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Trail Grooming on the Chippewa National Forest – Mary Nordeen

Ready for Winter—Trail Grooming on the Chippewa National Forest

Skiers on the Chippewa National Forest trails this year have remarked on excellent trails that look like a winter wonderland. Over 55 inches of snow has fallen between November and late-January, creating gorgeous picture-perfect scenes along approximately 44 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails.

While visitors appreciate a well-groomed trail among snowy pines and birch, they may not realize the planning and work that goes into their favorite winter recreation activities. Ski trails are groomed, parking lots are plowed, the sledding hill is free of obstacles and the roads and trails are signed.

This all takes planning and dedicated staff. Agreements with local partners play a large role in winter trails maintenance. Snowmobile trails are maintained through County Grant in Aid partnerships, and ski trails like Goose Lake, Suomi Hills and Trout Lake are groomed by local ski clubs through partnership agreements with the U.S. Forest Service.

A great example of long-lasting partnership is the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club. They have been instrumental in keeping the Forest cross-country ski program active on the eastside of the Forest, volunteering since the mid-1990’s.  Volunteers groom over 26 miles of trail and help with trail improvement projects, including bridge replacement and trail clearing. The Northern Lights Ski Club received the Eastern Region Enduring Service award in 2019 for their work to provide safe and enjoyable cross-country skiing opportunities and for dedication to teaching hundreds of area youth to ski. Another noteworthy partner is the Lake Country Nordic Ski Club, keeping the Goose Lake Trail system in shape.

Shingobee Hills Recreation Area on the Walker District has 6 miles of groomed ski trails and the additional challenge of maintaining a popular sledding hill. Recreation staff saw that grasses and shrubs were starting to fill in the steep slope (formerly a down-hill ski run built by the Civilian Conservation Corps). To keep the tradition of the historic “Shingobee Winter Playground” alive, plans included mowing the hill in the fall to provide a smooth sled ride down in the snow, and possibly utilizing prescribed fire in the spring to keep the shrubs back.

In 2017 and 2018, Forest archaeology and engineering staff worked with contractors and partners the historic Shingobee chalet, repairing the stone fireplace, fixing windows and replacing chalet steps to keep winter visitors safe.

On National Winter Trails Day in January 2020, people will gather at the top of Shingobee with their bright sleds, and sleek skiers will marvel at the winter scenes along the trail. The CCC-built chalet will have a warm fire and the cars will have safe parking areas. This scene will repeat across the Forest each winter weekend, thanks to Forest staff, community partners and an appreciative winter-loving public.

*When I wrote the original story mid-January, there was a winter storm in the weekend forecast with 8” of snow expected along with winds up to 35 mph across northern Minnesota. The Forest recreation team had a plan in place prior to the storm, assessing when they could safely get out to plow winter parking areas, check for downed trees after the storm and groom the trails once again.