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Friday, 20 January 2017 11:02

Go cross country on Stateline-area ski trails

Written by  Todd Mishler
Chellee Palan Wamboldt breaks in a new pair of skis in December while cross country skiing on the grounds of Blackhawk Golf Course in Janesville. Chellee Palan Wamboldt breaks in a new pair of skis in December while cross country skiing on the grounds of Blackhawk Golf Course in Janesville. Anthony Wahl/Gazettextra.com

STATELINE NEWS -- Chuck Lewis has owned the same pair of wood skis for 40 years and wouldn’t dream of giving them, or his favorite pastime, up.

Not to mention, Lewis lives on Turtle Creek and enjoys easy access to cross-country skiing trails that snake through the flood plain in Beloit.

“All I have to do is walk out my backdoor and I’m there,” said Lewis, who also has gone downhill skiing in such places as Utah and Colorado with his wife, Julie, and/or their three children. “I also seek out trails at Rockport Park in Janesville, the ones in the Kettle Moraine or Rock Cut State Park (Loves Park). We have great groomed trails within 30 miles of home.”

Dozens of Stateline residents would agree, so they take advantage of area trails whenever Mother Nature cooperates.

Other popular venues in Rock County include Big Hill Park in Beloit, Riverside Park in Janesville, Carver-Roehl near Clinton and Magnolia Bluff south of Evansville, while the Duck Pond Recreation Area in Fontana and Big Foot Beach State Park, White River County Park and Geneva National in Lake Geneva are top destinations in Walworth County.

David Hoffman knows all about area trails from a personal and professional perspective because he’s an avid skier and the community coordinator for the Rock County Parks Division.

“In the Rock County park system there is good skiing at Happy Hollow for beginners, Gibbs Lake for the intermediate skiers and Magnolia Bluff for those more advanced,” said the Indiana native who attended Carroll University in Waukesha. “These trails are unfortunately not groomed but are still used by many to make their own tracks and avoid some of the other busier areas that see more skiing pressure. These are also great parks for snowshoeing, along with Carver-Roehl.

“These parks offer many miles of scenic trails that represent some of the most picturesque landscapes Rock County has to offer,” Hoffman added. “I believe Rockport Park and Riverside in Janesville offer good trails for all experience levels.”

Hoffman started cross-country skiing in college while doing research on tracking wolves and lynx in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota for the DNR, but he has grown to appreciate what southeastern Wisconsin has to offer.

“While starting out with the DNR, I would groom the ski trails at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield and Kettle Moraine State Forest Southern Unit trails, where the team won the Best Groomed State Trails award several years in a row. The Nordic trails in the town of La Grange offer more miles that are nicely groomed, with trails ranging from easy or novice to technical for the advanced skier.”

That would describe Anita Heinz and her husband, Gerald, who were married in 1988 and have lived in the same house near Geneva Lake for 29 years, which also means it’s a short jaunt to Big Foot Beach.

“I started skiing when I met my husband in 1983,” said Heinz, who also snowshoes occasionally. “I’ve done downhill, but I fell in love with cross country. It’s such great exercise and so fun. It works so well for us. It’s so beautiful in this part of the country. Sometimes I just stop and say, ‘Oh God … I love it.”

The Heinzes have participated in the American Birkebeiner and their three twentysomething sons are avid downhillers, having visited Indianhead (Michigan) and Devil’s Head (Merrimac, Wisconsin) as well as Steamboat Springs and other destinations in Colorado. But they first blazed trails in Walworth County.

“Our kids are unbelievable skiers, and they started right here at the hill at Grand Geneva, where they went almost every night,” Heinz said. “They were on the ski team (at Badger High School) and spent a lot of time at Alpine Valley.”

However, their parents usually tackle flatter surfaces.

“As long as you don’t fall, it’s an awesome sport … people cross country ski into their 80s,” said Heinz, who has been a hair dresser for 33 years but also works part time at ClearWater Outdoor in Lake Geneva. “We’ve been up to the Manitowish Waters area, but the Kettle Moraine is only 25 to 30 minutes away. We often ski on the Nordic trails and have lunch at the General Store (in LaGrange).”

