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Wisconsin

The Blue Hills Trail is a favorite place for many hunters during the fall. Since it is non-motorized, it provides solitude that’s hard to find elsewhere. Bird and deer hunters are especially appreciative.

For many decades, a certain group of hunters from the Chippewa Falls area has camped in the parking lot by the warming house during the Thanksgiving gun deer hunt. Their tradition includes decorating their campsite with Christmas lights and inflatable characters. Quite a site!

The Blue Hills Trail has 20+ miles of trails that grow on you, and many trail users give back in their own way.

The group from Chippewa Falls has ‘given back’ by helping develop the signage for the Blue Hills Trail. At each of 60 intersections you’ll find a metal map holder that protects our laminated maps from the weather and curious critters. Each trail that branches from an intersection has a metal reflective sign providing directions. Thank you to our friends from Chippewa Falls for their part in keeping us oriented and safe on the Blue Hills Trail.

hunting the Blue Hills Trail fall 2020
November 2020. Photo shared by Dan Boehnlein.
hunting the Blue Hills Trail fall 2020
November 2020. Photo shared by Dan Boehnlein.
hunting grouse fall 2020
Hunting the Blue Hills Trail. Photo shared by Frank Lowry.


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Skiers February 12th enjoyed wonderful conditions. Following the arrival of 2" of fresh snow on February 9th, our head groomer worked the evenings of February 9/10/11 and created some of the finest grooming of the winter. Firm trails, wide flat skate lane with corduroy that was often seamless across the skate deck, and a solid classic track with great pole plants. The photos with this message were taken February 12th on the West Side trails.

Next grooming is anticipated either Friday evening (Feb.14) or Saturday morning - probably touching up the most heavily skied trails so Saturday's skiers will be able to enjoy primo conditions.

Freshly groomed cross country ski trail on Blue Hills Trail Core Loop
February 12, 2020: Excelsior Road (West Side)
beautifully groomed cross country ski trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
February 12, 2020: West Side trails near Letter D
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First things first: packed powder conditions, skiing is great, especially in the classic track set this past weekend; and on the skate deck where touch up grooming was performed Tuesday evening (January 28th). Don't let the East Side logging operation scare you away. We are currently grooming 17 km of trails on the East Side, 9.6 km on the West Side. As an example, if you ski all the trails on the West Side, it'll add up to 14 km by the time you're done.

Snow Rollers, a pretty amazing natural phenomenon. We noticed one while skiing the Hemlock Canyon trail on Wednesday the 29th.

Here's our latest 'Gator Tale'. A true example of rolling with the punches...

  • A few days ago we performed scheduled maintenance on our Gator. Oil change, check fluids, lube the Camoplast tracks, and check tightness of the hub bolts that secure the bearings and hold the tracks in place.
  • Three of the four hub bearing bolts were a bit loose (that's why we check them). We removed and replaced two bolts.
  • Shockingly, when removing the third bolt it snapped off. Now what??? (photos below show a partially removed bolt and washer on the left; snapped off bolt is shown on the right).
  • We had access to the tools needed to extract the broken bolt. But we decided to enlist the help of a professional machinist from CPH Enterprises on County Hwy O, located just 3 miles away. With a bit of begging, one of their pros came out to the trailhead to help us out.
  • These bolts are held in place using red Loctite. Removal of the broken bolt required drilling a hole in the center of the bolt, inserting an extractor (a special tool), and repeatedly heating the bolt with a torch while trying to extract it. The heat helps loosen the Loctite.
  • After many attempts, the broken bolt seemed to move slightly - but at that point the extractor snapped off. Another 'Now What???' moment. Those might not have been the exact words we used.
  • Next step? We were stuck. Late afternoon on Tuesday. Next step would require the use of a generator to weld a nut on the end of the broken bolt and use that nut to back out the bolt. This was set up for Wednesday morning.
  • When cautiously trying to move the Gator from the shed to the parking lot on Wednesday morning, the bearing mechanism on the right rear track started shifting - which meant the entire hub assembly and track could fall off - with possible serious mechanical damage to various components.
  • The crew of two that was working on the Gator on Wednesday was able to use several ratchet straps to secure the Camoplast track enough that it was moved to the parking lot.
  • A nut was welded onto the end of the broken bolt; then with difficulty, the bolt was removed and replaced with new parts.
  • The last challenge? Prior to the welding operation, the Gator battery needed to be disconnected by removing the positive lead. When doing that, the battery terminal broke off (a bit rusted). This meant a trip to Ladysmith to buy a new battery terminal (connector), then returning to the trailhead to repair the positive battery lead and tuck the Gator in the shed.

