Park users seem to be mixing up trails at Lebanon Hills, Terrace Oaks
With COVID-19 limiting activities people can do indoors, the outdoors have become a refuge for many people.
So, area park officials are hoping to educate new users who may be unfamiliar with park rules in winter.
Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan has specific and separate trails for cross country skiing (16 miles) and hiking/snowshoeing (15 miles).
“What’s unique about it is that every activity has its own trail,” Dakota County Parks Director Steve Sullivan said. “As a result, they’re managed and maintained accordingly. We try to provide a high quality cross country ski experience. When they get walked on, the quality of the experience is a lot less.”
This winter, people are finding many cross country ski trails are being used by hikers.
Walkers, snowshoers, skijorers and dogs are not permitted on the groomed ski trails at Lebanon Hills or at most ski trails, such as the ones at Terrace Oaks Park in Burnsville, Battle Creek Regional Park in Maplewood, Whitetail Woods Regional Park in Empire Township and beyond.
With a thin base of snow, grooming isn’t always able to repair the potholes left behind by hikers.
Plus it’s dangerous to share trails.
“Skiers are gliding down hills,” Sullivan said. “We’re concerned about the public safety out there. It’s a matter of making sure people are on their designated trails and able to do it in a safe manner. We don’t have mixed-use trails. People tend to wander on the trails or dogs wander. It doesn’t work.”
No one wants to discourage users from coming to the park.
“With COVID, we’re seeing parks as a place of well being,” Sullivan said. “As a result, we’re seeing new users. Some of this stuff is new. We put up these sandwich board signs to direct hikers and skiers in key intersections. We’ve updated signs.”
They’ve posted reminders on social media as well.
Lebanon Hills also sent ski patrol to help inform those violating park rules, and last week members of the Dakota County Sheriff’s department strapped on some skis for the day.
“Our goal with the park control and Dakota County Sheriff’s office is really to educate people,” Sullivan said. “Most people aren’t deliberately on the wrong trail. In most cases they’re uniformed or confused. Our patrols are out there to help people.”
Dakota County Sheriff Capt. Rick Schroeder said park rangers can issue a citation but prefer to educate.
Another reason to have the sheriff’s patrol is to help users feel safe.
“Some user groups, they’re not as comfortable in a park that’s wooded or that has more of that open space,” Sullivan said. “It helps people feel secure and comfortable knowing that these parks have a community presence.”
Schroeder said park rangers are primarily law enforcement students who patrol the parks year round.
“From opening up the gates in the morning to responding to medicals, to assisting officers, they’re out there,” Schroeder said. “They routinely throw on some skis. They’re the eyes and ears for us. They know the trails and the trail system better than most of the other members of law enforcement.”
The best way to tell if it’s “skiing only” is if there are tracks on the trail. There are also blue signs at Lebanon Hills depicting someone either a skiing or hiking/snowshoeing.
Another tip, Sullivan said, is to plan ahead. Winter trail maps are available online.
There are miles of metro trails available for hiking. Terrace Oaks Park in Burnsville also as a dedicated winter hiking trail starting at its eastern parking lot.
Sullivan also noted the McDonough Lake trail at Lebanon Hills is paved and plowed and “open to people of all abilities. The only thing is, due to COVID, it’s a one-way direction around the lake.”
Dakota County parks also encourage people to give skiing, snowshoeing and kick-sledding a try.
“The ‘P’ in parks is for a positive experience,” Sullivan said. “Everyone who comes to the park is there for a positive experience.”
Snowshoes, kick sleds and cross-country ski equipment is available to rent via online reservation at the Lebanon Hills Visitor Center in Eagan. Walk up rentals have been discontinued due to the pandemic.
People 18 or older need to purchase ski pass ($6 per day, $25 for the year) for using the ski trails in Lebanon Hills, Whitetail Woods and Spring Lake Park Reserve.
Sullivan said the park does have sponsorship programs for those who can’t afford the fee.
“We want it to be accessible to everyone,” Sullivan said.
Most of the trails at Lebanon Hills are beginner to intermediate, Sullivan said.
To check out area ski reports, visit Skinnyski.com, a website dedicated to cross country skiing.