DNR and partners celebrate completion of skiers warming hut in Marquette County
March 24, 2016
Thirty years ago, with the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. needing to reclaim property used by cross-country skiers, the Blueberry Ridge Ski Pathway was moved across Marquette County Road 553 to its current location, about 6 miles south of Marquette.
Since that time, a good deal of trail development has occurred at the site, creating one of the region’s most popular skiing areas and helping to cement Michigan’s growing reputation as “the Trails State.”
That progression of advancement culminated in January with the opening of a skiers warming hut at Blueberry Ridge, a project that itself took nearly two decades to realize.
With snow falling gently, an enthusiastic group of skiers and public officials gathered that January day under the awning of the new structure, which had just opened a couple of weeks earlier and already was seeing heavy use.
“This is very exciting,” Sands Township Supervisor Darlene Walch said after a ribbon was cut to herald the opening of the facility. “This is something we’ve been wanting for a long time.”
A partnership between the township, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Superiorland Ski Club made the dream of creating a place at Blueberry Ridge for skiers to warm up, wait for rides, use the restroom and visit comfortably a reality.
“This warming hut is a great success story and an asset to the community,” said Ron Yesney, the DNR’s Upper Peninsula trails coordinator. “We are highly appreciative of those who have helped along the way to make this happen.”
Blueberry Ridge's success story has much to do with a history of commitment by the skiing community and its many partners. The Superiorland Ski Club was officially founded in 1992. Two years later, Blueberry Ridge was adopted by the club in a partnership under the DNR’s Adopt-a-Forest program.
In 1997, the club identified in its strategic plan the need for a warming hut at Blueberry Ridge. The following year, the DNR submitted a proposal for a warming shelter.
However, the warming hut project was temporarily shelved after some funding challenges and other setbacks during the early 2000s.
Then in late 2010, ski club members Debby Muskovitch and Pam Fjeldheim renewed the effort, seeking support from Sands Township for the hut.
In the months that followed, the Marquette County Board approved the project, while an online petition and backing from the general public also were generated.
In 2012, the DNR signed a lease with Sands Township for the hut and the ski club and township signed an agreement allowing funds to be raised for the structure, including its maintenance and operation.
Into the following year, the township, ski club and its Blueberry Ridge friends group applied for various grants for the warming shelter project.
In December 2013, an $83,700 U.S. Land and Water Conservation Fund grant was awarded to Sands Township to fund construction of the hut. Those federal funds were derived primarily from the proceeds of federal leasing of the Outer Continental shelf for oil and gas production.
A $20,000 DNR Partnership Match grant also was secured. The ski club contributed in excess of $20,000 and spearheaded efforts to raise matching funds from individuals, organizations and businesses.
“We had to raise 50 percent from the community, and there is a list of sponsors from our community that really came through,” Muskovitch said.
The total funds raised from all sources for the project exceeded $190,000.
Barry J. Polzin Architects Inc. of Marquette was the hut project’s architect.
In early 2014, the DNR obtained a new PistenBully groomer for Blueberry Ridge. In autumn that year, construction began on the warming hut, which was completed in December 2015.
Muskovitch led the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by many skiing students who use the trails.
“I was thinking of what to say and I saw a William Shakespeare playwright quote, and he said, ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,’” Muskovitch said. “And Blueberry Ridge warming hut, Blueberry Ridge beautiful trails, parks, national parks, it gets people out in wintertime. It warms our hearts. It warms us to see everyone happy and being here enjoying our great winters in Marquette.”
DNR officials are pleased with the hut.
“We have noticed a dramatic change in the amount of use on our warming hut trails,” said Doug Barry, who oversees Blueberry Ridge and three other areas for the DNR.
Fjeldheim said the warming hut has “become everything we were hoping for.”
Ski club members continue to thank those who donated time, money and effort to the project.
“The Superiorland Ski Club will continue to seek donations and grant money for final touches and maintenance,” Fjeldheim said. “With the ski season coming to an end, and the Blueberry warming hut closing at the end of the March, the committee would just like to say, thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
Yesney said the DNR is committed to making trails an integral part of Michigan communities and adding to the quality of life of residents and visitors.
“Trails enhance communities, economies and the health and well-being of the people who enjoy them,” Yesney said.
The DNR manages the property and operates the Blueberry Ridge Ski Pathway, which was named in acknowledgment of the area’s noted jack pine forest blueberry patches.
In the late 1980s, the Superior Loop was built at Blueberry Ridge along with the more challenging Spartan and Wildcat loops. Designs were created by DNR staff and local skiers.
The Michigan National Guard helped build a skating lane and ripped up blacktop from an abandoned section of old County Road 553.
Today, Blueberry Ridge has 12 miles of groomed ski trails, with another 1.7 miles lighted for night skiing. The lighted loop was designed by volunteers in 1991.
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