Two people who deserve a lot of credit for making skiing so enjoyable for others, at least in Rock County, are Lee Rooker and Rich Bostwick.

Rooker and his wife are Chicago natives who moved to Beloit when he began a 32-year teaching career at Lincoln Junior High. They remained in the city until moving to Pewaukee to be closer to their children a couple of years ago.

However, Rooker, 71, returns to Beloit often because he still maintains the trails in the city and at Big Hill.

“Weather and snow conditions dictate how often the trails can be groomed, but if we have good snow and cold, and conditions remain doable, I am down once or twice a week to groom or re-groom to keep the trails nice.”

Passage of Act 10 allowed the city to hire Rooker as a seasonal employee, and skiers and walkers couldn’t be happier with his efforts.

“I work for Brian Ramsey, Mark Edwards and Mark Young … they do so much to make it possible for me to get this job done,” said Rooker, who spends six or seven hours getting the five venues in tip-top shape. “Without them I would not be able to do this service and Beloit probably would be without groomed trails because city crews would find it hard to find the time.”

Meanwhile, Bostwick is a lifelong Janesville resident and Janesville Craig and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater graduate. He has been with the Friends of Rockport Park for 15 years, the last 10 as the organization’s president.

The group is scheduled to host its biggest fundraiser, a candlelight ski on Feb. 4; if there isn’t enough good skiing snow at Rockport, the event will become a hike.

“It’s been a popular event for us,” Bostwick said. “People are asked to donate a freewill offering, and it’s been one of our best fundraisers. We use proceeds for gas and grooming equipment. It took us a long time to raise the funds, but in the past few years we’ve purchased a new snowmobile and a used tracker … it’s made things a lot easier, faster, better and safer.”

He and five other members rotate the trail grooming tasks, which covers more than six miles of trails at Rockport.

Add them up, and the Stateline offers dozens of miles of excellent skiing and creates just as many memories for resident skiers.

Lewis, 57, is a Twin Cities native who has been an English professor at Beloit College for 13 years, returning to the Upper Midwest for its many wintertime outdoor opportunities after a seven- or eight-year stint in Missouri.

“I wanted to get back into the Snow Belt,” Lewis said. “I had older brothers who were really into skiing back in the 1970s … I got my first set of skis when I was in middle school. I was pretty active in everything in high school, downhill, hockey and moved into speed skating. But I caddied to make money and there were a lot of golf courses in the Twin Cities, which meant quite a network of trails for skiing.”

For Lewis, not much matches the experience of being on skis and enjoying nature.

“It provides great aerobic exercise and keeps me active,” he said. “I’ve always liked cold weather, and I’ll take being outside anytime. It’s a lot like riding a bike in that there’s a certain cadence to cross-country skiing.”

Bostwick also is a longtime, avid skier.

“I started back in the 1970s when some friends suggested it … we rented skis from the local bike shop,” said Bostwick, who also loves to snowshoe. “And that was back when winter was winter and we used to get significant, even record-breaking snowfalls. We’ve had some spotty winters lately, but I get out as much as possible.”

Bostwick also can head much farther north if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate in the Stateline area because he owns property near Hurley.

“I try to get up there about once a month,” Bostwick said. “There’s been times when we’ve had so much snow up there that the only way to get in was on snowshoes.”

Still, most of his time is spent near Rock County.

“We go around Rockford or other places in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin,” he said. “And the Kettle Moraine has a variety of trails that we like to go to.”

Rooker also makes time for skiing and is hoping to participate in the Birkebeiner for a 31st time in late February.

“Originally, back as a freshman in high school in 1960, I was big into downhill skiing,” Rooker said of starting with a church youth group. “We took trips out West. But as an adult and having children, it got more expensive, so I started cross-country skiing. And then friends talked me into trying the Birkie … I wasn’t real smart.”

But he wouldn’t change a thing. And Rooker said the Stateline area provides plenty of topnotch places to strap on skis.

“Anywhere around Beloit is beautiful,” Rooker said. “If I’m serious and training hard, I like to go to the Nordic trails (in the Kettle Moraine) or Lapham Peak near Delafield, which offers hard-core skiing. But if there’s good snow, Beloit is wonderful for families and kids.”

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