ST. PAUL - The St. Paul-based Lakeland Cross Country Ski Club is hoping to create a winter getaway out at the Westcove campground, located on Vincent Lake, within the County of St. Paul.
The campground and park is operated by the County of St. Paul, and is typically closed to the public during the winter months. The ski club attempted to operate trails in the area in the past, but found there were issues with snowmobiles damaging set tracks.
But, with a three-year agreement now in place, the ski club is hoping to create awareness around the amount of work that is put into setting tracks, and also offer cross country skiers near and far a place to enjoy the snow.
Pierre Lamoureux, president of the ski club, says volunteers made a pitch to the County of St. Paul, and work progressed on drafting an agreement for use of the area. Because it is a three-year commitment, the County will provide a few services, such as firewood for the day-use area and some trail maintenance also.
Lamoureux says the club is already working to expand the trail network on adjacent private land. The trails within Westcove offer about 5 km worth of tracks, and an expansion could create an additional 5 km, along with giving access to a nearby body of water known as Bear Lake. Lamoureux describes Bear Lake as "a beautiful little area that would provide a ski loop."
“We hope with time, that we’d be able to further expand," he adds.
Lamoureux envisions the project as becoming a Nordic ski destination, attracting not only local skiers, but also creating tourism opportunities and bringing people in from outside the area.
The club will also continue to operate trails at the St. Paul Golf Course, which is owned and operated by the Town of St. Paul.
The challenge with Westcove is getting the message out to people snowmobiling in the area. They are being asked to "stay out fo the park, and off the land adjacent to the park." Access in the park is already prohibited, but some of the seasonal landowners in the area may not be aware of that, says Lamoureux.
The ski club is already working alongside the St. Paul Trailblazers Snowmobile Club to create awareness. The snowmobile club has been very helpful and there will be signs posted to educate people, explains Lamoureux.
“We’re hoping to minimize and prevent incidents where snowmobiles go over our trails."
Many people are not aware of the amount of work that goes into putting down the ski trails.
A warming area near the gazebo will be accessible to the skiers at Westcove, although it is not be accessible by vehicle.
Lamoureux acknowledges that it's a big job to operate two locations, and the club is always looking for more volunteers to help out. He says the club is lucky to have committed grooming teams in place for both the Westcove trails and the golf course trails.
“We need help to make our two networks a success," he states.
During the Nov. 9 County of St. Paul council meeting, the agreement with the cross country ski club was discussed before being approved.
Coun. Darrell Younghans requested some wording changes so the County would not be committed to widening trails yearly, but rather just when and where the work was needed.
Questions around the creation of a berm to stop traffic from accessing the park were also posed. County staff noted that the berm is put in place every year to stop vehicle access to the park during winter months.
Firewood was also discussed, and it was noted the County would provide firewood for the gazebo area once a season, and it would be raw wood, rather thsan bundles.
CAO Sheila Kitz said the agreement could be reevaluated after the first year.
"I think it's a great opportunity to use that park year-round," said Kitz.
Coun. Ross Krekoski made a motion to approved the three-year agreement, which was carried.
Ski club programs
The Lakeland Cross Country Ski Club will also be offering its jackrabbit program again for youth this winter. The program is aimed at children between the ages of about six and 12 years old.
The club is also working alongside the Bonnyville Nordic Ski Club to create a youth team that will compete at cross country skiing events. The group is called the Lakeland Nordiq team.
The club is also encouraging people to purchase memberships if they are interested in renting skis this year. Access to ski equipment is likely going to be a challenge again, but the club does have a modest inventory available to its members.
To get involved with the club, or get more information on its programs, email firstname.lastname@example.org