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City of Virginia planning a bigger, more connected Mineview

The view from the former Mineview in the Sky, pictured here in 2015, included the city of Virginia across the Rouchleau pit. News Tribune file photo

The city of Virginia has big plans for a new Mineview in the Sky.

It involves integrating the region's trail system with the city, constructing a visitor center and making it more accessible than before.

"We're going to revitalize our trail system around our lake, expand it with some lighting," said Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe. "So what we would like to do is use the Mesabi trail system. The trail is already there that goes right to the bridge."

The goal of these proposals is to implement "active living" into the city, an initiative that Cuffe said will promote more access between the city and the trails that surround the lake and mine adjacent to Virginia.

"This active living idea is to reduce the amount of motorized transportation in Virginia, and encourage a more healthy lifestyle and more healthy living," he said.

The Mineview in the Sky was a popular tourist attraction for the city until it was closed in 2015 to make way for an expansion at United Taconite. It provided an up-close view of old mining equipment, as well as a scenic overlook of the Rouchleau mine pit. Since the reconstruction of U.S. Highway 53, Cuffe and the city of Virginia have had their eyes set on a new site.

Because accessibility is a key component of the city's new plan, Cuffe says trails would be built with wheelchairs and bicycles in mind, so people of all ages and abilities could access it. More than that though, a proposed visitor center would have the option of showing how equipment works and would include a camera system to give people an idea of what an active mine would look like.

"It'll be more interactive. It'll provide more access, have more information," Cuffe said. "People would be able to run a shovel interactively."

While the city has about $100,000 budgeted for projects like the active living initiative, it's looking for more. It's asked for $681,000 from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to expand the trail network.

Financial constraints aren't the only barriers in the way. The city still hasn't finalized a place to put a visitors center, but is considering either on Chestnut Street or near the intersection of Highway 53 and South Second Avenue West.

"We're working hard at it. We have a lot of volunteers and grassroots efforts and so we're encouraged by all the citizen involvement and all the new ideas coming in and the expertise that's been provided, so we're excited," Cuffe said. "We just want to see this come to fruition."

If all goes according to plan, Cuffe said construction would start sometime in late fall.