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work day

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.

Blue Hills Trail warming house after cleaning and staining
Warming house got a bath before staining the exterior
Blue Hills Trail map highlighting an area of erosion
Badly eroded trail needed bulldozing
freshly dozed trail
Dozed and ready for grass seed
spreading grass seed on freshly dozed trail
Spreading a mix of annual rye, perennial rye, and clover
replacing flooring in an older shipping container
Sam removing the bad section of flooring in the older shipping container
Blue Hills Trail has new flooring in our older shipping container
New flooring (on the front right) - topped with snowmobile glides for protection
plugged culvert with water flowing over the ski trail
Plugged culvert between #23 & Letter L. Water flowing over the trail.
water flowing around and over a plugged culvert
Long piece of birch used to probe the culvert from the downstream side
reopened culvert with water moving through the culvert
Culvert is unplugged. Whirlpool formed above the upstream opening of the culvert.
dry ski trail after culvert was unplugged
Water level has dropped, trail is again passable.
volunteers at the annual workday for the Blue Hills Trail
Part of the 'socially distant' workday crew - September 26, 2020
flooded trail on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
Flooded trail at low spot between J-K
previously flooded trail now needs dirt fill
Flooded area has been drained. Red arrows show location of failing culvert.
new culvert and surrounding fill
Culvert was replaced. Then added fill and leveled the trail.
new and larger culvert on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail
Forestry Department donated a 30-inch metal culvert as the replacement
deep wet trench on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail needs to be bridged
Badly eroded trench on the West Side of the Blue Hills Trail keeps getting deeper each year. It's time to build a bridge.
first stages of bridge construction
Round concrete barn pads provide support for the bridge stringers.
bridge stringers have been placed across the trench
The trick was getting everything level and square.
selfie image of some of the volunteers
Time out for a selfie
golden retriever supervising the bridge construction
The bridge passed inspection
bridge with decking in place
Log 'corduroy' at both ends of the bridge created a ramp of sorts.
the volunteers that set the decking in place
Part of the decking crew
Read more >

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.

volunteers digging post holes while installing gates
Taking turns digging a post hole
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #1
the volunteer crew that installed two gates in November 2019
Gate crew at intersection #2
new gate for limiting access to the non motorized trails on the Blue Hills Trail
Completed gate at intersection #2
Read more >

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more >

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

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

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

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

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
Read more >

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 Porn, Jonathan Stanley, and John Ziemer.

volunteers meet inside the warming house at the Blue Hills Trail
planning the work day
volunteer standing next to Gator while working on the Blue Hills Trail
Gator comes in handy when doing trail work
Read more >

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Blue Hills Trail

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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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