All set for some Friday evening grooming of the skate lane if all goes as planned. Should be a great weekend in the Hills!

A reminder....
When you're out enjoying a groomed ski trail, give special thanks to the groomers and volunteers that are so integral to cross country skiing on groomed trails.

photo of snow roller adjacent to the ski trail
Snow roller adjacent to the Hemlock Canyon trail
nice grooming on the Blue Hills Trail
January 29, 2020 - Hemlock Canyon trail near #25
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Big snowfalls (10+ inches on November 27, 7+ inches on December 1, 4+ inches December 9) have kept our groomers busy. Early December hasn't provided this type of wintry weather in recent memory. Groomers worked 66 man-hours wrestling the heavy snow into shape for the weekend of December 7/8 when conditions ranged from fair-good-excellent.

A couple news worthy items...

  • WE NOW ARE GROOMING EXCELSIOR ROAD up to and well beyond Letter A on the West Side. There's great skiing available out to the end of Excelsior Road, 3 km in one direction if you start at the Firelane Road. Either park along Firelane Road (well to the side of potential logging traffic), or at the warming house. Please do NOT try to drive on Excelsior Road up to Letter A, that's where we plan on grooming. Look at the modified West Side map (below) to better understand this change.
  • If the beginning of Excelsior Road is rutted (hunters may be driving there until the gun deer hunts are completed December 15), you can enjoy the West Side trails by starting at the warming house on the East Side and skiing the trail that crosses from East to West at Letter L. Or you can park at Letter L - just be sure to leave plenty of room for logging trucks.
  • Loggers have been working on the northwest part of the East Side this fall - along Rut Road in the vicinity of intersections 20-21-22 and Hemlock Canyon Trail between 21 & A - avoid this area until they're done. Images below include an East Side map that shows trails that are groomed, and how to avoid the logging activity.

Picture(s) with this message were taken the first week of December.

good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
December 7, 2019 - East Side 'Core Loop' near #5
good cross country skiing in early December 2019 at the Blue Hills Trail
December 7, 2019
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Despite the current dry spell and the lack of groomed ski trails, there's decent lake skiing available. Audie Flowage (2 miles northwest of the warming house) has a 2"-3" snow cover in most places. Skiing there today was very enjoyable despite requiring a bit of work -- the snow surface was a bit crusted, with a tendency to punch through the crust. However, the wilderness experience at Audie is definitely worth the effort (notice the otter slides in the photo?). You can access the Lake by parking either at the campground or the boat landing.

On December 3rd we groomed the 2 km length of the Eastside 'GravelRoad'. It's barely skiable, rock skis only, and watch your balance if you catch an edge. We need a few more inches of snow before we can consider grooming the Trails. Until then, feel free to bushwhack the trails, hike the trails, and hike the snowshoe trails.

The furnace in the warming house is on, stop by and thaw out.

Cross country skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Fun times skiing on Audie Flowage near the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
Lake skiing on Audie Flowage in northwest Rusk County
Just enough snow on Audie Flowage for great lake skiing
Otter slides on Audie Flowage
Otters out having fun sliding around on December 10, 2018
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Winter 2015-16 arrived late, detained by a strong El Nino event. The Blue Hills Trail had two months of good skiing, shared by many fun visitors to the trails. Unfortunately, mother nature brought the ski season to an abrupt end in early March. Many thanks to all our supporters and volunteers that make this trail system so special.Here’s a bit of a recap:

