We Should All Get Along at Blue Mound

I’m a silent sports guy. I ride a bike, I kayak, I hike, I fly fish, I hunt. And I cross country ski. A lot. It’s probably my favorite sport.

So, you would think that I’d be with those fighting a snowmobile trail in Blue Mound State Park, my favorite place to ski anywhere. Well, not so much.

In truth, I do wish that this trail wouldn’t happen. Snowmobiles create unwelcome noise and odor. But user conflicts on public lands are as old as parks themselves. For those of us who love these places, we’ve got to figure out how to coexist. And to do that we have to be reasonable.

And I’m not sure the opponents of the snowmobile trail are being reasonable. Take a moment to study the map above, which I’ve clipped from this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal.

At the bottom of the map you’ll see a long blue line in an arc. That’s an existing snowmobile trail that is just feet outside the park and runs parallel to a long stretch of the ski trail, which is marked in brown. I’ve skied that section countless times in the last 30 years or so and I’ve seen snowmobiles on it maybe an average of two or three times a year. And when I do see (and hear and smell) them, it lasts an instant. They go fast.

My point is that, while I don’t like their intrusion, it’s really not that big a deal. If I spend two hours skiing, maybe I’ll have to deal with snowmobiles a total of 30 seconds or so — and on most trips to Blue Mound I don’t see any at all.

Now direct your attention to the right side of the map. There you’ll see a dark blue line. That’s the proposed new trail, which would actually cut through the park and link two existing snowmobile trails. Note its proximity to the brown line, which is the existing Pleasure Valley Loop of the ski trail network. You can see how much more separated it is then the existing trails are on the south side of the park.

So, if I don’t find the existing point of contact with a snowmobile trail (which is very close) to be especially bothersome, why should I be concerned about the new one (which is much more separated)?

Let me reiterate that I’d rather the new trail didn’t go in. It will, in fact, create some noise I’d rather not hear. But again, it’s a question of being reasonable. Snowmobilers have as much right to our public lands as silent sports users like me.

Now, it’s fair to point out that my impacts can’t compare to those of snowmobilers. I make no noise and create no odors. My impacts on other users and on the resource are much lighter. But I don’t feel superior. People just like to experience the outdoors in different ways.

It comes down to a question of degree and a question of tolerance. If we were talking about snowmobiles darting all through the park, I’d join those who were fighting this. But we’re not. We’re talking about a relatively small intrusion. I can tolerate it in the interests of harmony among my fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

I need to note that that map I clipped comes from a story that describes charges that the DNR threatened to end an agreement with a friends group unless they dropped their lawsuit over the trail. If that’s the case — and there appears to be ample evidence of it — then the DNR is wrong to have done that.

But administrative heavy-handedness doesn’t change the facts on the ground. Where there are real conflicts that are worth the fight, I’m grateful that groups step up to represent the interests of silent sports. But some things just don’t rise to the level of a fight. The Blue Mound trail dust up is one of those things.

What’s at work here is the Universal Problem With Activists. Activists are people who are passionate and focused. In that world, to be reasonable, to compromise with your foes, is to be seen as weak or, worse, to be a traitor to the cause. The trouble with American politics today is that we have too many activists.

Silent sports users and motorized users need to find ways to work together and to form a united front, so that we can expand outdoor recreational opportunities for everyone. We need to avoid needless fights like this one.

Welcome to the 246th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

5 thoughts on “We Should All Get Along at Blue Mound

  1. “I make no noise and create no odors. My impacts on other users and on the resource are much lighter. But I don’t feel superior.”

    I don’t know about that. I’m a cross country skier, and if I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that my sense of superiority can be pretty impactful. Have you ever heard cross country skiers talk about their sport? We’re insufferable.

    Our well deserved arrogance has many sources.

    Tradition – No sport, except possibly javelin throwing, has such a long and elemental lineage. Cross country skiing developed as a Norse hunting method. Think about that: hunting, wild animals, before gunpowder, on skis. And later it was a leisure activity of Vikings. Say no more. Oh, but why not? The braided beards perfected the craft of honing pine boards into skis, and they passed their skill from generation to generation. Their expertise is evidenced in the names of modern ski manufacturers, like Peltonen, Madshus, and Karhu. Tradition!

    Weather – Also a factor in our superiority. We like it cold. The colder, the better. Cold snow is soft and quick. If your lungs are seizing the first quarter mile, it’s a good day. And yet, despite the cold, we pride ourselves in minimal clothing, nearly as thin as our skis. We don’t need insulation. We work to keep warm.

    Virtue – No motorized sport can hold a moral candle to any silent sport. Does this need elaboration? Skis have no exhaust and no cup holder. Cross country skiing requires physical stamina and balance. Hell, it requires physical effort, period. More by far than our downhill skiing cousins. We don’t just point our skis and let gravity do the work. We propel ourselves. And of course, we have no lifts. No padded chair ferries us in a seated, resting position to the top of the hill. If we encounter a hill, we ski up it.

    Guts and Valor – “Cross country” is a misnomer. We don’t simply traverse. We go all over. We can, because unlike downhill skis, which are bound firmly to a boot, our skinny skis are pinned to our boots, just at the toe end, such that our skis flap elegantly as we glide along. And just as we’re superior going up, we’re superior going down. We court disaster with every descent. Cross country skis have no edges to grip the snow. Slowing down is just a figure of speech, and stopping is not an option. Like storks on ice, we descend hills at breakneck speeds knowing that a fall will result in a pinwheel of arms, legs, boards, and poles. Cross country skiers merely shrug at this. When the horns of Valhalla blow, you don’t worry about falling.

    So, yeah, I will cop to producing some odor occasionally, but only because I’m superior.


  2. Finally someone that sees the issue for what it is… Don’t tell me cross country skiing is a silent, environmentally friendly sport. How many miles do we skiers travel in a car to get to the trails, how many hours are snowmobiles used to groom those trails, how many snacks and gel pack wrappers are “thrown away” as we ski and what is used to wash those sweaty outfits after we drive back home. Dave, you nailed it, this is a “your not playing in my sandbox” moment. Be happy to be alive and flexible to let others pursue their sport of choice during this brief lifetime we have.


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