Category Archives: Trail work

A tale of two units: How Sagamore and Yawkey were opened for fat biking in winter at Cuyuna Lakes

I first fell in love with mountain biking when, out of curiosity, I attended the grand opening of the the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in the summer of 2011. Within two weeks, I bought a mountain bike, started this blog, joined IMBA, and became addicted to the sport.

Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout 2012, Beginner class; photo by Aaron Hautala Haul Road, Yawkey Unit Tugger, Yawkey Unit

My love affair with Cuyuna further intensified when I first rode (and raced) a borrowed fat bike in the snow at the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout back in March. The Sunday after the race, participants were allowed to ride their fat bikes – one day only– in the Yawkey Unit, my #1 favorite section of the trail system. Heaven!  But only one day?  I couldn’t complain too loudly because I didn’t own a fat bike.

So when I heard earlier this fall that the Yawkey Unit would be open to fat bike riding all winter, I contacted Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crewand asked him for details on how the new policy came to be.  He fed me bits and pieces of the year-long process and I decided to pull it all together into a blog post because it’s a story of perseverance and collaboration among private and public interests, all for the good of the sport, the natural environment, and the local economy.

Gary Sjoquist and Jenny SmithIn late summer of 2011, one of the key people behind the creation of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike TrailsQBP Director of Advocacy Gary Sjoquist, suggested to DNR staff at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (CCSRA) that the trail system would be a good place to pilot winter fat biking, given the rapid growth of the activity around the country.

Jenny Smith Letter to DNRIn the fall of 2011, Jenny Smith, owner of Cycle Path and Paddle in Crosby,  sent a letter to the DNR asking that Cuyuna’s trails be opened in the winter to allow snowshoeing in the park. While her letter didn’t specifically ask for winter fat bike access, she made the economic argument that the successful introduction of mountain biking in the warm months could be extended into the cold months with other winter activities besides cross country skiing.

On October 25, the CCSRA Advisory Council unanimously passed the following motion:

To explore funding opportunities to pilot a “Winter Tourism Package” for the CCSRA to allow winter biking, snow shoeing, skiing, and access to parking beginning in December 2011 in order to provide an economic boost to an area negatively impacted by the recession. Motion was made by Representative John Ward and seconded by John Schaubach.

Steve Weber, DNR Manager of the CCSRA, began exploring the options for a winter trail program with his DNR colleagues. In an email to them, he wrote:

CCSRA Winter Riding mapSteve WeberIt became apparent early on that the majority of our existing mountain bike trails are too narrow and steep for winter mechanized grooming. However, I do believe there are some winter riding possibilities on the existing mountain bike trail but that is going to require a lot more research and testing before we can offer it to the public. Time permitting, perhaps we can do some testing on that this winter… After some research, I discovered the perfect area for a winter bike trail and conceptually designed a trail in the Sagamore Unit.

Steve showed the Sagamore Unit trails to local Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew(CLMTBC) members who were gung ho about the plan and offered club assistance.  His plan for a pilot project to see if there was desire and ability to open this unit up to winter riding in the future was approved by Courtland Nelson, Director of the Division of Parks and Trails. Plans were then made to brush the trails immediately and to secure the equipment necessary for grooming the trails in the winter. A group of CLMTBC riders began regular riding of the entire trail system to identify which trails and units would be best suited—experience and safety—for winter biking.

Nick Statz, Yawkey Unit; photo by Aaron Hautala Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout 2012

As the winter of 2011-12 set in, CLMTB club members began talking up the idea of a winter cycling event, and the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout was born. The race for the event was held in the Sagamore Unit and the Yawkey Unit was opened up for a one-day winter pass which CLMTBC promoted with this video:

CLMTBC riders had identified the Yawkey Unit very early on as ideal for year round riding because its:

  • Trail footprint is manageable to maintain, groom.
  • Trails provide a great experience for riders: scenery, range of difficulty and elevation
  • Trails provide a challenge on a fat bike all within feet of each other.

In April of 2012, CLMTB proposed to the MN DNR and the CCSRA Advisory Council that the Yawkey Unit be open year-round. In November, the plan was approved: the Yawkey and Sagamore units would be open all winter, with Sagamore to be groomed by the MN DNR and Yawkey to be groomed by CLMTBC and area snowshoers.

Brainerd Dispatch article on fat biking  Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout 2013

On Dec. 28, the Brainerd Dispatch featured a front-page photo of CLMTB members Aaron Hautala and John Schaubach riding in Yawkey, along with a brief paragraph explaining the winter riding rules.

So props, kudos, and high-fives all around to CLMTB, the MN DNR, and the CCSRA Advisory Council for making this happen.  I expect to be riding Yawkey and Sagamore next weekend and I’m all signed up for the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout coming up in March.

Here are some recent CLMTB videos of riding fat bikes this winter in Yawkey and Sagamore:

Learn to pump at a pump park. Singletrack flow trails will never be the same

Back in April, I blogged about the opening of the pump and jump park in Eagan, adjacent to the skate park at the Lexington-Diffley Athletic Fields (Google map here).

