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.
The Year That Was (2022-2023):
At our annual fundraising banquet (November 4, 2023) our 'State of the Trails' summary was a year to review our recovery from a devastating December 2022 ice storm:
Ice storm, record snowfall, and equipment issues – what an incredible challenge!
- November 2022 we graveled the first 200 feet inside the gate at the warming house. This did away with an area that had been perpetually muddy and limited access to our equipment in all but very dry conditions. November snowfall = 12".
- December 2022 early snowfalls were encouraging. We were able to groom & ski the new trail on the West Side once before the mid-December ice storm (ice + 16" of heavy tree crushing snow) devastated the trails. It took about a week to open the access road to the trailhead. Then we rented heavy equipment and operated it for 3 days at a cost of about $7000. This opened up a shortened version of the East Side Core Loop and our groomers created good skiing. When almost done with the rental equipment, the cab of the backhoe was slammed by a tree with damage that totaled out the backhoe – fortunately we had purchased short term insurance that covered the damage. December snowfall = 28".
- In early January a group of our volunteers worked in deep snow to clear another important section of the East Side trail. The snow kept coming, temps were mild, we kept grooming and enjoyed good skiing on the limited number of open trails. In mid January, the forestry department hired heavy equipment to open Excelsior Road on the West Side, then we groomed it and enjoyed it. The rest of the West Side had too much ice storm damage to open more trails. In late January, our Honda UTV acted up by mysteriously shattering its fan blade – a quick trip to the shop in Rice Lake fixed that problem. January snowfall = 16".
- February skiing conditions remained very good with mild temps and timely snowfalls. In mid-February, a team of our volunteers worked in deep snow to remove ice storm damage from the East Side ‘Washout Trail’. This created a connection with Rut Road that included more of the Core Loop. Meanwhile, John Kann worked overtime to add two new snowshoe loops that were well tromped. Hats off to John Kann! Our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers’ Special snowmobile is a big workhorse, powerful and maneuverable. It nicely complements the Honda Pioneer. Unfortunately, the Bearcat overheated on multiple occasions the past two winters, presenting a diagnostic challenge that we finally solved in February. A $4 fuse (a circuit breaker fuse) was the culprit! February snowfall = 13".
- March remained snowy, and we kept on grooming. In early March, the rear tracks on the Honda showed signs of failing rubber – perhaps due to the incredibly hard work required to groom the chunky condensed snow after the heavy equipment operated in December. We ordered replacement rubber tracks, and the day after the new tracks arrived the left rear track ‘failed’ and we replaced the rubber track in the parking lot. Truly a wrestling match replacing that track! Even though we still had a deep base, because the forecast showed warmup & rain, we decided to move grooming equipment to storage after the final grooming on March 20th. In late March, good crust skiing was available throughout! March snowfall = 20".
- April 1st delivered 12" of dense snow in the form of a blizzard! Then a week later, good crust skiing was available again. The next surprise? Ttemps soared into the 80s for 5 days, followed by 3" of heavy snow, followed by 1.5" of rain that melted most of the remaining snow. In late April we assembled a work crew to remove the mess of damaged trees around the warming house. April snowfall = 15".
- Total snowfall for the winter set a record for the 25 years we’ve kept records: 104 inches! The previous record was 89 inches during the winter of 2013-14.
- During the first half of May, on four occasions we assembled work crews and cleared more of the ice damaged trees. At that point, thick clouds of mosquitoes and gnats chased us out of the woods. In late May we were also able to install large vents in the storage container where our snowmobile sleeps – hopefully this will reduce the potential of condensation & moisture damage to its electronics (recall the corroded circuit breaker fuse?)
- In late June, we began our summer trail mowing. However, during hot weather, the Honda UTV developed several problems that were likely related to a faulty speed sensor. During the month that it took for the repair, trail work was on hold.
- In July and August, we hired a crew from the Flambeau Correctional Center to help clear ice storm damaged trees. They did a fantastic job clearing many of the West Side trails, and several East Side trails. Money ($2000) well spent! Another oddity this summer was the heavy growth of burdock – thick forests of burdock 6 feet tall.
- As the bugs became tolerable in late July, our own volunteers again worked to remove damaged trees on several more occasions. By September 1st, the entire trail system was (mostly) clear of the ice damage. All told, probably more than 3500 damaged trees – about 100 trees per kilometer – were removed from our 35 km of trails.
- Our annual fall workday on October 1st was lightly attended on a day with temps in the upper 80s. Despite the heat, a lot of important trail work was accomplished that day.
- Despite a dry, hot summer, the fall colors were very good and hung on longer than usual.
- What A Year!!! Many thanks to all our volunteers & donors – the trails are now in great shape for winter.
Here are some specific thank yous…
- Thanks to everyone attending our fundraising banquet, and to everyone that helped with trail work this past year. Your support in the form of donated time and money makes it all possible.
- Thanks to our volunteers for removing downed trees & their 45+ hours of mowing this past summer. An incredible team effort!
- Thanks to John Waldron & Geary Searfoss for serving as officers. They bring boundless energy and wonderfully creative ideas. World’s best volunteers!
- Thanks to last year’s grooming team for creating great skiing conditions despite the incredible challenges resulting from the ice storm.
- Thanks to Jan Paulsen for photos from the banquet, and for decorating the banquet site. Leaves, acorns etc from a recent hike on the ski trails.
- Thanks to Kirk Paulsen for donating his engineering skills in designing the new trail maps several years ago, and for updating them as the trails evolve. His maps are highly accurate & informative. NOTE: thanks to Kirk’s engineering tech skills, you can visit our website & easily place our maps on your phone for use with the App called Avenza Maps. You’ll be able to take advantage of satellites to follow your location in real time. Very useful.
