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Sam Cook column: Duluth - life in the outside and on the wild side

Sam Cook

Three times in recent days, the feeling came over me again — this is a pretty amazing place to live. Duluth. The great north woods. The shores of Lake Superior. The St. Louis River estuary.

The first time I got the feeling was on a mountain bike ride along the Duluth Traverse trail from Enger Tower to Spirit Mountain. The second time was on a kayak outing in the Duluth-Superior Harbor with a local tour group. The third was when I spent a day with wildlife biologists who captured and placed a GPS collar on a wild gray wolf.

I made the bike ride with a friend. We dropped into the trail and were swallowed up by the hardwood forest beneath Enger Tower in the heart of Duluth. The Duluth Traverse is a single-track trail used by bikers and runners and hikers. One day, the trail will span all of Duluth, from Mission Creek in the west to the Lester River in the east. About 29 miles of an eventual 40 miles have been completed, and more construction is underway.

We rolled along — below Enger, through Lincoln Park, up to Piedmont, west through Brewer Park, eventually to the base of Spirit Mountain, 11 miles in all. We snaked through switchbacks as we climbed or descended the hillside. We pedaled along rushing streams that tumble down through the city.

We saw perhaps a dozen other riders in a couple of hours. Relaxing at Spirit Mountain's Grand Avenue Chalet after the ride, we watched downhill bikers catch the ski lift to the top of the hill and come charging down.

Another evening I joined a sunset kayak paddling group in the harbor. Nine of us launched just south of the Aerial Lift Bridge and paddled in amber evening light past the Duluth ship canal and into Minnesota Slip. Live music from Bayfront Park drifted over the water. Boats came and went under the lift bridge. Some in our group paddled up alongside the retired William A. Irvin ore ship in the slip, gaining a vivid perspective on the size of these vessels. Boats from the Vista tour fleet came home to roost for the night.

The nine of us bobbed and stroked along, soaking up a summer evening in the continent's farthest-inland freshwater seaport. Even for a longtime Duluth resident, it was a pretty cool experience.

A few days later, I joined a team of wildlife biologists just north of Duluth to check 21 traps they had set, hoping to catch a gray wolf or two and fit them with collars that would track their movements. While wolves are common enough around here that they're occasionally seen in town, not many places in the Lower 48 support these fascinating critters.

The biologists, with the 1854 Treaty Authority representing the Grand Portage and Bois Forte bands of Lake Superior Chippewa, were fortunate enough to capture a young adult wolf. They fit him with a GPS-signaling collar and released him again into the woods — all on the fringes of of Duluth. Thanks to the collar he's wearing, biologists will soon be getting regular emails from him and sharing their research.

Most of us have known for a long time that Duluth is a cool place to live. We're just getting better at letting the rest of the world know.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Find his Facebook page at or his blog at