The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Chicago outdoor enthusiasts celebrate 20th year at ABR


February 5, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Members of the Elmhurst Bicycle Club in Illinois start out on an afternoon snowshoe at ABR Trails on Tuesday. The group has come to the area for winter activities for 20 years. From left, Ruth Dover, Kim Messina and Steve Sinderson.


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ERWIN TOWNSHIP - Members of a Chicago area outdoors club are celebrating their 20th year of annual treks to the Ironwood area to cross-country ski, snowshoe and even some winter camping.

The slogan of the Elmhurst Bicycle Club is "Riding at the speed of fun." That rule applies to silent sports of summer and winter, according to Kim Messina, one of a dozen club members who were at Active Backwoods Retreats (ABR Trails) on Tuesday.

"There are 12 of us this year but in previous years there have been 40 to 50 people from the bike club," Messina said.

The members bike in the summer and fat bike in the winter, she said. They also do snow shoeing and cross-country skiing together, while some go off and do wilderness hiking and canoeing.

"So we're an all-year sports group but traditionally we take the first week in February to come to Ironwood," Messina said.

The club is based in Elmhurst but members come from many towns around the Chicago-land area, she said. Ironwood is popular with the club as a ski destination where members have come to expect plentiful snow and great trails.

"The hospitality is amazing and the pace of the U.P. is a welcome from the Chicago rush," Messina said.

Cheri O'Riordan, a club member, said the members all feel this is the best snow in the Midwest. They organize events such as snowshoe tours to frozen waterfalls and other attractions in the area.

In past years the club would go to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. They have tried many trail systems further east including some that are no longer open.

"In the last couple of years we've been sticking pretty much to ABR," O'Riordan said.

When she comes with her ski club they often go to the MECCA Trails in Mercer, and to WinMan in Winchester.

"Those are very pretty trails," she said.

In the evening the group likes to try out the area restaurants, she said.

Messina said the club enjoys snowshoeing in Miners Memorial Heritage Park. They were introduced to the park many years ago by Morgan Grasso, the owner of the Indianhead Hotel where many in the club stay while in town, and who was part of the effort to build the ski trails.

"He took us on a snowshoe hike of the park and explained the expansion plans," Messina said. "It's nice that we've been able to see the evolution of Miner's Park since we've been coming."

Grasso will be taking the group on another tour of the park today, she said.

Most of the members have led fairly active lives in terms of physical activities, Messina said.

"For myself, as I got older I looked for activities that I enjoyed and one was biking," she said. "This had led to meeting people who do like snowshoeing and skiing and it sort of broadened my horizons."

Ellen Weber, of Wheaton, Illinois, is a club member who enjoys longer stays, when the snow is here, and has made many friends. She stays with friends on some visits or stays at a vacation rental.

The snow and the excellent grooming are what keeps her coming back, she said. She frequently skis the Sisu Ski Fest but wasn't able to this year.

"I think it's just the freedom of movement and being out in nature," Weber said. "It's just so rejuvenating and it's peaceful when there aren't a lot of snowmobiles around. It's just so invigorating I love the physical activity."

Weber said she also enjoys skiing in the Calumet area and the Swedetown Nordic Ski Trails.

"They get a lot of snow and they have good grooming equipment to keep the trails nice," she said.

Steve Sinderson, a club member for around four years, said he enjoys the snowshoeing but also used this northern visit to do some winter camping in Sylvania Wilderness area near Watersmeet. The involved putting all his gear on a sled and snowshoeing a few miles to a campsite.

"The campsite was down by a lake and the main trail was up along the ridge," he said. "So going down to the campsite wasn't a problem but coming back up on Sunday morning was a bear."

The campsite included a tent and small wood stove with a 9-foot stove pipe that went out the wall of the tent. Hunting for dead wood that wasn't covered in snow took some time, he said.

The other club members were quick to point out that Sinderson achieved the level of Eagle Scout as a teen, the highest achievement of the Boy Scouts of America. He said he still enjoys using his skills such as wilderness first aid and navigation.

"You don't want to be out in the woods and have a problem," Sinderson said.

The club is a group of people who have common interests and like to be outdoors, he said.

"At home we don't have much snow and we enjoy knowing there is going to be snow here," Sinderson said.

John Loesch, club member, said the bike club is more than just bicycles. As a fourth-year member he considers himself still to be new when compared to the longtime members.

Loesch said it means something to be able to expect the area will still offer premiere cross-country skiing and snowshoeing each year.

"The trails are well maintained and the people who run this place are great," Loesch said of ABR Trails. "They are very nice and they do a lot of hard work to keep it nice so it's a good place to come back."


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