The idea of a pump track is to ride it around and around without pedaling. As I wrote back then, on my first stint, I was able to eventually get around the beginner track on my 29er hardtail. Hard work but fun, once I got the hang it.

When I rode Lebanon Hills a few days later, I noticed that I was able to transfer my newly acquired and modest pumping skills to the rollers there. I was pleased.  I did a couple of more sessions on the beginner pump track before I went to Cuyuna Lakes MBT Festival in June.  I was ecstatic.  I could not believe how much more fun it was to ride Cuyuna’s roller-infested flow trails.  Every little rise and dip in the trail became an opportunity to accelerate without pedaling.

Chance Glasford at the Lexington pump parkIn late June, I took some photos of Chance Glasford as he zipped around the intermediate and advanced Lexington pump tracks on a 24 inch BMX bike.

(Chance is a MORC member, author of the Self-Sponsored Cycling blog, and the leader of the construction of Eagan’s pump and jump park.)

Chance Glasford at the Lexington pump park Chance Glasford at the Lexington pump park Chance Glasford at the Lexington pump park Chance Glasford at the Lexington pump park
Chance could get going so fast that he could manual over two rollers at a time and fly over the table-top jump (right photo above) on the advanced pump track.

I haven’t figured out how to pump the berm to keep my speed up. Chance is doing this in the left photo above where you can see he’s coming out of the berm with enough speed to manual over the two rollers that follow it.

Lebanon Hills: rollers, jumps, berms  Lebanon Hills: 21 rollers
Earlier this month I put my new pump skills to the test on the 21 rollers at Lebanon Hills (left side of the open field on the beginners loop).  After a couple of runs of flying down them without braking, I decided to try to manual over a couple of the rollers.  I picked a couple of spots where the rollers were closer together, scrubbed off some of my speed, and voila!  Too fun.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to completely pump my way around the intermediate track at Lexington, as my 29’er is not the best pump park bike.  The big wheels are a lot to pump.  I might get a 24-inch BMX or trials bike. But in the meantime, I can see how regular stints at the pump track will improve my riding.

loose sand and gravel on the Lexington pump track sweeping the loose sand and gravel on the Lexington pump track
Another surprise: pump tracks need to be swept regularly (loose sand and pebbles accumulate) and then watered down. Chance showed me how to do the maintenance of the beginner’s track last Friday eve.

There are many ‘how to pump’ videos out there, but so far, I like these two:

1. Lee McCormack and Chris Powell coaching high schoolers:

2. ZEPTechniques:

Anatomy of a MORC MTB trail work crew: adding options to the XX rock gardens at Lebanon Hills

Half of the Lebanon Hills trail crew, April 24, 2012Last Tuesday I joined a MORC / Lebanon Hills trail crew working on the XX rock gardens and was amazed at what was accomplished in two hours.

I only took one photo that night (right), and that was just half of the 20+ people who showed up to work from 6-8 pm. So this week I went back for round 2 to chronicle the follow-up work with photos.

A MORC mountain bike trail work crew is typically organized by the Dirt Bosses for the trail. One of them announces the date and time in the MORC forum for that trail, inviting others to sign up.  When I saw this April 23 invitation by John Lundell, one of the Lebanon Hills Dirt Bosses, I just had to go since I love Leb’s rock gardens:

We will continue our efforts in the XX rock gardens this week. Meet in the parking lot (assume trail will be open) – everyone is welcome! Post up if you can make it. Crew leaves the lot promptly at 6pm so if you are coming late let us know.

First lesson I learned: you don’t ride your bike to the work location on the trail.  The Dirt Bosses bring all the tools for the job but you’re expected to help carry them.  So everyone walks in. They recommend long pants, gloves, boots, and eye protection.  Newbies are given a short safety chat on handling the sharp tools.

The task for the crew on this project was to add some difficulty and options to a couple of Leb’s double X rock garden areas. One of the hallmarks of good mountain bike park is that it’s constantly changing, drawing riders at all levels back for new challenges.  Leb excels at this and last year’s addition of a huge advanced beginner’s loop is but one example.

Worker bees like me on last week’s crew spent much of our time digging out boulders from the wooded areas around the XX portion of the trail and rolling them downhill (bowling?) for the ‘architects’ to place.  While the Bosses have a general idea of what they’re trying to accomplish, everyone’s input is considered because the terrain and available rocks require creativity. “We’re making this up as we go” is the modus operandi.

New lines for a double X section at Lebanon Hills New lines for a double X section at Lebanon Hills Double X section work crew at Lebanon Hills, May 1, 2012
The photo on the left shows what was accomplished after this week’s session with one section of the trail. The green arrow indicates where the only option was originally.  The red arrows indicate four new options, with varying levels of difficulty.

In the center photo, the green arrow shows the original more difficult line down the rock.  The red arrows show two new challenging lines down the rock steps.  Previously, that line was quite easy.

For a closer look at the process, see the large slideshow of 40+ photos (recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow: