A group of about 12 cyclists gathered at Kensington Rune Stone Park on Sept. 20 for a ride that wouldn’t have been nearly as accessible two years ago.
Douglas County features some beautiful landscapes centered around its lakes. Fishing and boating enthusiasts flock to the area in the summer. The 55-mile Central Lakes Trail runs through the heart of the area and offers cyclists the chance to take long rides through the countryside. Until recently, though, the opportunities for mountain bikers to find trails specifically designed for them were few and far between.
“I just look around and you see trails in all these other areas and you go, ‘Why can’t we have this in Alexandria?’ ” Jeff Brand said.
It’s starting to happen, thanks in large part to a concerted effort by people like Brand. He is part of the local Runestone Off-Road Cyclists club that has been a big part of bringing these trails to fruition. Nearly four miles of mountain biking trails are complete for riders to use at the Kensington Rune Stone Park. A plan is in place for about 10 more miles of trails to be built at that park, along with other public parks in the area. Andes Tower Hills also offers some mountain biking opportunities for riders on their private grounds.
“We’re hoping to get around 14 miles (at Rune Stone Park), four, five miles at (Lake) Brophy (County Park) and then Tom (Haus) and Jim (Beck) are working at Barsness Park in Glenwood to hopefully have 10 miles there,” Brand said. “All of a sudden, you’re at 25-30 miles and you become a destination.”
An exact timetable of when that many miles of trails might be completed is still up in the air. Money still has to be raised. They hope to obtain both private and public grants to help move the projects forward. A $90,000 grant for a Lake Brophy trail project is already in place. Brand said maintenance on the current trails and the whole system should it come to fruition will be a shared cooperation between their volunteer organization and Douglas County Parks.
A community effort
The trails at Kensington Rune Stone Park are professionally designed but volunteer built. Tom Wegner, a key figure in the creation of the 28-mile Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails near the towns of Crosby, Ironton, Cuyuna and Rivertown, designed the local trails.
Brand said their volunteer days designated to building the trails have been well attended. More than 30 volunteers have put in more than 300 hours of work toward the trails to this point.
It’s taken a community effort. Brand lauded the cooperation the Runestone Off-Road Cyclists have received from Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk. Jake Capistrant, owner of Jake’s Bikes in Alexandria, is willing to help out those who are interested in getting started in mountain biking because he says he sees the potential of what it could mean for the community.
“With the Central Lakes bike trails, and these mountain biking trails, and the high school team, we’re becoming a place where there’s more activities to do in Alexandria,” Capistrant said. “That’s really where I see the value in these mountain biking trails.”
Capistrant has joined Brand in being a leader for the push to get more mountain biking opportunities for cyclists on public lands in the area. The list of those who Brand credited for shaping a future for the sport in the area goes on and on.
“One of the really cool and gratifying things that has come out of the effort to develop mountain biking and trails in Alexandria is the way individuals have stepped up and taken ownership in the progress,” Brand said.
The financial impact
Capistrant pointed to the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System as proof of the kind of impact more cycling opportunities can have on certain communities.
The near 28 miles of designated mountain biking trails opened in the last 10 years and is spread across nearly 800 acres in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area. The small towns in east central Minnesota have been greatly impacted by more biking opportunities, according to Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce director Jessica Holmvig.
“Just in the past few years, we’ve definitely seen a lot of expansion and economic growth,” Holmvig said. “We’ve seen new businesses open up and people move here to start a business because of the trail system. It’s been really exciting to see that happen.”
Holmvig pointed to the Red Raven Bike Cafe, the Cuyuna Brewing Company and the Iron Range Eatery Restaurant that have opened up in recent years. Other existing businesses have transformed themselves to help meet the demand of more traffic due to cycling.
“That’s been very exciting to see,” Holmvig said. “I think we’re at the beginning of everything. Every weekend, it’s packed and everyone has bikes on the back of vehicles.”
Momentum for mountain biking in the Alexandria area was helped by the creation of a local high school team last fall. The Alexandria Mountaineers for students in grades 7-12 race in the Minnesota High School Cycling League. Sophomore Stormy Hegg and eighth grader Izzy Rasmusen both finished all-state in their respective divisions during the team’s inaugural season last year. Capistrant said a total of 17 athletes race for the club this fall.
Brand said they would love to host a high school race and maybe even a Minnesota Mountain Bike Series race at Kensington Rune Stone Park when all the trails are complete, which would draw hundreds of cyclists and their families to the area if it happens.
Bowen Tesch races for the Mountaineers high school club and was ready to lead the group of mountain bikers through the winding trails at Rune Stone Park on Sept. 20.
“I love being outside in nature, just going around and seeing everything around these trails,” Tesch said of his draw to the sport. “In some parts, it’s going fast. I love going down those hills.”
Riders can get whatever it is they are seeking out of the sport of mountain biking. From fast downhills to scenic pathways.
“There’s a variety of experiences,” Brand said. “Most of the trails are graded like ski slopes and most of these around here are for every rider.”
Ryan Hughes is part of the group that bikes during the group rides at the Rune Stone Park every Wednesday this fall. Alongside him was his 10-year-old son, Treston, who energetically stood and pumped his legs to get through some of the small uphills. Treston stayed about 15 feet in front of his dad as they made their way through the trees of the park.
“It’s kind of relaxing,” Ryan said. “It’s something you can do by yourself or with a group for your whole life. You can challenge yourself as you want to.”
More and and more, opportunities to do that are coming throughout the area.