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Sand Dunes State Forest

By Hans Erdman
October 28, 2003

Often overlooked among the multitude of cross country ski trails near the Twin Cities area, Sand Dunes State Forest near Zimmerman is an undiscovered gem for skiers and snowshoers looking for the quietness of a rural setting, and serenity of the forest trail system that sees infrequent use, and often has snow when other trails do not.

In 2002, the Minnesota DNR shifted management of state forest recreation areas to the state parks. The Bob Dunn Recreation Area at Sand Dunes is now managed by Lake Maria State Park in nearby Monticello, which has a long-standing reputation for excellent trails and skiing. Over the past summer the forest recreation staff and volunteers have worked on extending that reputation to the trails at Sand Dunes. New, easier to follow trail markers are being installed, along with new maps at major trail intersections, and over two kilometers of trail that had not been groomed in recent years will return to the system when the snow falls.

Over the years the Sand Dunes trails have had numerous types of marking systems and signs, and remnants of each type used in the past could still be found at one place or another on the trails. Rangers also realized that some signs pointed in the wrong direction, or were unreadable, while others has been vandalized or shot by target shooters. Over the past few weeks rangers, volunteers and the Sherburne County STS Crew have removed all the old, non-conforming signs and markers (except where blaze removal might damage a tree) and installed all wood, matching sign posts and carsonite trail markers. Trail surfaces in sandy areas have been smoothed out, and the 1.4 mile long loop road through the Lake Ann Campground will be marked and groomed for skiing, returning that section to the other five loops in the trail system. This will bring the total groomed trail distance to 7.7 km (4.6 miles) which will be groomed for classical skiing only. Skiers who are interested in trying out winter camping may use any of the 36 sites in the campground without charge, but are requested to practice "Leave No Trace" camping ethics, and pack out whatever they pack in for camping.

There will be a Sand Dunes Moonlight Ski on Friday, February 6, 2004, at 7:00PM at the North Trailhead, located at the intersection of Sherburne County Rd. 4 and 168th St., approximately 4 miles west of Zimmerman, MN. There will be a bonfire and refreshments, hosted by the Backcountry Trail Patrol Association. Skiers of all abilities are welcomed, and there will be patrollers and rangers on the trail to assist participants if needed.

Volunteers from the Backcountry Trail Patrol will be patrolling the Sand Dunes trails on a regular basis, as the snow conditions permit, to provide first aid, information and assistance if needed, throughout the winter. They are currently seeking ski patrol volunteers (see their web site).

Skiers who skiing on the Sand Dunes State Forest Ski Trails are reminded that they must have a valid Great Minnesota Ski Pass to ski on these trails. Hiking and dogs are not allowed on the groomed ski trails, however separate routes for snowshoers may be set up if there is sufficient interest. Snowmobiles, horses, hunting and shooting are also illegal in the recreation area and on the ski trails.

Further information can be found at www.trailpatrol.org after November 1, 2003, or by calling the Lake Maria State Park office at 763 878-2325 Trail conditions will be posted to www.skinnyski.com on a regular basis, and updated as needed.

About the author...

Hans Erdman is a member of the Backcountry Trail Patrol. The Backcountry Trail Patrol has become an active winter ski/snowshoe trail patrol, and National Mountain Bike Patrol unit and is recognized as a source for quality backcountry and wilderness education and training .

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