Northern Minnesota mountain bikers might soon have another substantial chunk of backcountry dirt to ride on the North Shore.
Lake County officials are planning a 50-mile trail network on 6,500 acres of tax-forfeited county land between the Split Rock River and Beaver Bay, said Nate Eide, Lake County land commissioner
“With what’s going on around us (in mountain biking), the Lake Superior basin is exploding, and there’s huge potential,” Eide said.
The county commissioned Adam Harju of Dirt Candy Designs, a Colorado-based firm that designs and builds mountain-biking trails, to create a tentative plan for 50 miles of trail. The trail system would be built within an area bounded by the Split Rock River, Lake County Road 3, Lax Lake Road and state Highway 61, Eide said. It would offer terrain suitable for beginning riders to advanced riders, he said.
Harju, who has built trails in Duluth and across the country, says the Lake County landscape is excellent for a single-track trail.
“The neat thing about it is you can get a lot of distance, and it doesn’t feel contrived,” said Harju, who lives in Grand Marais. “It feels like you’re out in the woods on a natural path. There aren’t a bunch of different loops and a bunch of intersections all over the place.”
“It’s rugged. It’s steep. There are awesome views of the lake and behind (inland),” Eide said. “The niche is a backcountry, wilderness trail. It’s something that doesn’t exist in the Midwest on a large scale.”
Waylon Munch, chairman of COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) said the proposed trail could be a big draw for riders.
“(Lake County has) a great opportunity to create a very unique backcountry-style mountain bike experience that isn’t often found east of the Rockies,” Munch said. “I think their offerings, along with other trail development happening in Tofte and Grand Marais, will really complement Duluth’s trail network and further establish our area as a premier trails destination.”
The concept for the new trail grew out of a comprehensive trail plan that Lake County developed with the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, Eide said. Now ARDC is helping the county develop an overall mountain biking master plan with an emphasis on the Split Rock trail.
The county is pursuing grant funding for the trail through the state’s Legacy fund — specifically Legacy money awarded through the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission, Eide said. The grant application already has cleared one hurdle, he said, but no money has been awarded yet.
“We won’t see any money until 2017,” Eide said.
Design work would begin next year, with construction to begin in 2018, he said.
Eide said the estimate for trail building is about $20,000 per mile, or about $1 million overall for the trail itself. With trailhead parking and restrooms, the total cost could range from $1 million to
$2 million, he said. The county might also pursue a federal grant for the the project, Eide said.
The cost of Duluth mountain-biking trails constructed by contractors ranged from $30,000 to $60,000 per mile, said Jim Shoberg of COGGS.
The Lake County trail would add more miles to an already thriving Lake Superior basin mountain-biking scene, Harju said. Duluth continues to build and improve single-track trails toward its goal of a Duluth Traverse trail across the city connecting several trail hubs. Other existing trails await riders at Copper Harbor, Mich.; the CAMBA (Chequamegon Area Mountain Bike Association) trail network in Northwestern Wisconsin; and the Cuyuna Trail System near Brainerd.
“I really feel like this Lake Superior basin is as good a riding as anywhere in the country,” Harju said. “We really do have that potential. The quality of trails being built around the basin is really high compared to what I’ve seen in other places.”