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trail work

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 >

After the September 28th annual trail work day, we realized the West Side of the trail system needed plenty of additional work. Here's the story...

On the September 28th work day, John Ziemer and Tom Ralston rode an ATV and brushed and cleared many of the trails on the West Side. In addition, they identified a localized blowdown of large oaks on the Lollipop Trail (D-E-D); and an unexpected deep wet spot between Letters J-K.

At that point, we asked for help from two of our most trusty volunteers: woodsmen and chainsaw experts Steve Porn and Jerry Schneider. 

This past week we had a limited weather 'window' of several days of dry weather. So Jerry and Steve spent October 9th navigating and repairing damaged West Side trails. They spent 1.5 hours removing a big oak blowdown on the Lollipop Loop (very challenging chainsaw work). Then they removed a number of smaller downed popple trees from the West Side trails. Then they repaired a washed out trench west of Letter I by dragging logs out of the creek that were placed as log corduroy in that trench in October 2018 (washed downstream with the abundant meltwater Spring 2019). Below are 5 photos taken October 9th.

Then Steve & Jerry explored a newly flooded trail segment located at the deep dip between Letters J-K - where they were surprised to find a massive (125 yards in length) beaver dam that was built since mid August; plus another large dam terraced to a different water level. Not to be discouraged, they scouted access to this flooded area of willows and Steve returned October 11th with chest waders, hand saws and a dam busting tool.

The 7th image (below) shows the currently flooded trail between J-K; the next four photos show the large flooded area located south of trail segment J-K on the West Side. (As of October 11th, it was flooding the trail with water 2 feet deep.) In those photos, the red arrow points to a very large beaver lodge. As you can see, with a bit of handiwork, the dam in that area was breached October 11th. The next dam, located a bit further east, was also breached October 11th.

But when inspecting those dams October 12th, they had been rebuilt overnight!

So there's more work to be done in that area.

The last 3 photos show another flooded trail segment, 100 feet in length - before and after repair work.  In July, we discovered this 100 foot section deeply flooded by a beaver dam situated on top of the trail. We encouraged the beavers to move out; the next to last photo shows the trail in September after the water receded. The last photo shows the trail after it was bulldozed October 9th to make it passable again. Many thanks to Gary Sarauer (DNR forester & dozer operator) for his fine work.

Picture(s) with this message were taken early/mid October.

downed trees blocking one of the ski trails on the Blue Hills Trail
West Side blow down near Letter E - challenging chainsaw work
chainsaw work in the process of clearing the ski trail
A can do attitude helps a lot!
trail reopened and ready for skiing the Blue Hills Trail
Trail re-opened -- ready for skiing this winter

Read more >

Plenty of trail news from this past week. Find a comfortable spot, grab your favorite beverage, and read on...

1 - Trail Conditions


Fall colors are very good right now. Ignore the damp weather and go hike the Hills. The trails are firm, well mowed, and a great place to unwind. Be sure to wear a bit of blaze orange: it's archery season for deer, there's a youth deer gun hunt this weekend, bear season is winding down, and various bird hunts are taking flight.

2 - Work Day results


Our Annual Trail Work Day (Saturday morning, Sept 28) was attended by 15 volunteers, and their 40+ hours of work accomplished a lot - THANKS! Kneeling in the group photo below are Tom Paulsen, Sam Behrends, Ben Behrends, Jenna Behrends; standing are Tom Ralston, Lori Larsen, John Ziemer, Paul Johnston, John Olson, Irene Olson, Mike Cragg, and John Hinde; photo take by Jan Paulsen; missing from the photo are Frank Lowry and Kate Plachetka. Their accomplishments:

  • As the above photo shows, we like to start 'em young. An eager two-year-old makes a good helper when cleaning the roof on the warming house.
  • We brushed and cleared branches and windfalls from about 70% of the trail system.
  • Two East Side bridges had their lifespan extended by adding fill and/or riprap rock where it had disappeared.
  • Trenched a 30-foot section at the edge of an East Side trail to help channel water off the trail.
  • On the East Side ridge-line, saved a culvert by exposing a hidden bypass water channel - filling it with rock then topping with soil.
  • Cleaned interior and exterior of warming house.
  • Stuffed gaps in the warming house logs with wool batting.
  • Caulked cracks on top surfaces of warming house logs (to avoid standing water).
  • Caulked a gap in the soffit.
  • Removed dirt adjacent to the foundation, wire brushed the exposed pink foam insulation, painted the foam with a foundation protector, then replaced the dirt.

