Snow making at Battle Creek means solid ski trails


Ramsey County workers get the snow making machine up and running at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul on a chilly morning Wednesday, Jan. 3. The machine is part of a temporary test run for snow making on the park’s lighted cross-country ski trails. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Battle Creek Regional Park’s lighted ski trails in Jan. 2012 were barely covered in snow at all, and were unskiable. (file photo)

A cross country skiier is shown in action at Battle Creek Regional Park. (file photo)

Trial run could lead to park becoming a winter destination

While this winter hasn’t exactly lacked cold or snow, Battle Creek Regional Park’s gotten an extra bump of snow this year.

Ramsey County Parks and Recreation has been doing a trial run of snowmaking along the county’s premier cross country ski area, in advance of a larger project to bolster the area as a winter activities destination.

The large, wooded park is prime territory for winter activity, including cross country skiing and sledding, and also serves as a cross country running area in the warmer months.

The recreation area features 1 1/2 miles of lighted cross country ski trails and hosts numerous high-school Nordic skiing competitions.

The $80,000 snowmaking demonstration project was approved in 2013 by the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners.

County workers first started making the fluffy stuff the week of December 19.

So far, so good

The snowmaking trial is nearly completed for the season, following snowmaking the week of Jan. 5-11.

“It’s gone pretty well,” says Mark McCabe, director of park services and operations for the county. At press time crews had laid a 1-foot base of snow along a six-tenths mile trail at the park, which has improved the quality of skiing along the loop, even in a strong, snowy winter such as this, McCabe said.

This is the county’s first trial run in making snow, and serves as a test run to demonstrate the county’s ability to operate snowmaking equipment.

If it’s successful, the county will seek to put in a more permanent and thorough $4 million snowmaking system at the park. It would install multiple snowmakers, which would be enough to keep the 1 1/2 miles of lighted trails covered with snow, as well as the sledding hill at St. Paul’s Battle Creek Recreation Center.

The county is also exploring adding downhill skiing to the area.

Allison Winters, spokesperson for Ramsey County Parks and Recreation, said that in other county parks, the ski trails tend to show some bald spots after heavy use, even in a snowy winter like this one.

But the snowmaking will be especially handy in the less snowy winters -- in years past, cross country ski meets at Battle Creek have been cancelled due to lack of snow, Winters said. With the snowmaking equipment, there would be guaranteed trails as long as it’s cold enough to make snow.

Winters noted that “the east metro doesn’t have as many of those (winter activity) resources” as other parts of the Twin Cities.

According to a statement from Ramsey County Parks and Rec, “the expanded winter recreation area would create a guaranteed venue for high-school practices and meets, as well as national ski competitions.”

Harding High is excited

Robert Hall, Nordic ski coach at Harding High School, said the snowmaking has been a breath of fresh air for the school’s small program.

Last year, there wasn’t enough snow for most of the year, he said, and much of the season was cancelled. Kids on the team were practicing indoors and not necessarily enthusiastic about it -- they wanted to be out skiing on real terrain.

“This year, knowing we’re going to have snow, that’s huge,” he said. With the small program struggling just to hold interest, having snow is “one less battle we’ll have to deal with,” he said.

Funding

Temperatures were at about minus-10 degrees Fahrenheit last Wednesday, and the snowmakers were encountering difficulties due to the cold. But overall, snowmaking has been going well, McCabe said, and the added snow makes for better trails.

The machine operates optimally when the temperature is around 15 degrees, McCabe added.

After what they hope is a successful trial run, the county parks department will seek out $4 million for a full system of snowmaking equipment and other winter recreation equipment, including $2 million in state bonding, with the other $2 million coming from the county and other partners, according to Greg Mack, director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation.

“We have submitted this proposal to the governor,” Mack said, but there hasn’t been any word on what legislators’ leanings might be.

“It’s hard to gauge the interest,” he said.

If state funding came through, the next step would be to line up other sources of funding for the other $2 million through county funds, St. Paul STAR grants and private funding from the Twin Cities ski community, Mack said.

To put it simply, the plans for Battle Creek Recreation Center will depend on the political climate.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com, or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

 

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