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KANE COUNTY — Deer Valley Winter Recreation Area is a winter wonderland escape from the red sandstone deserts of southern Utah and offers quiet solitude for cross-country skiing and other non-motorized winter recreation.
Deer Valley is maintained by the Dixie National Forest Cedar City Ranger District. It is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. District recreation specialist, Sherryl Lierman, said the cross-country ski and snowshoe area was a needed addition for the winter recreation plan on the ranger district.
“Back in the mid 90s it became apparent to the Forest Service that the use was picking up dramatically with both motorized and non-motorized (recreation),” Lierman said. “The interest became noticeably popular and members of the nordic ski club approached the Forest Service to try to designate an area for non-motorized use.”
Murf Karns, president of the Cedar Mountain Nordic Ski Club, said the club wanted a place to get away from where snowmobiles drive through. He said he does not have hard feelings against anyone who snowmobiles, but he wants solitude while out skiing.
"We don't hate them," Karns said. "It's just obnoxious if you're out there to enjoy the quiet solitude and here comes a snowmobile, with its fumes, coming up. They have plenty of area around here and a set aside was only logical for us."
Deer Valley Winter Recreation Area is a 1,379 acre section of land by Navajo Lake. It is located off US-14 near milepost 22.
Jim Riehle, CMNSC vice president, said interest in the area is low right now, but started picking up when people discover the area had groomed trails.
"We've had several people come from out of town to come cross-country ski," Riehle said. "Often when I'm telling people about Deer Valley cross-country skiing they question why I travel all the way up to the Salt Lake area."
Dorothy Uhreka, first president of the CMNSC, said Deer Valley and Cedar Mountain have some of the best snow in the country.
"The dry powder snow is great for skiing and Deer Valley is also a north facing slope so the snow stays longer," Dorothy Uhreka said. "Our ski season is long at Deer Valley; it's from about Thanksgiving to May."
Skiers and snowshoers can travel where they like in Deer Valley, but there are over 11 miles of trail that the Forest Service and volunteers work to groom once a week.
Lierman said the Forest Service has a Ginzugroomer to allow for the two styles of cross-country skiing: traditional and skate. She said they were able to get the groomer because of a grant the club helped to obtain.
Deer Valley sits between 9,500 and 10,000 feet elevation. This can be difficult to skiers or snowshoers coming from lower elevations because the air is thin. The trails run all through the recreation area and vary in difficulty.
Maps and specifics on the different trails are available at the Cedar Mountain Nordic Ski Club's website.
Riehle said there are many health benefits to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. He said it is a great workout for the legs and arms. It is also a cardio exercise.
"People who are skiing are always smiling," Riehle said. "People say they can't cross-country ski and all I have to say to them is, ‘Well, you know how to walk.'"
An issue the Deer Valley area deals with is parking, Lierman said. Currently the only parking is at the snowplow turnaround point on the Kane County/Iron County border or several miles away at the pullout of US-148.
Karns said the area has served cross-country skiers and other non-motorized recreationists well over the past five years, with no reported problems between snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.
People who are skiing are always smiling. People say they can't cross-country ski and all I have to say to them is, 'Well, you know how to walk.'
"Except for maybe the first year when they didn't really know about it things have been pretty great," Karns said. "Sometimes a snowmobiler will get in there on accident, but they realize it and get out quickly. It was a really big deal getting that area closed to snowmobiles. Nothing like that has happened in southern Utah.
There are several places to rent cross-country skis, snowshoes and gear in Cedar City and at Brian Head.
Lierman said Deer Valley has been a great asset to the Dixie National Forest. She said it has helped satisfy a user group so they can have their little piece of untrampled solitude; multiple-use is part of the Forest Service mission.
"We try to provide for all activities and I think this has helped promote that sport even more," Lierman said. "It's a gem for southern Utah. I mean, who would think as you pass through Cedar City that 20 minutes up the road you have a beautiful mountain of snow?"
Keith Howells is an outdoor recreation major at Southern Utah University. Connect with him and learn of more adventures in southern Utah by following him on twitter, @howellsoutdoors.