- Thanks to Kristine Paulsen for her ongoing involvement with our website – what a great portal she has provided us!!
- Thanks to John Kann & Dan Bjugstad who continue maintaining our network of dedicated snowshoe trails – after the December 2022 ice storm, John almost single handedly opened two new loops through the downed trees.
- Thanks to the Rusk County Forestry department for mowing most of the West Side, and parts of the East Side. With them, we have a great partnership maintaining the Blue Hills Trail.
- The distant loop on the West Side (C-D-F-G-H-I) remains beaver territory. For now, we think we can 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. Because that loop is so difficult to groom – and because we now have more & better trails on the West Side – that loop will receive minimal grooming and be considered a wilderness loop. We’ll groom it if/when conditions permit.
- The big timber sale that was cut last fall on the Far East Trails still has lots of wood (400 cords of wood = 40 truckloads) that needs hauling. Markets for hardwood pulp logs have been poor this year – the loggers will try more hauling in November 2023 if they can find a market. The loggers realize we plan on grooming in early-mid December and should be done using Rut Road (part of our East Side Core Loop) by that time.
- One West Side timber sale was cut during June, a clear cut where the new trail (between intersections Y to Z) joins Excelsior Road. It’s already growing back quickly, don’t let its appearance shock you.
- The trail system has two timber sales that have been bid out and await logging – one on the East, one on the West.
- 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:
Thanks for your financial support. Despite the unanticipated large amount of money spent this past year on clearing ice storm debris (approaching $10,000), we're in good shape financially, and the equipment is running well. If you'd like to send a donation our way, follow this link.
Whenever you can, please thank the many businesses and individuals that support the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc.
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!
During the middle of January (2023), we've twice been set to send out a team of chainsaw experts to work on opening more of the Core Loop on the East Side Trails by removing ice storm debris. However, equipment issues negated those plans.
Here's a bit of background: we prefer to groom as a team with our 2020 Honda Pioneer 1000 UTV accompanied by our 2017 Arctic Cat Bearcat Groomers Special snowmobile. Here are the latest equipment challenges our groomers have faced:
- On the evening of January 13th 2023 (Friday the 13th), our Arctic Bearcat workhorse snowmobile overheated shortly after grooming began. The overheating of the snowmobile was an intermittent issue most of last winter as well - and led to several different interventions - each seeming to help temporarily. After overheating on January 13th, the snowmobile was parked at the trailhead, and our head groomer worked alone past midnight using our Honda Pioneer. Great skiing the next day thanks to his dedication.
- On January 15th, we trailered the snowmobile to Bloomer WI Arctic Cat for an in-depth evaluation of potential causes of overheating. Everything checked out OK – no obvious explanation – pretty frustrating that we couldn't identify the cause.
- We decided to discuss the overheating symptoms of the snowmobile with an Arctic Cat expert in New Hampshire who has given us sound advice on several occasions in the past. Right away, he said the symptoms pointed to the likelihood of an airlock in the cooling system. Luckily, while the snowmobile was in the Arctic Cat shop in Bloomer the day before, we had requested replacement of the coolant (anti-freeze), and as part of that replacement, it's routine protocol to perform special maneuvers to purge the cooling system of trapped air. Picture raising the front end of a heavy workhorse snowmobile 3-4 feet and operating til warm then venting the radiator -- and repeating that with the rear end elevated 3-4 feet -- and possibly doing the same with the sled tipped to one side, then the other. Since purging and burping the snowmobile, it's been running fine. Cross your fingers.
- On the evening of Saturday January 21st, our grooming team set out with the goal of using our 'trail renovator implement' to improve the edge of the skate deck. However, about 2 km into the grooming, a big stick worked under the rear comb of the renovator and popped out several rivets – which deformed the comb and created a grooming mess. The groomers returned to the trailhead, parked the 'trail renovator', and groomed using both of our Tidd Tech Generation 2 implements. That created nice skiing conditions for the following day.
- Toward the end of the grooming on that same evening of January 21st, all of a sudden our Honda Pioneer UTV started vibrating when the cooling fan operated. The groomers parked the Honda in its shed, and the next morning we started sharing ideas regarding a potential repair (on site vs at a dealership). Incredibly, while skiing on Sunday the 22nd, my wife (Jan) noticed an oddly shaped WHITE object on the surface of the snow as we skied up the Elevator Trail. Looking closer, we realized it was a plastic object – clearly part of a fan blade! Apparently one of the blades had broken off the cooling fan!!! And there's no reason to explain that – the cooling fan is located behind the radiator inside a protective shroud. But at least we now had an idea regarding what kind of repair was needed.
- Monday morning the 23rd we started contacting nearby Honda dealerships to request help replacing the cooling fan (online videos show a fairly complicated challenge to access the fan). We arranged for overnight shipping of a new fan, and on Tuesday trailered the Honda to AirTec Power Sports in Rice Lake for repairs. The fan replacement – and several additional preventive maintenance items – were completed within 24 hours!
- Regarding our '54-inch Trail Renovator Implement' -- it's been used aggressively this winter in deep snow and icy conditions to remove the ruts from the heavy equipment used to clear ice storm debris. As a result, the comb and side flaps have taken a beating. We have a replacement comb and side flaps on order. (FYI - the rear comb on any grooming implement is what creates the corduroy on the surface of the skate deck).
- Once the equipment issues are under control, we'll again try to coordinate work crews (chainsaw experts) to clear additional ice storm debris and open more of the East Side Core Loop. For now, that's our 'What Next' project.
As the saying goes, you don't own equipment, it owns you. This winter in particular, we need to appreciate good skiing when it's available.
If interested in helping the Blue Hills Trail financially, click here for information regarding donations and membership.
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.
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.
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.
Blue Hills Trail
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