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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Cross-county skiing brings fun, education to University of Idaho forest

A burgeoning system of groomed ski trails on the University of Idaho Experimental Forest is proving valuable to students and the public.  (Courtesy)
A burgeoning system of groomed ski trails on the University of Idaho Experimental Forest is proving valuable to students and the public. (Courtesy)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – A burgeoning system of groomed ski trails on the University of Idaho Experimental Forest is proving valuable to students and the public.

It’s also giving the school a chance to highlight important forestry practices and research.

This winter, Rob Keefe, manager of the 8,200-acre forest on the backside of Moscow Mountain, and a handful of students began grooming trails that trace access roads off of Idaho Highway 9 between Deary and Harvard.

The forest, which serves as a working classroom for students and faculty, has long been a nonmotorized recreation destination for locals. Popular activities include hiking, hunting and mountain biking. Grooming trails there adds another way for people to access the area.

“We see recreation as a way to fulfill our outreach and demonstration mission,” Keefe said. “We can show different kinds of forest management, different kinds of thinning and fuels reduction. And that’s very much part of the reason we’re encouraging recreation.”

Students are getting experience managing recreation. That includes the actual work of preparing and maintaining the trails and interacting with the public.

Axel Wall, a senior from Los Angeles majoring in environmental science, said visiting with people who are discovering the trails is helping prepare students for their post-education careers.

“With any environmental and natural resource action, involving the public and stakeholders is a huge part of it,” she said. “It’s great experience to talk to stakeholders and see what their wants and needs are and actually execute that on the forest.”

Students have been grooming regularly.

“We try to do it a couple of times a week or any time there is new snow so it stays nice and fresh,” said Riley Parr, a junior from Boise.

Last week, they hosted the Vandal Swoosh, a 7-kilometer race that attracted a few dozen participants, and they hope to do it again this winter if conditions permit. Keefe and the students also hope to expand the grooming program to other areas of the forest in coming years and perhaps groom for skate skiing.

John Nicholson, a freshman from Toutle, Washington, studying forestry, said he and other students cleared the roads before winter. Once snow started falling, they used snowmobiles to compact it and build a base. Now, they pull a groomer along about 15 miles of trails, shaping the snow into a corduroy path with tracks for classic Nordic skiing. He relishes the opportunity to meet people on the trails and educate them about the various forestry practices.

“Most forestry majors want to go into the woods five days a week and not see anyone,” he said. “I’m social and like networking. Looking forward, I want to grow my network in the industry and be one of those people who goes above and beyond.”

The trails can be accessed at Flat Creek and Cabin Creek off of Idaho Highway 9. Keefe said the natural features of the area make it great for cross-country skiing. As the name implies, the drainage is relatively level. Cold air settles in the area and helps railroad beds dating to the early part of last century hold snow.

More information about the forest and recreational opportunities there is available at Those who use the ski trails are asked to obtain a free permit and, if they choose, make a donation to help support grooming. Permits are available at

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