News Staff Writer
News Photo by Mike Modrzynski
More than 60 cross country skiers from throughout Northeast Michigan converged at Hoeft State Park Saturday evening for the second annual lantern-light ski night in the park. More than 200 lanterns marked the 1.5 miles of trail through the pines and along the lakeshore.
Cross country skiers braved the cold for the chance to ski a loop through Hoeft State Park by the light of 200 lanterns hung along the freshly groomed trail set by park manager Blake Gingrich.
"This is the second time for the event and with all the fresh snow we've gotten it's been fun for everyone," Gingrich said. "The weather is almost perfect and, at least for now, the wind isn't a factor either. I've had one skier from Alpena tell me that it really doesn't get any better than this."
Onaway resident John Dunbar said word spread quickly last year, and many folks from the Alpena area were planning to make this a regular stop on their winter calendars from now on.
"This year the lanterns are spread just right to pretty much cast a glow along the trail creating a wonderful setting in the darkness," Dunbar said. "There are no dark corners or surprises and even the novice skier has nothing to be afraid of or concerned about. This is a special time, one that's only enhanced by the view of the shoreline and the pine forest around us."
According to Gingrich the numbers are what he was hoping for and already has plans to expand the parking area to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. He said he and his staff spent a few days getting ready and actually hung lights in the trees around the trailhead to make it even more fun for everyone. He said the hot chocolate and cookies went quickly, but the treats took a backseat to the roaring fire he built in the warming ring.
"It took about an hour to light all of the lanterns and we had a little trail repair to take care of after the afternoon's wind drifted in a couple of spots," said Gingrich. "I'm just happy everyone has found us and is enjoying themselves, but we still have plenty of room for more folks to try this pretty unique event."
Posen resident Tammy Hincka brought along her daughter for the evening and had nothing but praise for the event and all the work the park staff had done.
"It was beautiful out there, almost a perfect night for skiing," she said. "The trail is groomed really well and you almost don't need the lanterns because your eyes adjust really quickly. Plus, the weather isn't a problem at all. This is great, just great."
Deb Greene, a Rogers City resident, echoed Hincka's comments and added, "Couldn't we get more lanterns and make the trail longer?"
Gingrich said the plan is to one day expand the trail south to the banks of Nagel Creek and possibly link to trails on the west side of US-23. He said that will take a little time and resources to make it happen, but it is on the drawing board.
There are two more Saturday night lantern-light ski events planned for Hoeft State Park this year, the next is slated for Feb. 7, from 6-9:30 p.m. and the last one March 14, from 6-9:30 p.m. For more information call Gingrich at 734-2543.
Mike Modrzynski can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.