Blue Hills Trail CONDITIONS
Sunday - evening update
Packed powder conditions, very good skating and striding.
A very destructive mid December ice storm (visit our blog for photos etc) initially shut down our skiing. Despite the December ice storm, about half of our East Side trails are open; Excelsior Road is open on the West Side. Click here for helpful maps that show our open trails.
Snowshoers: we prefer you use the Ridges Snowshoe Trail as your first option. If snowshoeing on the groomed ski trail, please snowshoe well to the side. On January 26, a great new loop was added to the Ridges Trail - the 'Highland Loop' - it climbs to the Ridgeline near intersection #12. Click here to learn about the 'Highland Loop'.
Autumn 2022, loggers cut a large timber sale on the East Side in the vicinity of the Otter Slide and Far East trails (those trails are the furthest 'east' trails). In late January, when the ground is well frozen, loggers will haul those logs to market using a route to the east and mostly separate from the ski trails. Click here for a map showing the involved trails.
January 27: 2" fine grained dry snow
grooming & MOWING
Grooming Report / Plans --- note: due to December 15 extensive ice storm damage, grooming is currently limited to about half of the East Side trails and Excelsior Road on the West Side. These are some of our favorite trails. Click here to see where we're grooming.
January 28 evening: touched up the skate deck
January 27 evening: groomed all the open trails - including fresh classic track
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.
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 (email@example.com) 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.
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.
Big plans this summer - we're moving ahead with scheduled development of the new trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail. Protection of this new trail from motorized traffic hinges on the new gate we installed Monday (May 16th).
Granted, there was a West Side logging operation last summer/fall that disrupted the beginning of the ski season on the West Side trails. But as a result of that timber sale, we'll be able to convert a logging road into a new route that will connect the west end of Excelsior Road with the inner loops of the West Side Trails. Take a look at the map (below) where the orange colored trail shows the new trail to be bulldozed and seeded later this summer.
This trail measures 1.3 km in length. From its starting point at Letter Y, the new trail meanders through the woods, dips and rolls, and gradually climbs to a high point a few hundred meters south of Letter Z. At that high point, there's a nice vista to the east from where you can appreciate the distant hills of the East Side of the trail system.This trail is going to be a wonderful addition to the West Side trails. We expect to groom it this coming winter. Click here for the countdown to Winter 2022.
Thanks to Rusk County Forestry for supplying the gate. Many thanks to our volunteer members that supplied the knowhow, tools, machinery and muscle power for the gate installation: Sam Behrends, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, and John Waldron.
The many acres of trails on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail are often home to beavers. In years past, we've been able to tolerate a few of their permanent dams while trying to maintain the adjacent trails in the summer, and groom next to their dams in the winter.
Sad to say, too often we've resorted to trapping to remove 'nuisance beavers' (we report the problems to the County Forestry Department, and they hire out the work to a professional trapper).
All summer we've observed an active 200-foot long beaver dam that is located next to the ski trail (between intersections I and H), with about 130 feet of the trail wet enough to perhaps make it difficult to groom and ski this winter. Instead of trapping out the beavers at this spot, we decided to try a different approach. We'd like to learn how to coexist.
The first photo (below) shows this location in early September. See the small bridge? Beyond the bridge the trail has water slowly moving over the trail. We've debated various options, and yesterday (November 13th) decided to install a small beaver deceiver (pond leveler) device.
Here's what Sam, Benny, and Tom did...
· Purchased five 10-foot lengths of 4" corrugated HDPE pipe ('drain tile') and one filter
· Breached the beaver dam with the goal of dropping the water level about two feet
· Screwed the pipe sections together, and fastened the filter on the upstream end
· Drilled holes in the first 20 feet of pipe (to allow trapped air to escape)
· Attached a weight five feet from the upstream end (to hold the pipe underwater)
· Waded into the pond with the upstream end of the pipe (and the weight)
· Placed the downstream end of pipe (30 feet in length) through the breach in the beaver dam, and under the bridge on the ski trail
· Dropped the upstream end (and weight) into water that was probably five feet deep
· Placed a vertical wood post in the breach of the dam, and attached the pipe to that post
· Confirmed a nice volume of water flowing through the downstream end of the pipe
The materials cost about $30. We’re hoping the beavers quickly show up and repair the breach in the beaver dam. This hopefully would seal the pipe into the dam at a height that will control the water level – leaving enough water for the beavers to use the pond, but keeping the water level low enough to minimize the tendency for water to leak through the dam and flow over the ski trail.
We learned a lot from this first attempt at installing a pond leveling device. It was a nice muddy day playing in the beaver habitat, here’s hoping we can coexist.
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...
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.
Blue Hills Trail
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