Our backyard Penman Trails just got a little better thanks to the Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association‘s new groomed connector trail that links the CAMBA Seeley Pass trail and their Seeley Hills winter trails. Groomed six feet wide to allow for skiing and fat biking, the new trail connects to Seeley Pass by the S30 trail sign on Janet Road near ROAM Adventure Basecamp, crosses Highway OO, and connects the upper Penman neighborhood trails to Old OO by the Vortanz gravel pit. That gets you to the Seeley Hills Trails.
The trail is named after Gary “Gordy” Penman, who died of cancer at the age of 57 in 2008. The connector is a nice addition to the Seeley trail network and fits well with the vision Gary Penman had for the silent sports community he helped create in Seeley.
I didn’t know Gary Penman personally, but I do remember seeing him reading the paper most times I stopped in at the Sawmill Saloon after coming up to ride mountain bikes. Before the Rivers Eatery, the Sawmill was THE unofficial finish line for every bike and ski race in the Hayward/Cable area.
Gary was the fifth of 14 kids, and while I wasn’t friends with him, using the Penman Sibling Dating System, my Penman data points begin with Gary’s sister Julie, who I worked with when she was at the City of Milwaukee Dept. of Development and I was the City Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. Her husband Jeff and I also moved in similar circles. And Gary’s brother Terry lives in our little Hollywood Lane neighborhood just outside bustling downtown Seeley. The Penmans are from Hudson, and Gary moved to Seeley around 1978 when he bought a bunch of land with the vision to make Seeley a hub for the silent sports community.
He was the first to build ski trails on land he bought and then build homes next to the trails. He pioneered that style of trail-oriented development that is now almost the rule in the Cable/Seeley area. Although he was known as the “Quiet King of Seeley” for his economy with words, he accomplished more in his short life than most people do who live to be 100 years old.
The list of accomplishments is longer than I can share in this post, but here are some highlights:
- He lived in a converted walk-in cooler on the land he bought before he built a cabin.
- He built the Penman Trails that include a tunnel, bridges, a sauna and were even lighted at one time.
- He built a sawmill powered by Phil Van Valkenberg‘s old AMC rebel.
- He used that sawmill to build dozens of whimsical “Penman style” cabins along the trails.
- He cut the old Hayward fish hatchery building into 11 smaller pieces, moved them all to Seeley, and put them back together to create an arhcitecturally unique apartment building.
- He converted an old general store, tiny bar and automotive repair shop into the Sawmill Saloon, complete with the Mooselips Coffee and Martini Bar as well as the back theater with a stage and balcony seating. Both are still run by Gary’s wife Cindy Ferarro.
Gary’s good friend Dennis Kruse moved to the area for the great nordic skiing and biking and witnessed the methodical growth of Seeley silent sports and had this to add:
He built the first community of cabins connected by ski trails. While serving on the board of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation he designed and directed the construction of the warming hut at Hwy. OO, as well as the equipment shed. Concerned about the issues of silent sports facing Sawyer County he ran for and was elected to the County Board. He was instrumental in putting lights on the trail at Hwy. OO. For years he raced the Birkie out of the elite wave and completed many of the Worldloppet races in Europe.
He also helped initiate the Seeley Hills Classic, the Klister Classic, the Seeley Roller Classic, the Black Bear Biathlon and the Pre Fat. He brought passion, commitment and honesty to everything he touched. Seeley and the ski community will never be the same.
I could go on and on, but I am truly grateful for Gary Penman’s vision and the incredible amount of hard work it took to turn that vision into the Seeley we all love today. Liz and I love feeling like we live in an M.C. Escher drawing of a house that started as a tiny log cabin built by Gary and his brother Mark in 1983. The Penman trails go through our backyard and lead up the new Gordy’s View connector trail.
And thanks again to CAMBA for creating this namesake trail that makes our neighborhood trails even better, and also creates a number of new fun options for anyone riding or skiing the trails around Seeley. For fat bikers, Gordy’s View creates a shorter loop option for those who don’t have the time or energy to complete the Seeley Big Fat Loop (the Not So Big Loop?) or a longer version of the Big Fat Loop (The Really Big Fat Loop?). And the grin factor coasting down the Penman Plunge rivals the downhill on Ridge Rider.