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COGGS' view: Benefits of Traverse Trail go well beyond mountain biking

Dave Dawkins pauses at an overlook during a cross-city mountain-biking event in September 2012. (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

The Duluth City Council voted unanimously a week ago today to move forward with the decade-long vision shared by the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, or COGGS, and the city of Duluth to complete the Duluth Traverse Trail system ("Duluth City Council approves trail plan," April 25).

City councilors recognized that investments in past years are working as intended. They're making Duluth the premiere trail city in North America and connecting people to Duluth's beautiful natural places.

The Duluth Traverse Mini Master Plan is just that, a plan. By approving it, councilors were not authorizing spending taxpayer money. They simply placed their stamp of approval on a document, allowing the city to leverage outside funding to improve our green spaces in thoughtful phases over the next several years, based on merit and need.

Duluth Traverse Trail construction costs account for less than 10 percent of the estimates within the plan, which goes far beyond trails. Cost estimates include significant structural repairs to the DWP railroad grade ($3 million-plus), trailhead facilities ($850,000-plus), and park signs ($470,000-plus). While associated with the trail, these improvements will seek to benefit all park users, not just mountain bikers.

As a project partner with the city, COGGS remains committed to lightening the city's burden in several ways:

By pulling our own weight: COGGS has been one of the largest contributors to the cost of the project through fundraising. To date, we have raised more than $800,000, about 28 percent of to-date costs, and will continue to financially contribute to maintaining the Traverse Trail after construction is complete.

Through volunteerism: COGGS has one of the most robust volunteer programs in the city. We have been holding strong at more than 5,000 hours annually for the past several years. With the value of volunteer time estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at roughly $23 per hour, this equates to a contribution annually of more than $115,000.

Via membership: COGGS presently has more than 620 active and paid memberships. Ours is one of the largest chapters in the Midwest.

The city of Duluth has been open and transparent that the intention of this mini master plan is to secure additional outside funding from state and federal sources. City money used for this project already has been leveraged at the minimum dollar-for-dollar, allowing the city to invest in infrastructure it otherwise wouldn't have.

COGGS consistently has supported local youth and family programming. While we have no paid staff, our volunteers regularly take personal time to attend community events to promote healthy and active lifestyles. COGGS also has hosted many maintenance activities with local youths to instill the importance of trail work and volunteerism within our city's green spaces.

Most importantly, COGGS has been involved in and supported the Youth Outdoors-Duluth project from the beginning. For more than two years, we have been actively collaborating with other outdoor-focused user groups and youth agencies, working toward removing the barriers that prevent our at-risk youth from getting outside.

The Duluth Traverse Trail is the foundation that allows the adjacent youth programming to occur at places like Hartley Nature Center, Lincoln Park Middle School, and Spirit Mountain.

While tourists are important for our economy, residents come first. Having a high-quality trail system (literally in people's back yards) is one of the greatest benefits of the Duluth Traverse Trail. There were dozens of messages to our City Council from folks who recently moved here, passing over places like Bend, Ore., and Boulder, Colo.

Our residents have immediate access to world-class recreation infrastructure, continuing to set Duluth apart from other cities. Stories told at the City Council meeting were from young professionals, families, and retirees. They echoed the same theme: choosing to make Duluth home, with the Duluth Traverse Trail as a driving factor in the decision.

The Duluth Traverse Trail project would not be where it is today without public input, compromise, and partnership. COGGS always has worked with all stakeholders and user groups, and that will continue. This trail provides ample opportunity for so many, and we will be steadfastly committed to ensuring it is never at the expense of others.

We are increasingly thankful for the public backing that the Duluth Traverse Trail project has received. We are humbled by the support, including last week's unanimous "yes" vote by the council, and we are inspired by this community. The benefits of this trail go far beyond its users, sending a positive ripple effect throughout each Duluth neighborhood for generations to come.

Pam Schmitt

Pam Schmitt of Duluth is director of fundraising and a volunteer board member for the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, or COGGS.