3 - Camoplast tracks - SOLD!

The evening of Sunday, September 29th we posted an ad to sell our old set of Camoplast tracks that were installed on the Gator in 2014. The listing appeared on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Already Monday morning there was a big response, and the tracks sold the next day (the 30th) to the first person to inspect them. We're now running the Gator with a new and improved set of Camoplast (Camso) tracks. Your financial support keeps things running smoothly!

4 - Busy Beavers

In mid August, when performing touch-up mowing on the West Side, we were stunned by the amount of recurrent and new beaver activity that was flooding the trails. As of this past week, with a little help from our friends, the beavers have vacated the premises, water levels have dropped, and trails appear usable. Over the past several years, West Side beaver flooded trails have been a persistent and worsening problem. To address this, we met with the Rusk County Forestry department; and at their September departmental meeting, we were granted permission to close off and groom Excelsior Road during the winter months. In the future, if we need to abandon certain West Side trails, we can instead use Excelsior Road (this is the road we all use to access the West Side trailhead) as an option for skiing routes that wouldn't be impacted by beaver activity. In fact, there's a pending West Side timber sale that will eventually create a hauling road that could connect the Lollipop Loop (near Letter E) with Excelsior Road. Check out the West Side map, and use your imagination - this could develop into a very good ski trail, similar to our favorite 'Gravel Road' on the East Side. We'll see how this develops as the winter progresses.

5 - East Side logging    

Take a look at the map (below) that shows a Timber Sale that impacts the East Side of the trail system. On our East Side map, the active logging is south of Rut Road between 20-21-22, and on either side of Hemlock Canyon from 21-A4. We were expecting this timber sale to be logged during the winter, thus disrupting our East Side core loop - but good news! I hiked in that area a few days ago, and quite a bit of that sale has been logged. Most of the logging is a 'select cut' which leaves a beautiful hardwood forest standing. Kudos to the County Foresters for preserving a buffer for the ski trail, and for preserving the beauty of the forest. A few pictures (below) were taken on the lower portion of Rut Road to show you why you should avoid this fairly muddy area when hiking this fall. And prepare for a different vista - as you ski toward the warming house down the long gradual downhill that is Rut Road, at the spot where you bank off Rut Road, there now is a clearcut in the distance - as shown in the photo. And compare the 2013 photo of the skier with the last photo that shows essentially the same corner as you bank off Rut Road. We'll try to put up some signage in that area to make sure folks stay oriented. (Note: Loggers are expected to ditch and smooth the trails once they're done.)

6 - November 2nd Fundraising Banquet

Our guest speaker at this year's fundraising banquet is Birkie Founder and Legend... Ernie St. Germaine! If you've already registered, help spread the word. You can find a banquet link on our home page on your computer or smartphone.

Picture(s) with this message were taken late September.

volunteers cleaning pine needles from Blue Hills Trail warming house
September 28, 2019 - Annual Work Day
volunteers at annual work day for the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
September 28, 2019
volunteers cleaning pine needles from Blue Hills Trail warming house
September 28, 2019
Read more >

Our 2014 John Deere Gator 825i went to the beauty shop today. It's time for its annual preventive maintenance -- and if you missed an earlier message -- the original Camoplast tracks that we mounted on the Gator in 2014 have worked hard for 1200 hours (7500 km) and are being replaced with new upgraded tracks. The old tracks will be put up for sale and provide many additional hours of service.

We've seen online videos of the new tracks, endorsing the improvements that were introduced in 2017. But today was the first time we've seen the redesigned tracks in person. And wow! are they impressive!

Not by choice, several of us involved with maintaining the Gator have become well acquainted with the original tracks. Since we purchased the Gator in 2014, most of its mechanical problems have been related to issues with the tracks. The new tracks have a tougher frame, improved mechanisms for adjusting track tension and alignment, improved ability to float over the trail surface, an even better rubber track, and a better system for lubricating the main hub bearings.