  • A very wet summer/fall 2015 made for difficult trail mowing; and created significant challenges due to trail erosion. In October this included one heavily damaged bridge that was successfully repaired; and abandoning another damaged bridge by rerouting a trail section (this trail revision necessitated bulldozing and hand labor). Twice we also repaired extensive trail damage from illicit off road truck traffic.
  • After a discouraging warm, rainy December 2015, the trails finally received a couple inches of snow on December 24th. Another 2" of snow on December 28th allowed our groomers to start working.
  • As cold weather arrived in early January, wet spots began freezing. Careful, meticulous grooming then created good skiing throughout January despite minimal snowfall. By the middle of January, conditions were mostly very good to excellent even though the base was thin. A heavy snowfall on February 2nd allowed grooming of the entire trail system and provided excellent conditions until icy trails developed following a record warm day on February 27th.
  • This year's "Blue Hills Trail Fun Day" was loads of fun: a potluck full moon party on Saturday January 23rd that was very well attended. We enjoyed temps in the 20s, a roaring campfire, drum circle rhythm, great food, and good skiing conditions despite the moon hiding behind an overcast sky.
  • On a warm February 19th, it rained more than half an inch; and on the 20th the trails were saturated wet and very soft after two days with temps above freezing. A skier injury on February 20th led to a local fire department rescue that required the use of a tracked ATV. The rescue was successful, but unfortunately the equipment left deep ruts that closed down about 2 miles of the groomed trails. After repairing one limited portion of the damage, we were able to use a detour of the core loop that kept everyone happy.
  • With temps predicted to skyrocket beginning March 5th, we looked at the weather forecast and then groomed one last time on March 1st. Grooming equipment went to summer storage on Friday March 4th, we skied that weekend and then enjoyed one last morning of good classic skiing on March 7th as temperatures pushed 60 degrees later that afternoon.
  • From December 24th through February 23rd, we received only 24 inches of snow; by early March the total for the season was only 30 inches, easily the lowest seasonal snow total since we've kept records beginning in 1999.
  • We groomed a total of 36 times - and felt lucky we had enough cold weather to enjoy ourselves.
  • This winter of 2015-16, we've once again enjoyed sharing the Blue Hills Trail with visitors from near and far. Thanks to everybody that helps spread the word regarding the beauty of this trail system.

A huge 'shout out' to our groomers. Equipment break downs and mechanical problems were handled efficiently & never compromised the grooming. Thank you to our primary grooming team (Steve Gest, Adam Brockman, & Jesse Wimer) - and to our occasional groomers (Mike Cragg, Ron Jasperson, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, and Dave Putnam) - for creating great memories the winter of 2015-16! A sincere thank you to our diverse group of members, volunteers and supporters - you're the best.

January 2, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
January 2, 2016 on the ridge line of the Blue Hills Trail
January 2, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail

January 2, 2016 cross country skiing on the 'Gravel Road' at the Blue Hills Trail

happy skier January 13, 2016
Frosty day January 13, 2016
excellent cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail January 19, 2016
January 19, 2016 cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
excellent cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail January 29, 2016
January 29, 2016
classic skiing on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
January 30, 2016 classic skiers enjoy a fresh snowfall
grooming cross country ski trails at the Blue Hills Trail
ski trail grooming at the Blue Hills Trail February 3, 2016
February 3, 2016 night time grooming of the ski trail
nighttime grooming of cross country ski trails at the Blue Hills Trail
February 5, 2016 grooming at sunset
skate skiing on freshly groomed trails at the Blue Hills Trail
February 6, 2016 enjoying the fresh grooming
February 9, 2016 picture perfect grooming of the Blue Hills Trail
picture perfect grooming February 9, 2016
gorgeous surroundings while cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
February 9, 2016 was a gorgeous day for cross country skiing
an enthusiastic group of skiers from Andorra posed for a photo at the warming house
February 18, 2016 a group of cross country skiers from Andorra (Europe) visited the Blue Hills Trail
visitors from Europe enjoying the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
Europeans enjoying the Blue Hills Trail
welcome to the Blue Hills Trail
welcome to the Blue Hills Trail
late winter cross country skiing at the Blue Hills Trail
February 22, 2016 on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
great conditions for cross country skiing February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 great conditions on the West Side 'Lollipop'
photo collage shows work that fixed broken axle on the Gator
February 26, 2018 photo collage (above) shows work that fixed broken axle on the Gator

Late February 2016 cross country skiing on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
late February 2016 on the East Side of the Blue Hills Trail
2015-16 winter was worth crowing about
2015-16 winter was short but worth crowing about
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Each autumn, the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc coordinates a single work day to prepare the Blue Hills Trail for the coming winter cross country ski season - and fall hunting. After working hard to mow and maintain the trails through a very wet summer, this morning the work day crew was greeted by brilliant sunshine and a nice display of fall colors. The trails are well mowed and providing good hiking even though somewhat damp. On October 1st, two of our volunteer members already spent the day aggressively brushing out the Westside trails - helping set the stage for the official work day. Then this morning, one of our best ever work day turnouts showed seventeen hardy souls ready to go at 9 a.m. After a brief planning session in the warming house, we split up into seven different groups, and each of us spent about three hours on trail work (that's about 51 hours of total labor if you're counting). Today's accomplishments:

