Anoka is providing free, groomed cross-country ski trails for the first time this winter at Greenhaven Golf Course and at the Anoka Nature Preserve, 200 now-largely-buckthorn-free acres along the Rum River.
In January, the city began grooming traditional ski tracks and wider skate skiing trails at both locations, said Mike Brual, a golf course manager who oversees grooming.
Karl Iwanoczko was working on trails at the preserve on a sunny, blue-sky morning last week. He had unloaded his new pneumatic red and green groomer and a low-geared, wide-track snowmobile. The Arctic Cat pulls the contraption around 3.5 miles of trails running through the woods and around a big meadow along the river.
While grooming, Iwanoczko said he usually sees a few dog walkers and skiers. A bird watcher told him he has spotted barred and great horned owls. Iwanoczko came across five deer bedded down on the skate-ski trail one day, and he said he’s also seen fox and bobcat tracks.
The preserve, he said “is still one of Anoka’s unknown secrets.”
The nature area has undergone a dramatic makeover in the past 12 months. Just over a year ago, it was infested with thick buckthorn branches blocking hundreds of gnarled, white and bur oaks now visible on the graceful contours of the returning oak savanna.
The buckthorn is mostly gone. A visitor’s view has grown from a few dozen feet to hundreds of feet through the oaks and other trees. Ravines and swales have appeared, crisscrossed by tracks of snowshoers, walkers and deer.
Most of the preserve was cleared of buckthorn and other invasive plants early last year. Using a $189,000 state grant, the Anoka Conservation District hired contractors who cut down the invasives and hauled the debris to a giant wood chipper that sliced it into about 800 tons of mulch. The mulch was hauled to St. Paul to fuel the District Energy plant that provides steam heat and cooling for downtown homes and buildings.
Not quite so wild
“It was not much for walking” before the buckthorn departed, Iwanoczko said. He said skiers and walkers whom he has met like the change, except for one woman who complained: “You took the wild out of it.”
The city decided to offer Nordic skiing to make better winter use of the rolling, wooded preserve and the Greenhaven course and clubhouse, said Golf Director Larry Norland. The 18-hole course sits just north of the Main Street/Greenhaven Road exit on Hwy. 10.
“We got a lot of [skier] interest from community members and Anoka High School,” which held 5K cross-country ski meets at Greenhaven this season, Norland said. On decent days “it’s pretty rare that I don’t see at least a few skiers go by” the clubhouse golf shop, he added.
The city is just beginning to develop the preserve and plans to add a trailhead this spring and a parking lot later, officials said. The city also welcomes walkers and snowshoers at the preserve, located north of Bunker Lake Road and behind the Rum River Library along Anoka’s northern border. For now, visitors can park at the library and head into the adjoining oak woods.
The City Council discussed and approved the $20,000 cost for the groomer and heavy-duty snowmobile, as well as about $4,500 a year to pay two part-time groomers, said Greg Lee, Public Services Director.
“We thought this would be a good winter activity to provide to the citizens,” Lee said.