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Brule River plan open for comment

MADISON -- Adding mountain biking to a cross-country ski area and more remote campsites are highlights of a draft master plan proposed for the Brule River State Forest. The Department of Natural Resources is seeking final public comment through Aug.

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A deer stands in a field along State Highway 27 at the Brule River State Forest. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

MADISON - Adding mountain biking to a cross-country ski area and more remote campsites are highlights of a draft master plan proposed for the Brule River State Forest.

The Department of Natural Resources is seeking final public comment through Aug. 24 on the 87-page update to the forest's 2002 master plan.

The 900-acre Afterhours Recreation Management Area is located south of U.S. Highway 2 and west of the Bois Brule River, near the town of Brule. The area has become popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts because of the dependable snowfall on its miles of groomed trails over gently rolling terrain.

The addition of mountain biking during the spring to fall seasons makes Afterhours a true "year-round recreation area," said Dave Schultz, Brule River State Forest superintendent.

"We'll probably need funding for equipment to maintain the (bike) trails but we can do a lot of work with our and volunteer labor," Schultz said.

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Biking on ski and snowshoe trails would be permitted where feasible and a bike trail would be developed as necessary. Other improvements planned for Afterhours include:

* A new ski trail loop over challenging terrain for advanced skiers.

* Develop a skijoring trail for those who ski with their dogs.

* Construct a few rustic cabins that accommodate 6-10 people each.

The trailhead has parking for 50 cars and restrooms. A new warming house at the trailhead was completed this year.

Some electric camp sites are planned for the Copper Range Campground. A large group camp area for the Bois Brule Campground, part of the 2002 master plan that was not constructed, is reintroduced in the 2017 draft.

Parking areas will be fixed up or added for anglers who now park along the forest roads, said Schultz.

"There are no projects proposed that will require large capital expenditures. The large group campground is a bigger ticket item because it would take some money to build a road and bathrooms. That project would have to go through budgeting process, but a lot of these projects are won't take a lot of money or we can find local funds from our base budget," Schultz said.

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Groups that contribute time and resources and will be relied on to continue those efforts including; the Brule Valley Ski Club, the Brule River Sportsmen's Club, The North Country Trail Association's Brule-St. Croix Chapter and the Brule River Riders Snowmobile Club.

DNR public use properties with master plans are updated every 15 years but the ecological restoration and goals of managing forests often cannot be met within that time frame, according to the master plan draft. The master plan update goals for the 47,000-acre forest are to:

* Enhance the Bois Brule River water quality and natural flow.

* Provide an environment that emphasizes natural beauty and enhances a sense of solitude and quietness.

* Maintain hunting and fishing opportunities.

* Use sustainable forestry practices to manage the forest resources for present and future generations.

The 600-acre annual harvest cap on state forests was lifted two years ago and the about 1,100 to 1,200 acres have logged annually now, in an effort to "catch up" with areas that can be sustainably harvested, said Schultz.

"This has been a state forest since 1907, and I'll guess it will be around in 2107. As far as trees go, we're growing crops like farmers but they're harvest every 50 and 100 years instead. We take that into consideration when looking at long-term plans for this and other properties in the area," he said.

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The revised draft master plan and other documents can be viewed on the DNR's website by searching keywords "master planning" and clicking on the link for Brule River State Forest.

Documents will be available during a public open office at Brule River State Forest Ranger Station, 6250 South Ranger Road, Brule, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Schultz expects the final master plan to be presented to the Natural Resources Board this fall for approval.

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