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Heart of Vilas County Trails Remains Popular After Pandemic Biking Boom

Construction on the Heart of Vilas County Trail System started in the late 90s.

Built segment by segment it now stretches more than 50 miles through western Vilas County.

“We’ve seen the trail grow numerous times over the years. With the connection to Manitowish Waters and into Mercer, about 5 or 6 years ago, the amount of people that started utilizing the bike trail, coming up from a distance really started to increase,” said Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Theresa Smith.

She said the growth is paying off as the trail saw heavy use last year, including a lot of new people who had never explored them before.

And if early season riding is any indication, the trail use is expected to stay high this year.

“As soon as the snow melted and ice began clearing off the trail, people were coming up and using it even though it wasn’t cleared yet,” said Smith. “Seems they’re pretty excited to be out and riding now and with our summer temperatures and sunny skies this week, I’m sure it’s on for the season.”

Local businesses along the trail are feeling the impact too.

Smith said last summer was record breaking in a lot of ways in terms of lodgings and rentals and it looks like this summer will be much the same.

“My accommodations across the board are all reporting that they’re filled, if not close to being filled, through August and easily into September,” said Smith.

Even if they’re just coming up for the biking, Smith is hopeful that once they experience all the area has to offer they’ll keep coming back for more.

“They may be biking and checking out one community for an overnight, but then realize there’s this wonderful neighboring community and there’s all these other things to do like hiking and fishing and all of the other good outdoor recreation activities that we have here in the Northwoods and along the Heart of Vilas County,” she said.

With more people vaccinated and feeling more comfortable going to events, communities along the Heart of Vilas County Trail system are happy to be bringing back biking events.

There are events planned throughout the summer in Mercer, Manitowish Waters, and Boulder Junction aimed at drawing people to the bike trails.

“When you are doing it individually you can go with your family or your significant other and just enjoy the day, but a lot of people like to get together and have a group ride which is what a lot of these are,” said Smith.

Lupine Junefest is June 12th in Mercer. Several scenic routes are mapped out for people to take in the views and enjoy the blooming lupines. You can register for the rides here.

Solstice Festival in Manitowish Waters is June 18th through the 20th. There a several rides of different lengths ranging from 15 to 100 miles. You can register here.

The annual Bike Northwoods Tour will be going through Boulder Junction, Park Falls, and Mercer starting July 10th. It last six days. Get route information and register here.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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