Over the last decade, and especially over the last five years, mountain bike trail systems have been popping up across Northeastern Minnesota.
The pace of construction hasn't slowed at all this year.
"Within an hour and half or two-hour drive from Duluth, there's probably 400 miles of trail," said Paul Nordlund, vice president of Superior Cycling Association in Cook County. "That's unreal."
With Duluth and its almost 100 miles of urban mountain bike trails serving as the region's hub, other systems have emerged along the Iron Range and North Shore.
Dave Cizmas, recreation forester for Lake County who is overseeing construction on the Split Rock Wilds Trail near Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, called the trail boom the "Cuyuna Effect," referring to the success of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails near Ironton and Crosby.
"Cuyuna was built, and it basically revitalized the towns around there so local governments are like 'Hey, that works. Let's try it,'" Cizmas said. "So that has helped us dramatically and helped us get access to really be able to go after the grants that are funding this project."
In addition to the Redhead Mountain Bike Trail in Chisholm, here's a rundown of some of the recently opened or under-construction trails across the Northland:
Pine Valley in Cloquet is doubling its mountain bike trail system from about 2.5 miles of single-track trails to 5 miles this summer.
"Pine Valley, I think, is the crown jewel for the Cloquet park system, in my opinion, and the bike trails give us an added activity,” Tim Krohn, who recently hosted a organized a race on the trail, told the Cloquet Pine Journal. “The ski trail is a really nice ski trail. It's really good in the winter, people come and hike on it in summer. But there's just the added dimension of a single-track designed bike trail that has brought out even more people.”
Stretching from the Britton Peak Trailhead off Sawbill Trail in Tofte to Lutsen, the 17-mile Jackpot and High Climber Mountain Bike Trails opened late last spring.
Nordlund of the Superior Cycling Association called it a "wilderness, single-track, purpose-built, natural surface, single-track trail."
"It's really the only one in the Midwest for sure that's of its kind," Nordlund said. "It's only interrupted once by a minimum-maintenance road, and so other than that, it's truly a wilderness experience."
Now, the group is turning its attention on revamping the existing and aging system of mountain bike trails at Britton Peak.
Already home to almost 100 miles of mountain bike trail systems stretching from one side of the city to the other, there's still plenty for volunteers and hired crews to do in Duluth.
Crews have recently completed a section of the Duluth Traverse through Bagley Nature Area and the University of Minnesota Duluth (connects Traverse segments in Hartley Park to Chester Park) and reopened a half-mile section of Hartley's Guardrail trail damaged in the 2016 blowdown.
Other projects this summer include:
- A volunteer-built trail spanning 2 miles at Ely's Peak.
- The Craft Connector linking Enger Park to the so-called Lincoln Park Craft District.
- A 1-mile volunteer-built loop in Downer Park off Vermilion Road.
- A 6/10-mile segment to connect Homebrew trail in Brewer Park to the Quarry trail into Casket Quarry Park.
- Two reroutes into parking lots at Twin Ponds and Haines Road trailheads.
"It's a busy year of construction," said Mike Reuter, trail director of the Cyclists of the Gitchee Gumee Shores, commonly known as "COGGS."
"COGGS is at a point where we're putting major efforts and resources into trail maintenance," Reuter said.
Running parallel to its alpine ski hills, the Biwabik recreation area currently has five trails of varying difficultly — from beginner to expert — open with cyclists taking the chairlift to the top and letting gravity do the work on the way down.
Crews are about ready to open another gravity trail before starting to build cross-country trails.
When complete, the goal is to have 10 gravity runs and 20 miles of cross-country bike trails, said Benji Neff, director of mountain sports at Giants Ridge.
"It's a very exciting summer with lots of construction happening," Neff said.
The Lake County Demonstration Forest north of Two Harbors already has 7 miles of trail, but the Mnnesota Conservation Corps is helping build another 2 miles of trail, said Cizmas, of Lake County.
But a larger trail system is underway near Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The first phase will be about 10-12 miles, Cizmas said, and it's expected to open next spring when the state park's new campground opens. The campground will also serve as the trail system's trailhead.
It will grow to 50 miles of trails after all the phases of construction are complete and it should offer intermediate to advanced riding, similar to Piedmont and Brewer in Duluth, Cizmas said.
"It's extremely rugged terrain," Cizmas said. "It's definitely going to live up to the Split Rock name."