Follow the path
Model ski trail rehab project completed in Wisconsin's Northern Kettle Moraine
The following article provides a pathway for organizations to apply for trail development and maintenance grants by highlighting the Greenbush Trail Rehabilitation project. Much of the information contained here can be used when applying to any trail grant program.
The bulldozer plowing its way down the corridor would make the heartiest of trail lover's squirm. The big D-6 was belching a black diesel plume as it worked over a section of the Greenbush Ski Trails.
Big-time cobble, containing stones, rocks, brush and glacial silt, rolled to the surface as the huge blade of the bulldozer widened and flattened the trail. My favorite ski trail was getting smashed to smithereens right in front of my face. Four letter words came to mind, but as one of the organizers of this obliteration, I didn't want to irritate the driver of the bulldozer.
What started as a nightmarish scene has transformed Greenbush to a state-of-the-art ski trail system. The long journey that resulted in the trail's renovation started three years ago when the Northern Kettle Moraine Nordic Ski Club started a trail improvement program aimed at upgrading to standards found at other major trail systems in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Much of the Greenbush System was developed in the 1970s by bulldozing a multi-loop trail arrangement in the forest. Not much attention was given to providing a long-term sustainable surface.
Causes for Greenbush rehab
The key drivers behind the renovation project were:
1) The evolution of the sport since the trails were originally built. The trails were designed at a time when classic skiing was predominant and skate skiing had not yet overcome the traditional technique in popularity. Today, the two disciplines are equally important.
2) The evolution of grooming equipment combined with the increased need to offer good skiing with difficult snow conditions. Current grooming equipment is wider, reducing the amount of fuel used and minimizing emissions in the forest.
3) Increased trail usag. A combination of high elevation and significant forest canopy allow Greenbush to maintain good snow conditions when surrounding areas can not. Several times per year, Greenbush can become a trail of regional destination for winter enthusiasts from Chicago to Green Bay to Stevens Point. The development of a youth ski program and amenities, such as a lighted ski trail and heated shelter, also bring the masses in.
4) The need to repair erosion and rutting caused by from mountain biking. A separate, more sustainable singletrack mountain bike trail was recently completed to prevent damage to either trail system in the future.
5) To make the trails friendlier and less challenging for novice skiers.
Securing project funding
Just because it's a great idea to renovate a trail system doesn't mean it's going to happen. The ski club needed to undertake the project but did not have the financial resources to implement a large-scale renovation. A few ski club members just wanted to rent a bulldozer and get it done. But permits and approvals are necessary to perform this type of project on state forest lands. With the cost estimated north of $25,000, the ski club explored the DNR Grant Programs to determine if there was funding sources to tap into.
Within the state grant funding streams, several programs held promise, including the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). After wide-ranging discussions with state agencies, Northern Kettle Moraine State Property Manager Jerry Leiterman and local DNR officials, the application for a $25,000 RTP matching grant was initiated. (See sidebar for state grant information.)
The Governor's State Trails Council (STC), on which the author serves, oversees the RTP funding rules. Several years ago most of the RTP funds went to large municipal projects. The STC lowered the maximum match from $200,000 to $45,000 in 2009.
"Many smaller projects are getting funded due to the rules change by the State Trails Council," DNR Grant Manager Tim Parsons said. "We went from funding six or seven projects annually to more than 40 this year. It's great for smaller organizations."
It took this author approximately 30 hours to complete the extensive application. The grant review and award process was very competitive with Greenbush competing with projects from towns, tribal units, counties and other 501c3 organizations. The ski club was awarded the grant in May, 2012. Work began in August.
Property Manager Leiterman said the ski club was an excellent RTP grant partner. "This unique public/private cooperative relationship has fostered a synergy that combines a 501c3 organization, private businesses, local citizenry and DNR accomplishing significant improvements in recreational facilities at Greenbush," he said. "I'm lucky to have the Kettle Moraine Ski Club as a partner."
As with any 501c3 project, several individuals take leadership roles to make it happen. A leadership team and project timeline were developed. The team included Jeff Welsch and Oyvind Solvang, volunteer coordinators Jim Hertel and Brian Hendriksen and financial manager Jerry Moriarity.
