DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Whether it be cross-country skiers, snowshoers, hikers, fat-tire bikers or ski-shoers, it appears that more people than ever are out using using the nonmotorized trails this winter, said Matthew Davis, North Country Trail Association regional trail coordinator for North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

That’s great -- the more the merrier, say trail managers -- but since so many newcomers are out hitting the trails, cross-country ski trails are getting wrecked and tempers sometimes flare.

Pam Jones of Detroit Lakes leads a group friends on a Nordic ski trail. (Submitted photo)
Pam Jones of Detroit Lakes leads a group friends on a Nordic ski trail. (Submitted photo)

“Anywhere there is snow on the ground, trail managers have issues with winter trail etiquette,” Davis said. “We don’t want people's first experience to be associated with rude, disruptive behavior.”

Davis has some tips for keeping everybody happy out there. No. 1, if you’re not cross-country skiing, stay off the Nordic cross-country ski trails, which are groomed as either single or double sets of parallel tracks. Larger dogs should also be kept off those trails if possible, he said.

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“Trails are designed and maintained for specific users, anybody else can damage the trail,” he said. Hiking or snowshoeing on groomed cross-country ski trails “just screws up the snow and will damage the experience,” he added. “All those footprints do a number on the cross-country ski trails.”

“It’s a little frustrating, but I don’t get that worked up about it,” said Lin Peterson, president of the Detroit Lakes Area Nordic Ski Club. “It’s kind of like a non-golfer going golfing, they don’t know what they’re doing and they’re going to do dumb things. It just takes time before they learn, and people need to be patient with each other.”

It’s not just hikers and snowshoers, the newly popular ski-shoes (short, wide skis) “really mess up our trails,” Peterson added. “The challenge this year is we don’t have enough snow to dig up and reset the trails,” he added. “We only have 4 or 5 inches to work with. If we can’t dig it up, the scarifier (grooming equipment) can’t get rid of the tracks.”

Holes in the cross-country ski track can cause skis to pop out of the track grooves, which isn’t such a big deal for veteran skiers, but can ruin the experience for beginning skiers, Peterson said. About a foot of new snow would help solve that problem, he said.

A trail groomer owned by the local Nordic Ski Club. (Submitted photo)
A trail groomer owned by the local Nordic Ski Club. (Submitted photo)

It takes four to six hours of trail grooming at each of the club's four sites, and it's hard work done regularly by volunteers. So tempers can flare if someone inadvertently ruins all that effort, Peterson said.

Davis strongly recommends a little research before setting out to use any winter trail. That way, you can find the right trails for your purpose. “The more people do their homework ahead of time, the less conflict there will be,” he said. “The first rule is to leave no trace,” he said. “If you just sort of wing it, you may not be prepared for what you encounter.”

Where the trails are

There are designated fat tire bike trails at Mountain View Recreation Area (four miles of trail), Detroit Mountain (four miles) and Maplelag resort (over 15 miles). The Maplelag trails are groomed with a special groomer, but the other two areas are groomed by packing down the snow with snowshoes, so snowshoers and hikers are welcome on those trails, Davis said.

There are lots of designated hiking areas open, he said. “Dunton Locks is a great place to do it, and Tamarac has the Old Indian Trail and a new trail at the Chippewa Picnic Area that's handicapped accessible.” Sucker Creek Preserve has winter hiking trails as well, he said.

Enjoying the Family Snow Shoe Hike at Tamarac. (Photo courtesy of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge)
Enjoying the Family Snow Shoe Hike at Tamarac. (Photo courtesy of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge)

The North Country Scenic Trail runs through the area, and has 60 miles of hiking open year-round, Davis said. There are plowed trailheads at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and on Highway 34, about 1.5 miles east of Four Corners.

Snowshoers and ski-shoers are welcome on most hiking trails, as are dogs, as long as you clean up after them.

The Nordic ski club offers many trail options in the Becker County area, including free, donation-based ski trails at:

  • Pickerel Hills includes an Artery Trail with 5 km of double set track covering a mix of flat and easy hills. And a Perimeter Trail with 10 km of single track, which is hilly, and more advanced.
  • Mountain View Recreation Area, with 10 km of relatively hilly terrain, including a mix of double set track, and single plus skate.
  • Tamarac and Pine trails, including the Tamarac Loop with 5 km of single track, and some easy hills, and the Pine Loop with 5 km of double track and 5 km of single – all pretty flat.
  • Frazee trails – 12 km of flat and easy rolling hills, all single track.
  • Dunton Locks – 5 km of hilly terrain, packed only for walking, snowshoeing, and skate skiing. This trail gets heavy use, so may not be in as good shape as some of the other areas, but we will do our best to keep it groomed.

There are also “pay to ski trails,” which are excellent ski areas, with well-maintained systems:

  • Detroit Mountain Recreation Area - $5 a day, 15 km of hilly terrain. A mix of skate and single set track. This is a Detroit Lakes city park, and is a wonderful facility, it hosts a variety of downhill, tubing, Nordic, and mountain biking opportunities. The high school Nordic team practices here. Season passes are available.
  • Maplelag Resort - $20 a day pass, season passes available, 60 km of a mix of set track and skate. This is a premier resort, with superb Nordic skiing in a wilderness setting on Little Sugarbush Lake. Maplelag hosts many high school Nordic ski events, and attracts skiers from all over the state. Lodging and meal plans available.

The Nordic ski club website at dlxcski.com is kept up to date with grooming information, trail conditions, and upcoming events, and the club is also on Facebook.

“Our trails are on a mix of city, state, DNR, county, private, and federal land,” Peterson said. “It takes a lot of collaboration and cooperation to keep these trails accessible to the public."