Duluth has become a destination for off-road bike enthusiasts in recent years, with more than 90 miles of trail across the city and miles more trails nearby.
But apparently that isn’t enough for some biking enthusiasts who decided to build their own rogue trail across wooded city park land in central Duluth.
Someone has taken to cutting trees and bushes, moving dirt and rocks and adding “features” like jumps to what has long been an unofficial shortcut from around Enger Tower down into the Lincoln Park business district.
“People have always used it as a way to get down the hill, walking and biking," said Matt Andrews, trails coordinator for the city of Duluth. "But now it’s gone a little too far. They’re constructing their own trail across city park land with no permission and no plan."
Kirsten Aune, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said the destruction on the hillside is "devastating" — worse this year than ever before, with a crisscrossed network of illicit bike paths.
“They hacked off the top of spruce trees. They cut down other trees," she said. "They are wrecking hawthorn and choke cherries and blueberry bushes. … One of the jumps they built is over a bear’s den. I don’t think they have any idea how much damage they are doing. Or maybe they just don’t care."
Aune said she’s confronted several riders who park their vehicles on West Third Street to ride and work on the rogue trail, "but they just blew me off.” She said she’s contacted the mayor's office, city councilors and police, but that the problem has continued unabated.
The trail, through hardscrabble, undeveloped land sometimes referred to as Central Park, has seen increased use this spring even as all non-paved trails in the city are officially closed due to wet spring conditions. All non-paved trails in the city will remain closed to biking, hiking and running until at least the first week in May, Andrews said, depending on how fast they dry out.
Even under dry conditions, it is illegal to ride a bike cross-country on public land in Duluth. Bikes can be used only on roads, parkways and designated trails.
The situation had become serious enough for city officials on Monday to ask the public to call Duluth police if they see any illegal trail use. City crews also put up signs warning riders to stay off the rogue trail.
“The parks department doesn't have any enforcement authority. All we can do is educate people to pick up their dog’s poop and not ride off trails. But the police have two ordinances they can enforce,’’ for illegal trail construction and riding off-trail, Andrews said.
Off-road biking where not allowed “is always a low-level issue in the background. But this Central Park situation has kind of gone over the top," Andrews said.
Cyclists need to be patient. Construction is set to begin in June on a formal, single-track trail in the same area as the rogue trail — the new Craft Connector Trail from the Enger Park area into Lincoln Park business district. But that trail has been laid out by experts and been scrutinized under environmental review. Permits and funding are in-hand as Duluth inches ever closer to its goal of 106 miles of off-road bike trails inside the city.
Alec Kadlec, president of the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores group of off-road cycle enthusiasts in Duluth, said the group does not support rogue trail efforts.
“This trail in particular was not sustainably built, was not sensitive to the local environment and proved to be a nuisance to some of our neighbors living in Lincoln Park,” Kadlec said of the rogue trail, adding that he would invite whoever built the trail to instead join the formal trail process through COGGS.