Myth number 1: Cross-country skiing is only for the superfit. Wimps need not apply.
Myth number 2: Lycra is the uniform of choice.
Myth number 3: The sport requires huge tracts of forestland, with trails stretching dozens and dozens of kilometers.
False, false and once again, false.
Members of the blues crew are not superfit, rarely venture more than a few miles into the woods, and certainly never don Lycra, or any of that other super compressiony-clothing that makes everyone who wears it look like a badly stuffed summer sausage.
But we do love skiing, and we can do it very close to home.
Tucked away on Antigo’s northeast side, not even a sneeze’s distance from the fairgrounds, is the tidiest little ski complex imaginable—the Antigo Lake Trail.
“Embracing the four seasons of northern Wisconsin allows for varied recreational opportunities, experiences, and constant discovery,” Sarah Repp, the city’s recreational guru, says. “ The ski trail provides a seasonal recreational activity with the opportunity to experience and discover the beauty of our community.”
A bit of history first. The trail traverses what was once known as the “Northern Natural Area,” a sort-of playground for the community’s youth for decades. That informal tag took on an official note in 1999, when Dan Kretz gifted it to the city during his time as chief of Kretz Lumber Company. Dan had bought the 34 acres from Fred Mattes as a possible home site but discovered the area was best accessed by hiking boots (or skis).
With help from the Department of Natural Resources and naturalists such as Joe Jopek, who has likely named all the trees out there by now, the area was developed into parkland. Old overgrown paths were reclaimed, and concrete pilings recycled from their long-ago use as water barriers were turned into bases for the two bridges that cross the serpentining Spring Brook.
The city’s boardwalk, funded largely through grants, connected the area to Lake Park and downtown and soon people were grabbing their bikes and hiking boots, their sneakers and their jogging strollers, and flocking into the area.
Skiing was added later.
“The ski trail was originally developed after observing the popularity and high use of the trail during the warmer months,” Repp says. “Initially, a cooperative agreement was drafted between the city and the county to assist with grooming the trail. The first couple years consisted of different trail combinations, loops, grooming techniques, and snow removal that eventually evolved into the trail that exists today. We now have just over two miles of groomed and tracked trail north of the boardwalk.”
A mid-December meltdown, which flipped to bone-cracking cold, kept the trail dormant for much of December, and lack of snow did not allow for the tracks so beloved by most recreational skiers to be set until the last several days.
But now the loops are in perfect shape.
Access to the little trail is available from Byrne Street, the dead-end of Virginia Street or behind North Elementary School.
Once there, slap on your skinnies and enjoy one, two or all three of the loops, varying from half-a-mile to almost a mile in length. For more distance, do a few figure-eights or reverse directions to get a whole different feel for the same territory.
There’s a great little water crossing via a wooden bridge constructed by members of the Rotary Club this past summer, a loop around the camping site for the Stumble Stump Rendezvous just east of North Elementary School and a spur that goes across Spring Brook near the old Rath swimming hole that dates to the 1930s, an early draw to the area.
Skiers almost always have smiles on their faces—except maybe for those churlish Birkie elite whom legend has it will stab at an opposing racer’s bindings—and happily share sections of the trail with others. A mix of walkers, hikers and maybe even cyclists, since the city keeps the boardwalk and paved portions of the trail complex relatively snow-free, regularly use the system.
There are a couple of deer and fawns nearly tame enough to touch who make the area their home. On the domestic side of things, three shelties regularly romp with their owner, friendly, a bit yappy and very rambunctious.
The trails are relatively flat, which can be very good or somewhat bad depending on your outlook. They won’t provide a heart-pounding workout, and you’ll make yourself dizzy by the time you finish enough loops to tally a pre-Birkie workout distance. Those with podium aspirations best look elsewhere.
“The two-mile trail allows for easy access for those wishing to ski a couple loops after work or school,” Repp says. “The close proximity to local elementary schools allow teachers an affordable opportunity to expose our youth to the winter sports, recreational activities, and wildlife viewing. We invite snowshoers and only ask that they stay just off to the side of the groomed areas of the trail.”
There are future plans as well, Repp adds.
“We plan to complete construction of a second bridge in the summer of 2015,” she says. The bridge will replace one that no longer provides passage or a good connection to the existing trail system. The original bridge was placed well over 10 years ago and was one of the first tangible pieces of a vision that is now the Spring Brook Trail system.”
If you want to enjoy a jaunt on your lunch hour or after work, or teach youngsters (or oldsters for that matter) the joy of cross-country skiing, they are perfect.
Beating the Blues in Antigo is a limited-term feature examining how to enjoy the wintertime at home, without even leaving the city limits. Stay tuned because over the next few weeks, the blues crew will be snowshoeing, sledding, ice fishing and maybe even trying a hand at pickleball. For comments or suggestions, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.