Welsch, the lead trail groomer and gearhead, is one of the few ski club members who can fix hydraulics in the field, repair almost anything mechanical or electrical as well as gut and field dress a deer with nary a knife. Welsch's skills "saved the day" many times over the course of the project.
The trail work involved
As the project hit full steam, it was invaluable to network with local businesses and contractors. The ski club was lucky to have Hillcrest Builders owner Oyvind Solvang as one of its members. Solvang loaned equipment to the ski club, which was able to be used as part of the RTP matching grant.
The project was a combination of regrading, rerouting and widening various sections of trail. Some areas need only needed a tree removed and minimal earth disturbance. Other areas necessitate more extensive work, using mechanized grading equipment to reprofile the trail tread, remove erosion tracts, flatten surfaces and cant the trail for a long-term sustainable surface.
Once tree removal and machining was complete, extensive manual labor was necessary to rake out and remove branches and sticks. Following the handwork component, grass was planted and the trail was mulched. Over 800 volunteer hours transformed the trail to its final state. The project was 90 percent complete by early December, just in time for a major snowfall.
A better trail system
It's become a better skiing experience, according to ski club board member Jerry Moriarty. "Skiers are pleased by the thoughtful, reconfigured trail portions that were updated for safety, drainage and maximization of snow conditions," he said. "This was accomplished without compromising the unique Greenbush experience. People will think they are better skiers this winter due to the natural trail flow."
Mike McFadzen enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, paddle sports, biking and running when his day job doesn't interfere. He serves on the Wisconsin Governor's State Trails Council, Friends of Wisconsin State Parks and the Sheboygan Nonmotorized Pilot Program. He lives in Greenbush, Wisconsin, with his wife, Karen, and dog, Woody.
Grant programs for trail projects
A variety of grant programs are available for trail and green space projects. These programs include: Knowles-Nelson Stewardship local assistance grant programs, Aids for the Acquisition and Development of Local Parks, Urban Green Space grants, Urban Rivers grants, Acquisition of Development Rights, Land and Water Conservation Fund and Recreational Trails Program (RTP).
The RTP Program is often the best fit for local trail building or renovation projects. Towns, villages, cities, counties, tribal governing bodies, school districts, state agencies, federal agencies or incorporated organizations are eligible to apply for funds.
Eligible grant projects include maintenance or restoration of existing trails, development or rehabilitation of trailside/trailhead facilities, and construction of new trails. Support facilities may also be grant eligible, including access roads, parking areas, camping facilities, support facilities for swimming, habitat restoration, shelter buildings and other features that enhance nature-based activities. Applications are typically due on May 1 each year.
Many of the grant programs must benefit a "Nature based-outdoor recreation" activity, specifically hiking, cross-country skiing, hunting and fishing. Other eligible activities include bicycling, wildlife/nature observation, camping, picnicking, canoeing and multi-use trail activities. Most grant programs are administered by the DNR or DOT.
Outdoor recreation lovers catered to in the Kettle Moraine
The Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest is located in southeastern Wisconsin in Fond du Lac, Sheboygan and Washington counties. The forest is located approximately 50 miles northeast of Milwaukee and within 100 miles of two million people.
The forest is consistently one of the most heavily used properties in the state park system, generating revenue in excess of $650,000. The 30,000-acre forest was established in 1937. The primary focus of the forest is outdoor recreation. Over 900,000 visitors travel to the forest each year have an opportunity to camp, hike, bike, ski, hunt, fish, snowmobile, horseback ride, swim, boat, tour the Ice Age Center, participate in interpretive programs and enjoy nature.
Two groomed ski trails, Greenbush and Zillmer, cater to thousands of skiers annually. Both have heated shelters. Greenbush's 2K Brown Loop is lighted for cross-country skiing. There are two singletrack mountain bike trail systems at Greenbush and New Fane. The state forest has a total of 133 miles of hiking, equestrian, biking, skiing and snowmobile trails. The trails provide an opportunity to access remote areas of the forest and to view spectacular displays of glacial landscape and forest scenery.