/ Articles / RASTA looks to the future of silent sports

RASTA looks to the future of silent sports

April 17, 2020 by Beckie Gaskill

The Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association (RASTA) recently presented their five-year plan to the Oneida County forestry committee, and the committee called it an ambitious plan, giving the plan their full support. The plan highlights undertakings at its trails at Nose Lake, Washburn, the Cassian trail, now called the Hansen Trail, and Mud Lake Trails. It also highlights some work in an advisory capacity on the Heal Creek property.

RASTA representative Scott Watson said the group is very excited to continue their work in partnership with Oneida County to bring outdoor recreation opportunities to residents and visitors of the Northwoods. 

The group has been in existence for 16 years, Watson said, and has worked diligently to promote silent sports and make them available locally. Most of those who do the work are volunteers, with a some paid workers, such as groomers. 

“We get some of the trail money from the county every year, primarily for grooming the ski trails,” Watson said. “But for other projects we are 10% dependent on membership, donations and grants.” These monies, he said, go toward not only new projects, but also maintaining what the organization has worked so hard to build already. 

The group holds two major fundraisers every year, the Snowshoe Hare Race and the RASTA Rally. At this year’s Hare Race, Watson said, they had competitors from age eight to age 82, all out to have fun and enjoy their favorite winter silent sport. 

The RASTA Rally, too, is aimed at families and riders of all skill levels. One loop at Washburn, he said, was modified with the intent to bring in families and younger riders, providing an introductory level ride for those with less experience. There are three levels of trails at Washburn, green for the novice rider, blue for those with more experience and black for those looking for a challenging ride on more difficult terrain. Watson, who has gotten into riding more in the last few years, said he is always impressed with the riders who take on the black trails.

When looking at the next five years, Watson said, the organization wanted to focus on maintenance. That maintenance provides a quality riding experience that brings riders to the area, and keeps bringing them back again.

“We are really in tune with the fact that a lot of trials is a good thing, but the priority has tone maintenance of the existing trail system,” he said. The plan looks at things such as public usability of the trail system and erosion control. The group wants to make sure the trails built will be built up to the international standards of mountain biking trails. All new trails will be built in a sustainable fashion, which is easier to maintain.

“Some older trails we’ve had to go back and make sustainable, relocating some parts of trails and changing the grade to limit erosion, and things like that,” Watson said. He said the organization, as well as the county, has a role in maintenance of the trails. Part of creating the next five-year plan, he said, was looking at the properties to see what needed to be done to maintain them. Looking at existing trails to see how to make them more accessible, more usable and to bring more people to enjoy them was a main focus.


Changes

The county, Watson said, recently gave approval to open up some of the ski trails, namely the Hansen Trail, formerly the Cassian Trail, and Nose Lake, to biking. Until now, they have only been walking trails in the summertime. The trails will need to be moved a bit in some places, he said, to bypass wetlands that are easily skied over in the winter, but cannot be biked or walked in the summer. The group looks to use the existing footprint wherever possible, meaning less long term maintenance to take on. Once this change is complete, Watson said they want to be sure to find ways to communicate the new recreation opportunities to the public.

RASTA will also look to “tweak” some of the ski trails, Watson said, with the new plan. In the northern part of the Washburn system, he said, there is no single track snowshoe or hiking trails right now. He said the topography of that area is intriguing and the group is in the process of mapping out a route to put in additional trails to allow users to enjoy that portion of the area. The system is low impact and low visibility, but would offer a great opportunity for users, he said. This project is not yet funded, however, and Watson said there were no grants available for that for this summer. The project will rely on private funding to be completed. For that reason, a funding campaign will be launched in the very near future to support creation of that north trail. 

The impetus behind trail creation as well as maintenance of the existing trail system is to attract more silent sports enthusiasts to the area. Watson said businesses looking to settle somewhere often look to see what types of recreation opportunities would be available to employees, and silent sport trails are something that are becoming increasingly important to many user groups. The expansion of the Washburn system, potentially to 20 miles of trails, fits well with what users are looking for in a trail system, he said. 

At the Washburn facility, he said, users can already bike on the ski trails. Being able to now bike the Cassian trails offers even more opportunity for recreation, and using some quiet roads along the way, the opportunities are expanded even further. It may be possible, he said, at some point in the future, to bike the trails all the way up to McNaughton, where riders could make their way to Lake Tomahawk utilizing some of the state trails. Watson said that idea was not quite ready to go yet, but it was something that may be looked at in the future. It would first need to be determined how popular of an idea it would be and how well-used before a large investment could be put into creating such a project.

Between all facilities, RASTA now has 35 miles of both ski and single track snowshoe trails. All single track is available for snowshoeing and for hiking in the summer. Most of the work done in the system is volunteer, he said, meaning donations of time, resources, and money are important to keep the trails in great condition for all to enjoy. While many volunteers work to accomplish that, the grooming of ski trails is done by paid personnel. Watson said it takes six to eight hours to groom the Washburn system and over four to groom the Hansen trails. That time and equipment, too, costs money. Watson said the membership, as well as many donations from others in the community have made the trail system possible to date, and the organization will look to continue building those partnerships that make these recreation opportunities available in the Northwoods. The entire five year plan can be found on their website: rastatrails.org.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected]


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