Improving trails for silent sport enthusiasts just got a whole lot easier, thanks to a special machine members of the Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association (RASTA) recently purchased. This $25,000 specialized Bobcat mini-excavator will help improve and maintain current trail systems so that participants of every ability can enjoy the outdoors whether they are riding a bike, hiking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing or even bird watching.
“Many of the trails we have now were carved out by manual labor, which is very time consuming,” said Al Joswiak, a founding member of RASTA and owner of Bikes and Boards in Rhinelander. “With this machine, we’ll be able to improve many of those trails we have been working on over the years so people of every ability can enjoy them. Some of the trails right now are only appropriate for advanced users.”
The two trail systems RASTA members will concentrate on in the near future with the machine will be the Washburn Lake Silent Sports Area, which encompasses the Judy Swank shelter on Perch Lake west of Rhinelander, and the Mud Lake area near Camp Tesomas, which includes 14 miles of trails. The trail system near Washburn Lake is 18 miles of ski and snowshoe/bike trails, so the machine will be getting a workout once weather permits. “We work with the county forestry department to maintain and groom these trails,” said Al. “Our new machine will be able to improve these trails, making them more accessible to families with youngsters and those who are just getting into silent sports. RASTA members also maintain these trails, alleviating county workers that were performing those duties before.”
And while improving, expanding and maintaining trail systems is a primary goal of the club, another big focus is making the Rhinelander area a premiere destination for silent sport enthusiasts.
There’s no doubt that’s a good idea because it’s evident that silent sports are growing at an ever- expanding pace not only throughout Wisconsin, but nationally as well. According to the International Mountain Bicycling Association, more than one in five Americans ages 16 and over mountain bike. In fact, there are an estimated 50 million mountain bikers in the U.S., compared to golfers, which number 29 million. “There’s no doubt that mountain biking, along with other silent sports, is growing,” said Al. “And as more people get on the fitness bandwagon, these sports will become even more popular as the years go by.”
Making the Rhinelander area a go-to destination for silent sports enthusiasts will also result in an economic boost to the local economy. In 2010, a study done by graduate students at UW-Madison in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies reported that bicyclists alone spent $533 million when they traveled to destination silent sport areas in Wisconsin.
In fact, according to the study, $1.5 billion is generated through recreational bicycling and related industries in Wisconsin and it tops the $1.4 billion economic impact of deer hunting. "I don't think folks in Wisconsin appreciate just how important (biking) is in the state's economy," reported now retired state Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison), who commissioned the study. "We make a lot more bikes here than we do cars. Biking is right up there with other activities like fishing, snowmobiling and hunting."
And while it’s evident that more people of every age are enjoying the many types and aspects of bicycling (there are six types of mountain biking alone,) snowshoeing, hiking and cross country skiing are also increasing. And even bird watchers are making an impact on local economies when clubs like RASTA create trails that allow exploring wild areas more appealing.
Al believes improving the Washburn and Mud Lake trails is a good start in drawing silent sports enthusiasts to this area, but `there is plenty more work to be done. “You have to have at least 20 to 25 miles of good trails to make an area a go-to spot,” he said. “The average mountain biker can cover a mile of trail in 40 minutes, so there needs to be plenty of trails open to explore.”
Equipment for silent sport enthusiasts is also evolving, making increasing trail access even more economically beneficial. “It’s unbelievable how fast winter mountain biking is becoming,” said Al. “The equipment is a little different. For instance, the tires on these bikes are about five inches wide, but I am getting more and more requests for these types of bikes as people find out how much fun it can be.”
As time goes on and more trails are groomed into shape by the mini excavator, RASTA members will no doubt be looking for other areas to expand silent sports, opening up the outdoors in all seasons for people of all abilities. “Our new purchase is a win-win for everyone,” said Al. “There will be more places to explore the beauty of this area, whether people ride a bike, hike, ski or snowshoe, and there’s a lot of benefit in that any way you look at it.”
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