The Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) awarded the Enduring Service Award to the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club at the Itasca Trails Taskforce meeting on June 13, 2019, held at the Fairgrounds Trail Building in Grand Rapids.

Each year, the USFS, Department of Agriculture, gives out awards to individual volunteers and volunteer clubs that show exemplary service to the USFS. Each Forest can submit candidates who they would like to recognize. Chippewa National Forest staff submitted candidates for the Enduring Service Award and Restoration Award categories. The Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club was selected for the Region 9 Enduring Service Award. 

“The Northern Lights Ski Club has been a tremendous partner to the Forest Service and is an asset to the entire community for their work in getting families outside and enjoying winter recreation opportunities,” said Michelle Heiker, Supervisory Forestry Technician, Chippewa National Forest, Deer River Ranger District. 

In fiscal year 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service reported more than 120,000 volunteer and service opportunities on Forest lands and units. Together, volunteers and service participants contributed 5.2 million hours valued at $128.2 million and equivalent to 2,885 full-time employees—nearly 10% of the Forest Service permanent workforce. Trail maintenance and improvements, access and collaboration are themes that were most prevalent in the 55 plus nominations in five categories: Citizen Stewardship and Partnerships, Cultural Diversity, Enduring Service, Leadership and Restoration. The Forest Service is proud to recognize these individuals, organizations and partners for their exceptional work and commitment to natural and cultural resources and conservation management.

The Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club is an active, health-promoting local organization dedicated to ensuring the public has a variety of safe and enjoyable cross-country skiing opportunities in the Itasca County area. 

“This Club has been a valuable partner with the Chippewa National Forest for many years,” Heiker said. 

Volunteers from the club groom and help maintain two Forest Service cross-country ski systems on National Forest land totaling 26 miles. In addition, volunteer members groom and clear five other trail systems encompassing 66 miles in the Grand Rapids and Deer River area. The club promotes cross-country skiing as a life-long, healthy activity in an area where winter lasts for a very long time. 

Many club members also volunteer with the local youth ski league, teaching hundreds of area kids to ski and providing significantly reduced cost rental equipment; all while actively enjoying the beauty of nature in the great outdoors.

In addition to grooming and clearing the trails and reporting hazards such as downed trees to District recreation staff, club members have also helped with special projects. 

In 2017, they volunteered to remove an existing bridge that needed replacement. A six-person crew arrived early on a Saturday morning with crowbars, pry bars, hammers, and utility vehicles to dismantle the structure and haul it to the trailhead parking lot. By noon, they had the old bridge apart, hauled out, and the site cleaned up and ready for Forest Service engineers and recreation team to install the new bridge. The Northern Lights Ski Club is a tremendous asset to the community and a valuable partner of the Forest Service mission.

“We at the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club are so honored to receive this award,” said Peter Friedlieb, president of the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club. “The Chippewa National Forest is a special place and we are extremely appreciative of the long-standing partnership we have with the National Forest Service, working toward a common goal of providing opportunity for people in the community to enjoy the outdoors. At Suomi Hills and Joyce Estate trails, our volunteers have worked with the NFS staff to clear trails and replace a failing bridge at South Suomi. Our membership did the fundraising needed to purchase new Club snowmobiles, which our volunteers use to do all the grooming of both these trails for Nordic skiing. We look forward to many more years serving the community together with the NFS.”

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