During last week, the first big snowfall obliterated the dormant landscape of Green Bay, thank God. People always find my excitement of an approaching snowstorm rather odd. I mean, after all, it leaves bad roads and physical labor in the form of shoveling in its wake. However, it also means freshly groomed trails, making cross-country skiing a must on my list. There are a few parks with ski and snowshoe trails in Brown County, and I’m off to venture these snowy forests for outdoor recreation.
I wake up and don my ski boots, with my skis already waiting in my car, and am out the door in a flurry. My first destination, in my tour of Brown County’s ski destinations, is what is known as the Reforestation Camp. I frequent this place most often.
Today, the parking lot is ridiculous, as cars are everywhere. The skate skiing portion of the park is very popular and attracts many, however, this is the busiest I’ve ever seen the park. I guess it really shouldn’t come as a surprise, being the first weekend opportunity for skiing this season. The trails are groomed for both traditional and the skate skiers, and many are lingering at the trailhead.
I start my trek, enjoying the burst of speed that is provided by the small hill at the head of the trail. The reforestation camp, as you probably have guessed, is heavily wooded. I take a short 1.8 mile loop, with slight hills and curves, winding my way through the sizeable trees in this great park.
I don’t ski competitively and probably would not win any awards if I did. I like traditional cross-country skiing because, to me, it’s an adventure. The forest seems quiet and, even with this many skiers using the facility, a source of solitude. With the NEW Zoo near the park, an added twist to your skiing quest can occur when, out of nowhere, the roar of a lion sounds against the bare trees.
The shelter is quite large here, having a gas fireplace and restrooms equipped with lockers. Inside the shelter, like the parking lot, the place is packed, filled with an excited buzz. I absolutely love it.
There are five trails here, ranging in skill from novice to advanced. A lighted 2.4 mile loop allows for some night skiing, as the Reforestation Camp is the only park that has lamps. Along with the ski trails, two snow shoe trails, both roughly a mile long, also course through the woodlands of the Reforestation Camp. I leave the Reforestation camp behind, immersing myself in a rustic atmosphere at the next ski/snowshoe facility. The Barkhausen Waterfowl Preserve offers some rather picturesque scenery, along with the feeling of being in an untouched natural setting. Yet, what I love about the place, besides the fact that they rent snowshoes, is that they have an actual fireplace and serve free hot cocoa.
I exit my car and inhale the sweet scent of wood smoke as it tickles my nostrils. I reach the trail head and am off, coursing over bridges and skimming the snow through divided pines. Here, the land is flat, accompanied with creeks and ponds, full of remnants of reeds and marshy grasses.
Skiing, if you’re curious, is an ancient mode of transportation, believed to have originated in Scandinavia over five millennia ago. Skis have aided in a variety of tasks, from hunting to military service. Naturally, skis found their way into the Midwest through Norwegian settlers. I realize that in yesteryear, the trails would not have been groomed by a machine, nor would I be on skis made with high-tech materials. Yet, being on this jaunt through the woods, I imagine those pioneer days as the smell of burning wood becomes stronger the closer I get to the rustic shelter.
If you have youngsters learning to ski, this would be the place to try it out. There is a trail that is only three-quarters of a mile long, very flat, yet scenic. An additional five trails range in distance from 2.25 to 4.75 miles, none are difficult. The big draw, at Barkhausen, is the snowshoeing. Yet, the skiing is just as satisfying.
At the shelter, one can rent snowshoes on the weekends from 12-3 pm. During the week, rentals are available during park hours, provided there is no event taking place, calling ahead is recommended. All rentals are on a first come first serve basis.
My last visit for the day is further south in a park known as Neshota. Here, the trails are not very long, yet, they can be difficult. The advanced trail features a monster of a hill, providing a thrill to the adventure. The trails, like the Reforestation Camp, are groomed for both traditional and skate skiing.
Trekking through this park is entertaining, while the Reforestation Camp was a rolling forest and Barkhausen was a flat, sometimes marshy, woodland, this place is littered with steep slopes. In places, the trail rides right on the ridge of one of these wooded hills.
However, the shelter leaves something to be desired. It is equipped with restrooms, but is simply a county park shelter. There is no fireplace or rustic charm, just a functional and serviceable building. Yet, the scenery is as picturesque as either of the first two parks I visited earlier.
With the cold flushing my cheeks, the crunch of the poles hitting the snow, the swishing of skis gliding over groomed trails, the quiet of a dense forest and the warmth only good exercise provides on a cold day, I am refreshed as I leave my final destination. For ages, humans have partaken in this activity and enjoyed the benefits. Whether out of sheer necessity or a recreational endeavor this sport or form of travel is still a vital part in many lives. I love the invigorating freedom I feel while striding alone in a spacious forest, nothing to hinder me except, maybe, myself.
Whatever reason you choose to ski, I hope that this proves informative if you are visiting or live in or near Brown County.