If you go to Norway Ridge or Chippewa Hills pathways this winter, the Thunder Bay Trails Association has just one favor to ask: leave the groomed ski tracks for the cross country skiers.
The association's groomer leaves a pair of parallel grooves in the snowy paths, one for each ski. But hikers and snowshoers have been repeatedly trampling these twin ruts, ruining hours of volunteer work by association members, volunteer groomer Ron Anderson said.
There are signs asking other trail users to be courteous, but there's no rule or law preventing people from walking on these groomed ski tracks, Department of Natural Resources Unit Supervisor Eric Ostrander said. He's based at Harrisville State Park and manages the two pathways. Nevertheless, he's asking hikers and other trail users to be courteous.
"It takes (TBTA) a lot of time and cost to set these groomed paths," he said.
That cost isn't being covered by the Department of Natural Resources, Ostrander said. Instead, the TBTA is paying to fuel the snowmobile it uses to drag the groomer, and its own members are volunteering to groom the trails.
"It disappoints (the groomers) that within a day, they'll go back out there and the groomed path has been knocked back down," he said.
Ostrander and Anderson aren't the only two frustrated by people trampling the ski tracks. Gretchen Kruse also has her concerns. She's a frequent visitor to Norway Ridge and often sees the damage other users do to the ski tracks.
"I wish people could just be considerate," she said. "Now that they have one track instead of two, there's plenty of room to walk."
Kruse likely wouldn't go to Norway Ridge if it weren't for the groomed trails, she said. The groomed tracks are packed fairly well, and when they've been damaged it can be difficult to ski in them.
But don't get the impression Ostrander doesn't want hikers, snowshoers and other users on the trails. It's quite the opposite: Both he and Anderson, along with other TBTA members, are pleased to see how popular the trails are, and Anderson recalled talking to one visitor who comes up every winter from Lansing to use the area trails.
Rather, Ostrander and TBTA members want other users to keep to one side. The groomer leaves one pair of ruts on one side of the trail, and other users should have enough room to avoid the ski tracks without having to walk in deep snow.
Anderson said the TBTA runs on donations and membership dues. Those interested in donating or getting involved can visit the website: www.thunderbaytrails.org/
Employees at P.H. Hoeft State Park are hearing similar complaints about footprints in the groomed ski tracks, Karen Schulte, administrative support, said. The park now has its own groomer to maintain paths in its own park, as well as at Thompson's Harbor State Park and Ocqueoc Falls. Unlike the ski trails maintained by TBTA, these three in Presque Isle County are being paid for with DNR money out of Hoeft State Park's budget.
Those who want to support grooming operations at these locations can do so by donating at drop pipes or the Hoeft park office, Schulte said. Donors can look for the yellow envelopes near the drop pipe and check the box designating how they want their donations used.
"If they say, 'We want this $20 to go to trails, for maintenance of trails for future sking,' that's exactly where we're going to put it," she said. "We set up accounts through the Lansing office for us. It's not going to go to any other state park, or for new filing cabinets in Lansing. It's going to stay here for that."