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New festival to highlight Duluth's growing bike trail system

Nikolai Anikin of Duluth rounds a bermed curve on the Candyland mountain bike trail at Spirit Mountain in July 2013. (Bob King / News Tribune)

Plans will be unveiled today for a new two-day event celebrating Duluth’s growing network of bike trails: The Kraus-Anderson Bike Duluth Festival, to be held Aug. 16-17.

“We have high hopes that this will become an annual event,” said Jeff Iisakka, vice president and director of operations for Kraus-Anderson Construction Co.

“We want it to grow into a larger and more spectacular event each year. And there’s no reason it can’t because there is a need for this type of a festival in our area,” he said, boasting that no other location closer to the Twin Cities offers a trail system of comparable caliber.

The festival will include events for riders of every ilk, from seasoned experts to greenhorns just beginning to learn the joys of mountain biking.

“If any place in the Midwest should have a really great bike festival, this should be it,” said Adam Sundberg, co-chairman of the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, commonly known by its acronym — COGGS.

Sundberg said he expects the festival to draw some of the most accomplished riders from Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, Iowa and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He noted that a downhill race at Spirit Mountain will challenge riders with difficult rocky sections requiring advanced technical skills, as well as big drops and jumps.

“This race will be on the radar of some of the best riders in the Midwest,” he predicted. Given the hazards of the course, Sundberg expects riders will come prepared with a wide range of safety gear, including body armor.

Sundberg anticipates an Enduro race featuring four timed stages also will attract riders from near and far. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if more than half of the field at the festival hails from the Twin Cities metro area.

But the festival will cater to less-initiated mountain bikers, as well.

“We will have ride targeted for every type of trail user. There will be options for beginners, intermediate and advanced riders,” Sundberg said.

For those who are new to the sport, COGGS members will offer guided group tours of local mountain bike trails.

Duluth has laid out ambitious plans to develop the “Duluth Traverse” — a 100-mile-long, interconnected mountain bike trail system stretching across Duluth. Mayor Don Ness has described his vision of Duluth becoming “a premier trail city” and a national mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts.

As Kraus-Anderson marks its 15th year of operations in Duluth, Iisakka said the 117-year-old firm was looking for a way “to give back to the community.”

He said the bike festival seemed like an excellent fit for Kraus-Anderson’s 20 local employees, many of whom he describes as outdoor enthusiasts.

“Duluth is like a diamond in the rough, the way that it’s propped on a hill with its beautiful vistas and such a great trail system,” Iisakka said. “We want to encourage people, both young and old, to get out there and use those trails.”

Toward that end, Kraus-Anderson has provided $5,000 in seed money and will donate numerous volunteer hours to the festival. Iisakka said the firm also is fortunate to have strong partners in COGGS and WestmorelandFlint, which is helping to promote the event.

But Iisakka said the festival will need additional volunteers and sponsors to reach its full potential. More information about details of the event and how to get involved will be posted at

Sundberg said encouraging community involvement could help ensure the festival’s success not only in the short run but over the long haul.

“This event should build people’s awareness of the Duluth Traverse and help make the project more sustainable,” he said.

“The idea of a 100-mile long trail system almost sells itself, but maintaining and preserving that system is going to take increased community buy-in,” Sundberg said.

Iisakka said half the proceeds of the event will go to support COGGS and its efforts to develop bicycle trails in the community. He said the other half of proceeds from the festival will go to another, yet-to-be-determined local nonprofit organization to be selected through a social networking campaign and online voting.