  • Cleared the entire Westside of remaining brush and encroaching limbs; placed all new maps at each of the Westside intersections (highlighting the fact that the Westside is now non-motorized).
  • Cleared the 12km EastSide core loop (and adjacent trails) of rocks, downed limbs and encroaching branches.
  • Removed a big logjam from under one large bridge; reinforced a couple bridges.
  • Trenched an area of standing water to better promote drainage off the trail.
  • Identified some additional downed trees in need of chainsaw work.
  • Cleared 2/3 of the snowshoe trail of encroaching limbs and downed trees; placed brand new easily identifiable signs along the snowshoe trail.
  • Relined the urinal in the men's pit toilet.
  • Tidied the warming house: washed the warming house windows and skylights; cleaned the tables; cleared pine needles from the roof.
  • Cleaned the cobwebs from the warming house furnace & turned it on for the day; it's set to go when the winter ski season arrives.

Many thanks to our work day volunteers: Sam Behrends, Dan Bjugstad, Carolyn Chatterton, Roger Gray, John Kann, Jenna Lisowe, Dave Olsen, Jan Paulsen, Tom Paulsen, Steve Porn, Steve Schleppegrell, Jerry Schneider, Jonathan Stanley, Phil Strop, John Waldron, Cathie Woita, Paul Woita, and John Ziemer.

volunteers gather prior to heading out to work on the ski trail
volunteers gathering in the parking lot
man and his best friend at the annual work day of the Blue Hills Trail
two of our best workers
beautiful fall day exploring the Blue Hills Trail in northern Wisconsin
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It looked like March would go out as a lamb, but Mother Nature sure fooled us!  It kept snowing and snowing and snowing - topped off by a record setting May 2nd snowstorm that dropped 18 inches in the Hills!

Recent comments from the logbook in the warming house

  • 3/25: Great night for a ski.  Love how late the sun is out.  Thanks for such great trails.  The skate lane was fast fast fast.  --Bruce, WI
  • 3/28: Wow!  Skate trail is amazing.  Thank you to BHTA for a wonderful ski season.  March 28 & the sky is blue, the sun is shining & the skiing is fast. --Rice Lake, WI
  • 3/29: Snowshoeing - Awesome. --Australia
  • 4/1: Fantastic crust skiing on Westside & over & onto Audie Flowage, & also on Florida Loop.  Early morning skiing is fast & almost effortless.  Edge control is borderline in some places & the steeper donwhills are exhiliratingly fast.  No fooling!  --Ladysmith, WI
  • 4/10: The snow cover extends unbroken at least 2 km from the warming house, & undoubtedly beyond.   --Ladysmith, WI
  • 4/12: With the new snow one can ski anywhere! --Ladysmith, WI
  • 4/13: Another day's pilgrammage to the Blue Hills.  Today I skied the entire Westside with side trips to Audie Lake & from Letter K north.  I recommend it to anyone that wants to leave the beaten track. --Ladysmith, WI
  • 4/17: The heavy wet snow that fell 3 days ago provided a new surface which this morning's colder temperatures transformed into a firm crust.  Skating over it was fantastic, so much better than what I expected to find. --Ladysmith, WI
  • 4/19: Getting Out There for a classic ski.  AMAZING. --Rice Lake, WI
  • 4/24: Eastside crust ski was wonderfully fast on the ski over to the Westside & to Audie Lake.  Saw very large paw prints in the snow (wolf?).  The return ski was slower in the soft snow in the sun.  All in all a wonderful spring ski. --Eau Claire, WI
  • 4/25: It ain't over 'til it's over!  Skied much of the Eastside on an unbroken crust covered with a centimeter of new snow, which decorated the twigs & branches of all the hilltop trees - until the sun melted it. --Ladysmith, WI
deep snow 17 March 2013 at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
March 17, 2013
kids skiing in early March 2013 at the Blue Hills Trail in northwest Wisconsin
early March 2013
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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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