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 past couple weeks, John Kann (our Snowshoe Superman) has been busy laying out a new snowshoe trail, and improving the existing Ridges Snowshoe Trail. Here are the details:
- First he added more ropes to the existing northwest loop of the Ridges Trail – human tow ropes – to help ascend/descend steep hillsides. With the addition of these ropes, he decided to name that trail segment the “Rope-A-Dope Loop". Find it on the map photo(s) below.
- Then John created a great new loop that branches off the existing Ridges Trail – it measures about 2 km in length, heads to the northeast, climbs to the east side ridgeline near intersection #12, then descends back to its origin. John named it the “Highland Loop". Look carefully at the images below.
- The snowshoe trails are marked with a variety of yellow symbols. To find your way, look for yellow snowshoe symbols, yellow signs, plastic yellow tags, or yellow paint on trees.
- Some time soon, our official map designer will add the Highland Loop to our online maps. Until then, go explore the woods and follow the yellow stick road.
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.
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.
Snowshoe Trails - Here's the scoop
- Back in 2012, John Kann developed the first of our 'Snowshoe Trails'. Soon he was joined by Dan Bjugstad - and they've been primarily responsible for maintaining and expanding the network of trails. From time to time, several of our members/volunteers have helped brush out the trails.
- The snowshoe trails weave up and down through various stands of timber.
- John and Dan quickly realized that good directional signage would be important. Sheets of yellow poly were purchased for the sign material.
- Pretty soon, clever directional signs began appearing. And as the trails expanded, this required a lot of signs.
- Recently, John shared more of the background regarding our highly visible snowshoe trail signs. Ryan Kann (his son) has been doing the screen-printing, and Ryan provided photos and videos as an example. Fascinating!
- Many thanks to Ryan and Ambient Inks (Eau Claire) for donating the time and materials.
Check out the videos and images below - an eye opening introduction to the art of screen-printing. Ryan makes it look pretty easy.
Enjoy stomping our snowshoe trails. The signs are placed at critical locations to keep you on track. If you'd like to be high tech and follow yourself on your smartphone, our georeferenced maps are free and available when you 'Get the Avenza map' from our website. This app communicates with satellites, and works in the absence of cell towers!
Screen-printing photos/videos are courtesy of Ryan Kann. Photos from our 'Ridges' snowshoe trail were taken February 2019.
This step shows the design being printed on to the screen which is coated in a light sensitive emulsion.
Next the screen/design is exposed with a bright light which hardens the emulsion around the design creating a stencil.
This step shows the unhardened emulsion being washed away with a power washer leaving you with a screen stencil to print with.
This step shows printing the signs using the screen previously made. In this case 15 signs were put on one screen to be efficient, and the signs are cut apart later with a bandsaw.
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!
Winter 2019-20 started early.
10+ inches of heavy snow November 27, 7+ inches of heavy snow November 30, 4+ inches of dense snow December 9, 2.5 inches of light snow December 12. Groomers had their hands full throughout December. This made for very good skiing over the Christmas and New Year Holidays. January added 14" of snow in generally light snow falls. February was dry, only 5" of snow. We had only one major rain event (1.5" of rain December 28), and the rain was absorbed into the abundant base. Trails were in great shape at Birkie time. Then warm weather moved in a week after the Birkie. The last grooming was March 13, but we were able to enjoy decent skiing into the beginning of April. All thanks to the big snows in late November.
We groomed a total of 57 times this past winter. Here’s the breakdown: once in November, 18 times in December, 19 times in January, 16 times in February, and 3 times in March.
Our head groomer and his crew were very willing to use our rollers - both of our rollers were used more this past winter than at any time in the past. As a result, this past winter the trails were groomed wider, and the edges were more firm. Groomers were very willing to try different techniques, and performed far more evening grooming than at any time in the past. This allowed the grooming to set up by the time skiers arrived in the morning. The classic track was in generally good shape most of the winter - the groomers were responsive to input from some of our most enthusiastic classic skiers. Thank you groomers!
The ABR compaction drag (we call it the 'Blue Thing') also was used more frequently this past winter. It was especially helpful removing high spots in the center of the trail, and when the trails needed a quick light touch-up of the skate lane.
Logging along Rut Road kept us from grooming that part of the East Side Core Loop the entire winter. Toward the end of that logging operation, it also disrupted our access to the West Side using the usual East-West crossover trail. However, one of the real pluses this past winter was the newly permitted use of Excelsior Road on the West Side for grooming and skiing. In the middle of December, after the gun deer hunts were done, a berm was plowed to block off traffic at the east end of Excelsior Road. We then groomed the entire 3 km length of Excelsior Road, and skiers were uniformly thrilled with the results.
Overall, it was a fairly long winter with very good skiing and snowshoeing in the Blue Hills. We hope the following photos trigger some good memories.
Blue Hills Trail
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