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Blazing new trails?

LAKE OF THE WOODS — Outdoor groups are working with national forest officials in hopes of increasing winter recreation opportunities, especially groomed trails for cross-country skiers.

Lake of the Woods resort owner George Gregory said he'd been talking with a local ski club about creating groomed cross-country ski trails around his resort and Fish Lake on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Agency officials met with ski and snowmobile enthusiasts last week about the possibilities.

"This was the first time we had representatives from both sides of the mountain," Gregory said after the meeting.

"I'm learning to deal with the government. ... There's so many hoops to loop through. We've been asking for two years to make improvements to get more people up here in the winter."

The meeting included representatives from the Fremont-Winema and the Rogue River-Siskiyou national forests, Lake of the Woods and Fish Lake resorts, Klamath Basin Snowdrifters, Rogue Snowmobile Club, Oregon State Snowmobile Association, Klamath Basin Ski Club, Klamath Trails Association and Southern Oregon Nordic Club.

Klamath Basin Ski Club president Niel Barrett and Ed Beverly represented both the ski club and Klamath Trail Association, while Stefanie Ferrara and Michael Dawkins represented the Southern Oregon Nordic Club.

"We'd just like to get our foot in the door where one small area would be groomed," Barrett said, referring to creating a designated, nonmotorized cross-country ski trail.

Nordic skiers want "a place where people can come and park and ski and feel safe," Ferrara said.

Possible routes include a milelong trail for beginners between Lake of the Woods Resort and Sunset Campground, and the existing Billie Creek Trail for more advanced skiers. The Billie Creek route would require skiers to share part of the groomed trail used by snowmobilers to reach the trail junction.

Dan Riblett, Klamath Basin Snowmobilers president, said signage would be needed to inform snowmobilers not to use designated cross-country ski trails.

Heather Berg, district ranger for the Fremont-Winema's Klamath Ranger District, and Anthony Benedetti, the forest's recreation specialist, said the cost of creating new cross-country ski trails, especially those designed for classic and skate skiers, could prove prohibitive and require a lengthy environmental review or environmental impact statement process. Making improvements to existing trails, such as by removing hazard trees and other measures to widen trails, can be done for less expense and with fewer procedures.

Berg said grooming can be done on all designated cross-country ski trails. Obstacles include providing funding for a groomer, fuel and driver. Ferrara said the nordic club has a groomer at Hyatt Lake that is co-owned by the club and Bureau of Land Management. BLM, however, does not permit it off BLM lands. No BLM representatives were at the meeting.

Possibilities of establishing a fee system to use Lake of the Woods-Fish Lake winter recreation sites, similar to charges for Oregon Snow Park passes, were discussed to help pay costs. It was suggested that seasonal and day-use fees might be charged.

Ed Beverly, representing the Klamath Trails Alliance and Klamath Basin Ski Club, offered to set up a meeting with him, Gregory and Jim Chadderdon of Discover Klamath to see whether a tourism grant might be available to help pay for cross-country trail track setting equipment, maintenance and other costs. Beverly said groomed trails might encourage more overnight stays at Lake of the Woods Resort and in the Klamath Basin and Rogue Valley.

"The ski clubs really do support us," Gregory said after the meeting. The resort is open Friday through Sunday during the winter. Calling the winter season "break-even at the best," he said the resort and area are "packed on snowy weekends, but if we don't have the right conditions nobody shows up."

Snowmobile representatives said the highest priority for their groomed trails on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest are in the Fish Lake area, while the top priorities on the Fremont-Winema include Pelican Butte and Lake of the Woods. Grooming efforts, club officers said, have sometimes been stalled because Forest Service personnel, especially on the Rogue River-Siskiyou, have not been available to approve the removal of hazard trees blocking trails.

In response to a question about places where snowmobiles can be used, Berg said they can be "over the snow" on nondesignated trails. She and others noted a growing cooperation between shared use of trails and facilities by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers and urged groups to use challenge cost-share agreements to advance projects. It was noted the regularly groomed snowmobile trail from Highway 140 to Fourmile Lake is used by snowmobilers along with cross-country skiers, snowshoers and fat-tire bicyclists.

"I think," Berg said, "there's a lot of benefit to us all by working together."

— Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.

Ice forms on Lake of the Woods on Tuesday. Local winter recreation enthusiasts are hoping to create more groomed trails for skiers around the lake and nearby Fish Lake as well. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]