MARQUETTE - Officials of the Blueberry Ridge Ski Trails have kicked off the new year with updated grooming equipment and progress in fundraising efforts to construct a warming hut on the south side of the lighted loop parking lot.
Blueberry Ridge, located six miles south of the city of Marquette off M-553, has been a well-known destination for outdoor recreation enthusiasts for more than 30 years. During the spring, summer and fall months the trails cater to hikers, runners and walkers. It's the winter months, though, that produce the most traffic, when cross-country skiers take to the trails.
"Throughout the summer it's a tenth of what they get during the winter," said Doug Barry, a park supervisor with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which owns and grooms Blueberry Ridge.
Laura Ferris of Marquette is shown cross-country skiing the Blueberry Ridge Trails near the Cross Roads on M-553 recently. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
A trail sign for the Blueberry Ridge Ski Trails. The route includes 12 miles of trail. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
A sign located on the trail indicates where the Blueberry Ridge Warming Project building will be built. Members of the Superiorland Ski Club are currently working to raise funds with hopes to break ground on the project sometime in the next year. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Barry said in order to continue recreational activity on the trails during this time of year, the trails must be well-maintained. In previous years, a grooming contract had been used. This year, however, the DNR will handle the grooming and have recently acquired a top-of-the-line machine, known as a Ginsu Groomer.
According to Barry, the machine is 108 inches wide. Although the DNR is maintaining the trail, Barry said a number of people from the community and volunteer groups work closely with the DNR to contribute to the trails in any way they can. Once there is enough snow, the trails are groomed regularly.
And while there is no set amount of snowfall that qualifies the trails to be groomed, so far this year there has not been enough snow to warrant grooming.
"We need more snow," Barry said. "A lot of people are out on the trails, and while it's going quite well, like the snowmobilers, we wish we had more snow."
Updated machinery isn't the only thing happening at Blueberry Ridge right now. Efforts by the Superiorland Ski Club to construct a warming hut, which would be located on the south side of the lighted loop parking lot, have made steady progress. To date, the club has raised $65,000 toward the project.
According to Superiorland member Debby Muskovitch, who is a co-chairwoman of the Blueberry Ridge Warming Project along with Pam Fjeldheim, the idea for a warming building has been discussed for years. Since launching the idea into action, the club has been applying for grants and making appeals to local citizens and businesses to help fundraise.
"When you're out there in the winter you need a place to stay warm, change clothes and meet people," Muskovitch said.
She noted that often kids who partake in ski club youth programs are waiting in the cold to be picked up after skiing. She added that the club has been making presentations to service groups and government groups and many people have come forward to volunteer time and interest in constructing the building.
They have also been working with Northern Michigan University construction and design classes to create ideas. In addition, Cleveland Cliffs Natural Resources Foundation recently donated $40,000.
"We have had great support, from $25 donations up to several thousands," Muskovitch said. "It's great to see a lot of people making even small donations to want to see this project happen."
The warming hut is modeled after the Nara Chalet on the Michigan Tech trail system in Houghton.
Those who would like to donate toward the project may do so by sending donations to the Blueberry Ridge Warming Hut Account, care of River Valley Bank, 1140 W. Washington St., Marquette, Mich., 49855. A donation box is also located on the trail branching from the Blueberry Ridge Foundation lit-loop parking lot.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.