Seeing is believing. The following pictures show the Gator (with the original tracks) getting a shower; and the new tracks fresh from Canada.

Somewhat cooler weather has suppressed the bugs. This is a good time to enjoy our 20+ miles of non-motorized trails. The last photo shows folks 'Out There' near intersection A5 on the East Side. As a reminder, on the East Side, this fall you probably should avoid Rut Road (logging activity); on the West Side, the trail is currently flooded and impassable near Letter F, and between K-L -- busy little beavers.

If needed, click here for a link to our Trail Maps.

Picture(s) with this message were taken late August.

August 29, 2019 - our workhorse Gator gets a bath
August 29, 2019 - new Camso tracks for the Gator
Read more >

After a lot of thought, time and effort, our idea of revising the Eastside map and trail signs is close to becoming reality. Our current (old) map defies logic and is too confusing. Our volunteer traffic engineer (he lives in Portland, OR) is close to finalizing the details on the new Eastside map.

Once the map is ready to go, we'll send it to the printers where the maps will be laminated. The ALL NEW TRAIL SIGNS (165 directional signs!) were printed in August using a heavy gauge aluminum material with a reflective yellow coating - they're waiting to be put in place. Soon we'll need a few volunteers to remove the old maps and signs, and put up the new. Watch for an email message seeking volunteers for that task.

This past weekend, we couldn't help jump starting the process of erecting the new signs. With rain in the forecast, we decided to go ahead and put up the new maps and signs on the trails furthest from the warming house that tend to become soft and muddy during damp weather. New signage was placed yesterday on most of the intersections on the trails named "Far East" and "Otter Slide".

Each intersection requires one map, one sign with the 'number' of that intersection, and each diverging trail receives one sign that identifies where that trail is headed. There are 45 intersections on the Eastside. That equals lots of maps and directional signs. Follow this link to view the new maps. Take a few minutes to appreciate the many features of the map. Here are just a few...

  • You'll notice the core loop is a bold black line that's numbered sequentially using blue highlighted circles.
  • If you look carefully, you'll find kilometer markers at each km along the 11 km length of the core loop. (While we were zooming around the trails this weekend, we also put up the necessary posts with their km markers along the core loop.)
  • When you venture off the core loop, you'll see that all the side trails have names; and their intersections are grouped into A1-A5, B1-B5, and C1-C7 based on proximity.
  • We've already marked and signed the intersections that will be developed when the 'FAR EAST' trail is completed.
  • Instead of a red dot to show 'You Are Here' we've switched to red arrows.
  • We've even designed the map to be functional for individuals that are red/green color blind.

Overall the trails are in great shape. Bug activity is low, fall colors are exploding, this is a great time to enjoy the trails!

Map of the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
New East Side map - September 2018
Read more >

Whew! Our annual trail work day accomplished a lot. Over the first weekend in October (Friday/Saturday/Sunday) twelve volunteers each donated several hours of their time. With the goal of having safe clear passages for skiing, they...

  • Chainsawed about 25 trees for removal (a localized storm on September 22 produced fairly widespread damage to our trail system)
  • Removed fallen trees, limbs, and branches; and bothersome rocks
  • Brushed the trail margins to maintain wide passages for skiing
  • Shoveled to create a smooth ramp approach for the bridge at #31
  • Filled a section of eroded areas with ten straw bales that were separated, compacted and retwined
  • Shoveled to fill eroded segments adjacent to straw bales
  • Felled trees to serve as "corduroy" at a deep eroded trench
  • Moved lumber in anticipation of bridge repair
  • Placed reinforcement cable at our bridge that is undergoing repair
  • Broomed off the roof of the warming house

We're very pleased to have that above list out of the way. Many thanks to the helpers this past weekend: Dan Bale, Mike Cragg, Ron Jasperson, Shane Klein, Peter Neal, Jan Paulsen, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, Jerry Schneider, Jason Sirek, John Waldron, and Jerry Wilkes. And a huge thank you to all of you that have helped with the many tasks this past summer (mowing, tree removal, equipment repair, equipment storage, eradicating carpenter ants, fixing the doors of the warming house, etc). If we tried to list all your names, we'd miss some. Please know that your volunteer efforts are greatly appreciated!

