I’m letting the best-kept Nordic secret in Leelanau County out of the bag here: Reindeer Run Nordic Center near Empire. It’s run by Kevin Kelly, a wild-man skier who is a national parks firefighter by vocation. (Read about Kevin).
Kelly is starting a homespun Nordic center in the pines outside of Empire. If there’s snow, it’s always great for classic and Kelly tries to keep a skate trail groomed. The main trail, Pine Loop is 1/2 mile. It rolls just a bit but it’s perfect for beginners. Never one to keep things tame, Kelly has also cut a trail he calls Outer Limits that loops over a gorge behind his house.
For children, the highlight will be the two donkeys and horse that poke their noses out of the barn when skiers pull up. Sadly, Kelly’s three reindeer (thus the center’s name) all died this year. The reindeer used to trot along with skiers.
My family and I skied the center the day after Christmas. Our friends Jim Lively and his daughter, Jane, met us there. Jane got a new pair of skate boots for Christmas and she wanted to try them out. The trail was covered with light powder but in a couple loops we had it skated down to a nice firm pack.
From Empire head 3.3 miles on M-72 and turn right on S Benzonia Trail (C-677). Go 1.5 miles and turn right on Osborn Road. In a half mile you’ll see a sign for Needles Ranch on the right hand side of the road. Turn in and park at the end of the drive. The trail is across the parking area from the homestead. Kelly accepts donations for the trail upkeep. Give him a call to find out trail conditions. 231-326-5216.