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Hartman Creek wins state award

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Hartman Creek State Park's single-track mountain bike trail system has turned into one of the park's popular attractions. The park's 10 miles of trails has won a Gold Star Award from the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks as the best state park property for single-track mountain biking. Greg Seubert Photo

Bike trail took six years to build

By Greg Seubert

Hartman Creek State Park has made its mark as a popular camping, hiking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding destination for years.

Mountain biking can be added to that list as well.

The park recently received a Gold Seal Award from the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks as the best state park system property for single-track mountain biking.

Darrin Mann, a member of the Cronies Trail Crew that designed, built and maintains the 10-mile-long trail system, was on hand Nov. 10 for the award presentation at the Monona Terrace in Madison. Other Cronies Trail Crew members, members of the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park and park superintendent Jerrod Kehring also attended.

“It’s validating,” said Mann, a park technician with the Waupaca County Parks and Recreation Department. “When we started the project in 2006, there was no doubt in our minds that the trail was going to be successful. When we initially built it, we knew for certain that it wasn’t energy wasted. We knew it was going to be popular. The award adds a little more excitement to the whole project.”

It took six years to build the trail system, which includes beginner, intermediate and advanced loops.

“We had a magic number of 10 miles in our head,” Mann said. “There was kind of a common understanding that it would be an attractive number for someone who was to travel and spend a day there. It was enough to justify the travel time.”

Mann’s group needed a place for a mountain bike trail and the 1,500-acre park had available space.

“The whole process started with a proposal,” he said. “We sat down with the park and at that time we became involved with the Friends of Hartman Creek. A few of us became board members and I am still today. Hartman Creek was really the only place in the area that has that volume of property. We built it with the beginner and intermediate in mind with an emphasis for the trail system to be geared toward them. That has added to the popularity of the trail.”

The trail system is located on the park’s south side, away from the campground and beach area.

The Cronies group has spent the last six years maintaining the trail.

“We put a couple hundred hours in every year just to maintain the trail,” Mann said. “That’s downed trees and some rerouting where the erosion may be really bad. The hilly terrain is more likely to erode with heavy rains. Even though there are special techniques and methods to utilize while incorporating this trail in hilly sections, it’s not the traffic that erodes the trail. It’s the rain and it was bad this year.

“It is easier to maintain the easy sections, but trees fall everywhere,” he said. “It doesn’t favor the beginner, intermediate or advanced. Where heavy erosion has occurred, we’ve had to do some reroutes, making the trail less vulnerable to erosion.”

This is the second year in a row that the trail system has won an award for the park. Last year, the park was named best park for winter recreation.

“We’ve now made it a year-round destination because we groom for winter fat biking as well,” Mann said. “This trail has actually won two Gold Seal awards for the park.”

Volunteers maintain the trail during the winter.

“We’re out there after every snowfall with the groomer,” Mann said. “It requires grooming and an occasional touch-up if we don’t get snowfall for quite some time. We’ll go out there and repack it.

“It’s a unique experience out there in the winter,” he added. “You have the park to yourself. We always encourage people that if you’re going to get a bicycle to get a fat tire bicycle because they can utilize it year-round. There are more people that fat bike than ski out there. The whole profile of the park has changed, even during the winter. There is still skiing available to the public, but you’re going to see a lot more bikes on the back of cars than skis.”

Mann said most of the trail’s users come from out of the area.

“It’s mostly outsiders, people from the Valley,” he said. “I would be willing to bet the locals are a minority out there. Over the past 12-plus years, seeing a bicycle in the campsites is now a common occurrence. Years ago, it wasn’t. It’s certainly altered the profile of the park as a whole. The campground itself is always busy and it was before the mountain bike trail. I think the overall user group of the park has changed with an emphasis on the desire to mountain bike.”

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, Hartman Creek and Blue Mounds are the only state parks with designated mountain bike trails. Several other state parks – Copper Falls, Devil’s Lake, Governor Dodge, High Cliff, Kohler-Andrae, Lake Wissota, Mirror Lake, Newport, Peninsula, Potawatomi, Wyalusing and Yellowstone Lake – have off-road bike trails.

Mann hasn’t visited those other trails.

“I don’t travel anymore,” he said. “All my free time is spent out at the park maintaining this trail. I’m going to ride it, too, because it’s in our backyard. I’m not going to pack up and travel. If you go to other parks, I don’t think you’ll find 10 miles of trail available to bikes. It’s substantially less.”

The East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission assisted with a county-wide trail survey a few years ago.

“We put counters on what we perceived to be the most popular trails in Waupaca County,” Mann said. “This single-track is the most highly used in the county. I think we were getting 20 to 30 users per hour. When the results of the trail counters were presented, that’s when we were taken back a little bit.”

That means riders can expect to run into company on the trail at times.

“You certainly have to stay on your toes on weekends,” Mann said. “You have to slow your speed down a little bit. It takes about an hour to do a full loop, maybe two hours, depending on your abilities. You’re going to run into 15, 20, 25 people in that hour.”

Expansion could be in the trail system’s future plans.

Or maybe not.

“We would definitely entertain expansion,” Mann said. “However, for those involved now, 10 miles is where we want to be and still have time for our personal lives. It’s not easy to volunteer at the park. It requires a lot of certification and training. You can’t just go in with a chain saw. You have to be certified in chain saw safety and you have to sign waivers.

“Expansion would be nice,” he said. “It would thin your interactions a little, but there haven’t been any accidents out there. It’s been a nice balance in terms of popularity and distance. You can always say you want more, but you have to be realistic. I’d love to see 25, 30 miles of trails out there, but we don’t have the volunteerism to provide top-shelf trails to the public.”

The public had a chance earlier this year to select Gold Seal Award winners in several different categories.

The Friends of Wisconsin State Parks runs the award program each year to highlight Wisconsin’s state parks, trails and forests.

This year’s other winners are:

• Best state park system property for eagle watching: Wyalusing State Park.

• Best state park waterfall: Copper Falls State Park.

• Best state park system property for stand-up paddle boarding: Mirror Lake State Park.

• Best state park system property for school trip presentations: Richard Bong State Recreation Area.

• Best state park system beach: Peninsula State Park.

• Best dog-friendly state park system property: Gov. Thompson State Park.

• Best rock formations at a state park system property: Devils Lake State Park.

• Best state park system group camping area: Council Grounds State Park.

• Best rails-to-trails trail in the state park system: Elroy–Sparta State Trail.

Several people can share in Hartman Creek’s award, according to Mann.

“We’ve had just under 100 total volunteers from all over the state who have helped us out,” he said. “We’ve had a core of about a half-dozen people that have been consistently involved through the whole project.

”This award should be shared with everybody who held a tool and contributed money to the Friends of Hartman Creek to park staff,” he said. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be as successful. It took everybody to make this happen.”

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