A short history of Blue Mound trail changes and MNSC’s attempts to influence them.

A short history of Blue Mound trail changes and MNSC’s attempts to influence them.

In 2013 the DNR park planners decided it was time to formulate a new master plan for Blue Mound State Park. They devised the changes they wanted to make in the park’s trail system and opened the proposed changes to public comment in 2014 with at least one open public meeting about them to be held in Mount Horeb. The proposed changes included alterations to a number of trails for mountain bikers, hikers, snowmobilers and cross country skiers.

Since the proposal included putting a new, official 1.4 mile snowmobile trail through the park following the existing roadside path, but on a new route in the trees and prairie to the east of the road that would require moving the current ski trail further east into the open, the plan caused much concern among MNSC members. Thus, the MNSC Board voted to officially register in opposition to the snowmobile and ski trail changes, and a letter was written to the Natural Resources Board (NRB) explaining why the club board felt moving the ski trail and putting skiers and snowmobilers in closer contact would greatly compromise the quality of skiing in the park. Machine noise and odors, safety concerns and reducing the quality of an important segment of the Pleasure Valley trail for skiers were among stated concerns.

The club’s letter was sent to DNR within the required timeline for consideration by the NRB (though there seems to be some uncertainty whether it was actually givern to them). In addition, several board members attended the public meeting, registered to speak and voiced strong opposition to the snowmobile trail route. A variety of other club members and local skiers also registered in opposition, either by email or by speaking in person at the meeting.

The club’s letter made it clear that it was not opposed to use of the park for other compatible recreational pursuits, but left no doubt that the proposed snowmobile route was unacceptable because of the reduced quality of XC skiing it would necessitate.

Despite this vocal opposition, the NRB voted in late 2014 [ed: 2015] to accept the trail changes as park planners had proposed them.

(In hindsight, it appears that no skiers or skier groups were contacted or consulted about the proposed trail changes as part of the planning process, even though other user groups were invited to participate by DNR–according to its own website. This is a shortcoming the board will try to remedy in the future.)

In 2016 the NRB re-opened it’s decision on the park plan for a variety of reasons (none of which likely predisposed the NRB to change its position), and again opened the plan for public input. The club’s board voted to re-send an updated version of its earlier letter [ed. see below], adding additional reasons for opposing the inclusion of the snowmobile route, and requiring assurance that its position would be considered by the NRB.

The club’s letter was sent directly to Laurie Ross at DNR, who replied officially that its contents would be shared with the NRB. No club board members were available this time to speak a new public meeting, but club members were advised to again register their comments with the NRB if they felt strongly enough about the issues to do so, and several members appeared in person in opposition to the snowmobile trail.

The NRB voted to uphold its original position in accepting all the trail changes proposed by its own planners, apparently thus ending any further official input on the issue by the club. However, the club’s board support’s efforts by the Trails Committee to contact both DNR officials and representatives of snowmobile groups to see if there might be mutually acceptable ways to minimize any negative effects on skier use of the park.

Brock Woods, Trails Chair

The following was submitted to the WDNR on 2016-12-16 by Brock Woods.

Comments to WDNR from Madison Nordic Ski Club on Proposed Trail Changes at Blue Mound State Park

The Madison Nordic Ski Club (MNSC) Board has carefully re-evaluated the proposed plan to construct a new, full sized snowmobile trail through Blue Mound State Park. As a ski club MNSC must advocate for the best ski trails and experiences it can, and since the club’s Board, based in large part on opinions from club members, believes this trail will reduce the quality of XC skiing in the park, the club’s position on this has changed from being neutral to opposing construction of the newly proposed snowmobile trail.

The club truly does not wish to reduce the fun of other winter sportspeople, but when there are uses that conflict as we believe these do, it must favor skiing. This is especially true for one of the few, truly wonderful, classic XC ski venues in southern Wisconsin.

Clearly, the clean air, quiet, and wildlife qualities of the park will be reduced by increased snowmobile traffic across the park, and these are aspects of skiing there that are highly valued by our club members. In addition, the new snowmobile trail will require moving the Pleasure Valley ski trail into less desirable terrain more exposed to wind and sun, thus subject to poorer snow conditions and likely shorter time of use. And while we know that DNR will do all it can to keep all users as safe as possible, allowing snowmobiles to travel at speed through the park will reduce safety for skiers, especially families with children, using the same area.

There may be factors besides ski conflicts that argue against this expanded snowmobile route of convenience through the park, but we leave it to individuals to elaborate on them if they choose to do so. Our concern as the Board of MNSC is to make the highest quality ski trails and experiences possible among our highest priorities. Given the current special–and fragile–nature of this park for very large numbers of skiers, we believe these should be at the top of your winter priorities there, as well.

Blue Mound State Park is one of the most highly sought venues for XC skiing in southern Wisconsin and is both used very extensively and well supported by our club members and other skiers. Thus, the club must regretfully oppose other uses that will reduce its stature as a real ski mecca, including the proposed new snowmobile route.

Thank you for the opportunity to make our carefully chosen position known, and have it considered, as you decide on the best uses of this state park gem.

Madison Nordic Ski Club Board, December 15, 2015

(submitted for the Board by Brock Woods, MNSC Trails Committee Chair, 608-225-5858, 13 Winterset Circle, Madison, WI 53717)