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.
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.
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…
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.
We performed some long anticipated trail work today. Read on...
Several years ago, about 1 km of East Side ski trail was heavily damaged when a truck was driven on soft trails. The perp cut through a heavy chain securing a cable barrier, then drove 2/3 the distance from #2 to A1 before turning around at a muddy water crossing. What a mess! (Refer to map image below to get your bearings.)
Since that damage occurred, we've added more signage reminding visitors that the trails are non-motorized. Ever since that trail damage, we've been planning on replacing two cable barriers with more substantial gate barriers. Other trail maintenance issues received higher priority until we found the time today to install these gates.
The Rusk County Forestry department donated the gate materials -- in exchange for our volunteers supplying the concrete and labor.
A group of five of us set aside Sunday (November 17) as our gate work day. The weather forecast called for 1" of fresh snow and temps in the 30s.
We awakened to 2+ inches of wet snow. Not to be discouraged, we met at the warming house at 11 a.m and collectively identified spots for the gates, then went to work. This included:
- Measuring 16'4" between post centers.
- SB started melting snow to prepare hot water to mix with the quick set concrete.
- JW used his tractor and power auger to start the holes.
- When the auger was stymied by rocks, we took turns using long pry bars and post hole diggers to approach our target depth of 4 feet (that's a pretty deep hole when considering the glacial rocks in the way).
- SB set up his transom to make sure the depth of the holes would result in a level gate.
- We placed the gate posts in the holes, made sure they were plumb, added hot water in the bottom of the holes, then added 4 bags of quick set concrete in each hole.
- After allowing the concrete a few minutes to start setting up, we were able to place the gate on the poles and fine tune the position of the posts.
- Fitment was very good!
- After completing the gate at #1, we moved down the 'Gravel Road' and repeated the process at #2.
Fun day sharing the work, we finished in about 3 hours. Glad we didn't let the weather get in the way. Relieved to find the grassy surface had prevented deep frost. Pleased to see the concrete set up so quickly - it should be solid before it has a chance to freeze.
We realize that barriers tend to keep out only the honest folks. The chosen gate locations will hopefully discourage trail damage, these new gates are more obvious and much safer than cables, and the gates visually are a nice addition.
Many thanks to our work crew of 5: Sam Behrends, Lori Larsen, Kent Meng, Tom Paulsen, and John Waldron. Special thanks to Sam for rounding up the concrete and many of the tools; and to John for braving slippery roads to trailer his tractor and power auger to/from the trailhead.
Picture(s) with this message were taken November 17, 2019.
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 P 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.
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 P, 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!
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 P, Steve Schleppegrell, Jerry Schneider, Jonathan Stanley, Phil Strop, John Waldron, Cathie Woita, Paul Woita, and John Ziemer.
Each autumn, the Blue Hills Trail Association Inc coordinates a single work day to prepare the Blue Hills Trail for fall hunting, and especially the coming winter cross country ski season. After last winter's heavy snows, the past six months have been unusually wet, and after a couple days of more rain, this morning the work day crew was greeted by 1" of wet snow on the leaf tops. Thanks to a dry spell in July and August, the trails are nicely mowed and provide nice hiking even though very wet. Despite chilly temps near 40 degrees F, one of our best ever work day turnouts showed sixteen hardy souls ready to go at 9 a.m. After a brief planning session in the heated warming house, we split up into seven different groups and spent ~3 hours on trail work each (that's about 48 hours of total labor if you're counting). Today's accomplishments:
- Cleared the entire WestSide of downed trees and encroaching limbs
- Cleared 90% of the EastSide core loop of downed trees and encroaching limbs
- Identified some additional downed trees in need of chainsaw work
- Cleared the snowshoe trail of encroaching limbs, & identified downed trees that need chainsaw work
- Put a new roof (metal) on the men's pit toilet
- Washed the warming house windows
- 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 today's volunteers: Sam Behrends, Mike Cragg, Roger Gray, Lori Gray, Janelle Gruetzmacher, Tyler Gruetzmacher, John Kann, Jenna Lisowe, Frank Lowry, Dave Olsen, Jan Paulsen, Tom Paulsen, Steve Poethke, Steve P, Jonathan Stanley, and John Ziemer.
Blue Hills Trail
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