickie Waters for decorating the banquet site.
- Big thank you to John Kann & Dan Bjugstad who continue maintaining our network of dedicated snowshoe trails – they’ve got their work cut out to reestablish the trails through the areas that were logged this past year. Watch for email messages if they request help removing the logging slash.
- The entire trail system was mowed this summer, thanks to our volunteers for removing downed trees & their 50+ hours of mowing.
- Thank you to the volunteers at this year’s fall work day. We brushed out most of the trails, and tidied up the warming house and trailhead.
- Thanks to the Rusk County Forestry Department and the Wisconsin DNR for bulldozing, culverting, and grass seeding the new West Side trail (between Letters Y and Z). This trail will be loads of fun to ski (it climbs, rolls and dips) as it provides a new loop for your enjoyment.
- Thanks to Bob Wieckowicz for his clever welding jobs on our Honda Pioneer (he added solid support for the extended hitch, and creatively modified the aftermarket bed rails to fit).
- Thanks to a dry summer, erosion problems have been limited this year.
- The distant loop on the West Side (C-D-F-G-H-I) remains beaver territory. For now, we’d like to coexist and avoid removing the beavers. In fact, their two active dams undoubtedly help control runoff during heavy rain events – thus minimizing erosion of the ski trail.
- There are two timber sales on the East Side that have been logged this fall. Details are on maps below.
- Remember, the entire trail system is non-motorized. If you find motorized vehicles on the trails, educate their operators to the contrary. And consider reporting this to the Rusk County Sheriff’s department.
Equipment and Monies:
Our equipment is valued at close to $90,000 – 2020 Honda Pioneer with Mattracks tracks, 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile, 2 rollers, 3 Tidd Tech implements, an ABR trail compactor, & various state of the art attachments. Thanks for your financial support that helps keep the equipment running well.
- Our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 with Mattracks & enclosed cab (cost of $41,000 when purchased April 2021) is a great asset – thanks again for everyone’s financial support in helping us afford the Pioneer. This summer, the Pioneer transmission acted up and required two trips to the dealership in Chippewa Falls before repairs were completed to our satisfaction. Thankfully we had purchased an extended warranty that covered the repairs.
- Our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers’ Special snowmobile is a big workhorse, powerful and maneuverable. It nicely complements the Honda Pioneer. Unfortunately, it overheated on multiple occasions this past winter, presenting a diagnostic challenge that took two months to figure out. We’re pretty sure it’s good to go.
- Our AcrEase trail mower gets plenty of use each summer. It was purchased 2012, and the engine was replaced spring of 2021. This summer we replaced all the wheel bearings (8 wheels, 16 bearings total). It does a great job handling the tall grasses.
- For working the snow surface, our Tidd Tech implements (called “G2s”) do most of the work. They measure 6, 8 & 9 feet wide with the outside flaps extended, & each works well in different snow conditions.
- The donation pole in the parking lot last winter added $3900 in revenue – thanks for spreading the word about the Blue Hills Trail – please remind visitors to plug that donation pole!
- This fall’s membership & fundraising drive has already generated more than $19,000 ($5200 from business donors, $5000 from individual donors, $6700 in membership fees, $1300 from raffle tickets) – that’s about 75% of our budget – and your generosity with this year’s auction will hopefully raise another $2000+ – thank you!!! Whenever you can, please thank the many businesses and individuals that support the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.
This map shows the new West Side trail that was bulldozed and seeded in August 2022. It runs from Y to Z.
Status of active timber sales as of late October 2022:
Refer to the first map below...
1. North of warming house – this was a select cut of red pine. The cutting is done, almost all the logs have been hauled out, and bulldozer repair of the ski trails is happening now. Our volunteers are in the process of reestablishing the ‘Nordic Pines’ snowshoe trail. One big plus: the ski trail that provides access to our trailhead storage has been greatly improved (ditched & culverted) to now allow heavy traffic to reach our storage sheds.
2. To the Far East – this very large sale (174 acres of a hardwood select cut) was cut in ‘record’ time this fall. Currently, the involved trails are rutted and muddy – and have an amazing amount of wood piled up waiting to be hauled to market. If the weather cooperates for the loggers (frozen ground before snow accumulates), the logs will be hauled to the west (down Rut Road to the Firelane Road), then the trails will be dozed in time for skiing. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and that plan doesn’t materialize, then the affected trails on the Core Loop will be repaired in time for ski season – and the logs will be hauled to the east using a route that doesn’t involve the Core Loop (refer to the second map below). We probably should anticipate a good portion of the Far East trails will be unavailable this winter. But they should be repaired and ready for skiing next winter. PLUS – we have a great new trail planned for the Far East that will be our payback for disruption of those trails.
Pink Line = East Side Core Loop
Aqua = water flow
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.
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.
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...
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
Most of December 2020 was dry and warm. Instead of skiing the Blue Hills Trail, we’ve been hiking its ski and snowshoe trails. A recent return to colder weather allowed nearby lakes to freeze solid, and during the middle of the month we enjoyed skiing a 1-inch coating of snow on always beautiful Audie Lake (located 2 miles northwest of our trailhead).
Then the weather forecast got us all excited, calling for snow a couple days prior to Christmas. We started closing off traffic on the ski trails, hoping to retain the little snow already on the ground. However, December 23rd was warm with too much rain; toward evening the winds began howling, temps plummeted, and wind whipped snow blew on by. The following day temps were in the single digits and when we inspected the trails, we were pleasantly surprised to find about 2.5”-3” of new snow stuck to the ski trails. Just enough to start some early season grooming.
After several days of grooming, today (December 27th) we're enjoying very good skating and good striding on 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side of the trail system). The rest of the trails have a thin base with an irregular surface, grassy patches and dirt spots - skiable but not nearly as much fun as the two 'roads'. Take a look at the maps (images below) for a quick summary of the open trails.
Here's what groomers have accomplished since the rain/wind/snow event of December 23rd:
- Packed (rolled) 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side) on December 24th
- Packed (rolled) many of the East and West trails December 25th
- Packed (rolled) more of the East Side trails the morning of December 26th
- Brought out our big G2 implements (finishing tools) and groomed 'Excelsior Road' (West Side) and the 'Gravel Road' (East Side) the afternoon of December 26th. This included setting a shallow classic track.
Here's an inside view of our grooming logic:
- At the beginning of the ski season, the initial grooming is targeted at knocking the air out of snow next to the ground so the interface can freeze into a protective layer and allow frost to penetrate. If it’s cold enough and dry enough we use rollers for this first step. During that first step, we often discover damp areas that need to be compressed so they freeze up.
- As soon as the base is thick enough, out come the finishing implements (we use Tidd Tech Generation 2 groomers) to start sculpting the surface. We start setting classic track only after the base has set up AND when the base is thick enough to minimize exposing grass, dirt and rocks.
- On our trail system, we have a couple of gravel road surfaces that tend to freeze up and hold snow earlier than the rest of the trails. That's where you'll find the best skiing right now (look at the maps below).
- So much of the good skiing in the days ahead is dependent on the summer/fall trail maintenance. This includes mowing, bulldozing to deal with erosion, repair of bridges & culverts, chainsaw work to clear downed trees, and brushing the trail margins. Please join us when we put out the word seeking volunteers (we have an annual work day late September).
Our head groomer put in an 8-hour day yesterday, and was willing to return late evening to touch up some trails. We told him to rest up, enjoy family, and wait for some fresh snow. No grooming today.
Ski the Hills!
Blue Hills Trail
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