autumn 2017 at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
Read more >

The Blue Hills Trail -- entirely non-motorized -- has more than 20 miles of trails that require year round maintenance. Our most important bridge was heavily damaged in a late May deluge, then dismantled in August while staging the repair. Every picture tells a story: the attached photos first show the damaged bridge; then show the workers on the 14th of September when the bridge was rebuilt (bridge building photos courtesy of Dan Bjugstad); and some modifications from the workday on October 1st. Thanks to these guys for rebuilding the bridge: Dan Bjugstad, Mike Cragg, Ron Jasperson, Frank Lowry, & John Waldron. Thanks to Lamperts of Ladysmith for donating the lumber for the stringers. This bridge (as well as another bridge and several culverts) received quite a bit of attention during the annual work day on October 1st. The trails are shaping up now as we enjoy fall and look forward to winter skiing.Many many thanks to our numerous volunteers!

May 2016 deluge damaged this bridge on the Blue Hills Trail
Damaged bridge following May deluge
May 2016 deluge damaged this bridge on the Blue Hills Trail
Damaged bridge
May 2016 deluge damaged this bridge on the Blue Hills Trail
Damaged bridge
summer 2016 showing initial phases of bridge repair near #25 on the Blue Hills Trail
summer 2016 showing initial phases of bridge repair near #25 on the Blue Hills Trail
summer 2016 showing initial phases of bridge repair near #25 on the Blue Hills Trail
summer 2016 showing initial phases of bridge repair near #25 on the Blue Hills Trail
applying the decking on the repaired bridge
applying the decking on the repaired bridge
applying the decking on the repaired bridge
completed bridge structure
completed bridge structure
completed bridge structure with fill added on the east side of the bridge
creating an approach ramp for the west side of the bridge
completed bridge
collage of bridge repair photos at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
repaired bridge ready for traffic
Blue Hills Trail summer 2016 showing blown out culvert before and after repair
Blown out culvert - before and after repair

Read more >

Cross country skiing on a wide, smooth, beautifully groomed ski trail is a pure delight. Recently (probably the weekend of October 10-11) a truck illegally drove on a significant portion of the core loopf the Blue Hills Trail and created deep ruts on these soft, damp, and muddy sections that are prone to erosion. We'd like your help catching this person. Please read on.

Photos (below) show some of the damage, as well as the route traveled. It's been an incredibly wet summer here in the Blue Hills. So... imagine driving your truck on really soft ground just after the frost is out, and that's an example of some of the damage. To access this non-motorized trail and create this damage required:

  • Driving past an official "No ATV" sign
  • Driving through a route used by an active logging operation
  • Driving around a Rusk County Forestry gate
  • Removing encroaching brush on a rarely traveled logging 'road'
  • Driving past a non-motorized sign at the boundary of the trail system
  • Driving on a long section of smoothly-mowed, wide trail while creating deep ruts (section 24-3 on map)
  • Passing two more non-motorized signs (at map points 4 & 5)
  • Driving on 100 meters of a very soft section of trail (trail section 5-9), creating very deep ruts, then turning around
  • Then driving 80 meters on a different even softer muddy trail section (trail section 5-6), creating even deeper ruts, and turning around
  • Leaving by the same route used to access the trails

Make no mistake. This damage was not the result of a logger accidentally driving off course; or a County Forester out marking trees. This driver was way out of bounds, and clearly knew the actions were illegal. Keep your ear to the ground. Perhaps we can catch the responsible party. Any information should be reported to the Rusk County Sheriff's department: 715-532-2200. Or contact the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc (BHTA) at bluehillstrail@gmail.com. The BHTA is currently working with the Rusk County Forestry department and the Wisconsin DNR to help repair the damage prior to ski season.

ruts from truck driven illegally on non motorized ski trail
deep ruts from truck driven illegally on a non motorized ski trail
ruts from truck driven illegally on non motorized ski trail
deep ruts will require bulldozing to smooth out the ski trail
ruts from truck driven illegally on non motorized ski trail
deep ruts
map showing trails damaged by illegal truck travel
map showing trails damaged by illegal truck travel
Read more >

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Blue Hills Trail

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@bluehillstrailwisconsin
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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