Tag Archives: Aaron Hautala

PedalMN Bicycle Summit: Minnesota is a state that works for mountain bikers

Time magazine cover Governor-Wendell-Anderson 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit

Many of you reading this blog were not even a gleam in your father’s eye in 1973 when Time magazine featured Governor Wendell Anderson on its cover for a story titled Minnesota: A State That Works. (Anderson just celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year.)

2013 PedalMN Bike Summit planning partners

But I thought of that cover story after attending the 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit this week, a two-day Minnesota state government-hosted conference involving four state agencies, several non-profits, and representatives from more than a few bicycle-related businesses. 

CLMTBC_IMBA_Web_LogoWhen it comes to bicycling, Minnesota seems to be a state that works.  And for state’s mountain bikers, the success of the two-year old Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail system (CLMTBT) is the epitome of government, non-profit, and industry leaders effectively collaborating to get something done that’s been huge for our sport in the state. In short, Cuyuna rocks. (In MN mountain biking circles, the word ‘Cuyuna’ is the most commonly used short-hand for the mtb trail system in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area – CCSRA.)

Read the timeline of the creation of Cuyuna. You’ll see the names of these people, most of them more than once: Gary Sjoquist, Dan Cruser, Courtland Nelson, Mike Van Abel, and Hansi Johnson. All of them were there this week, as were others from their organizations (MORC, IMBA, DNR, QBP).

Huntington Mine Lake, Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails Alstead Mine Lake, Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails Alstead Mine Lake, Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails Map: Cuyuna's Screamer

I got up to Cuyuna early on Monday morning, as it was a gorgeous autumn day and I wanted to ride every single trail in the Huntington east and west units (AKA as the Mahnomen Unit on the DNR’s map of Cuyuna). I rode some more than once, including the steep and short Screamer which I rode five times, trying to get better/faster at it with marginal success. But what fun.

Experiential session groups, 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit Experiential session groups, 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit Experiential session groups, 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit

For most participants, the day’s activities started shortly after lunch with “experiential workshops on bicycles in the field.”  Groups gathered in the Croft Mine parking lot in Cuyuna’s Yawkey Unit.  The blurb for those doing the experiential mountain bike ride:

Experience firsthand what makes the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails an IMBA-certified Ride Center. Learn about purpose-built trail design and weekly trail maintenance. See why cycling is now-year round in the Cuyuna Lakes area.

Find out how state, county and city governments have partnered with residents and the cycling industry to achieve the shared goal of becoming an international mountain biking destination. Members of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew will lead ride participants through an interactive tour within the Yawkey Unit of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

This bike tour is purposefully designed for cyclists of all skill levels to enjoy their time on the red dirt. Riders will be separated into advanced, intermediate and beginner categories.

Hansi Johnson, IMBA Dan Cruser, CLMTBT Nick Statz, CLMTBT

Darrell, local EMS guy Peter Hark, DNR Field Operations Mgr & stand-in photographer Katie Johnson (reflective vest), CLMTBT, experiential group ride leader

Organizers set up six guided ride stops out on the trails, each staffed with someone explaining:

  1. Mountain bike experiential session routePurpose Built Trails and Riding
  2. Trail Maintenance
  3. Community Connections for Economic Development
  4. High School Mountain Bike League
  5. Year Round Recreation
  6. Safety and Grassroots Support

I followed the advanced group around and IMHO, it was a very cool way to show/teach a large number of people in a short period of time the important aspects of a modern mountain bike trail system and its wider impact.  After the guided stops, ride leaders took their groups back out on the loop trails for more riding until everyone convened back at the parking lot for topical Q&A at various tables.

Karl Erbach (Trek), John Schaubach (CLMTBC), Seth Nesselhuf (QBP) Steve Weber (DNR), Gary Sjoquist (QBP) John Gaddo (QBP), Reed Smidt (MORC)

There were more than a few mtb muckety mucks on hand to help.

Left: Karl Erbach (Trek), John Schaubach (CLMTBC), Seth Nesselhuf (QBP)
Center: Steve Weber (DNR), Gary Sjoquist (QBP)
Right: John Gaddo (QBP), Reed Smidt (MORC)

deck at Cragun's Resort dining room, Cragun's Resort DNR's Courtland Nelson; IMBA's Mike Van Abel IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel

We then gathered for socializing and dinner at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, where DNR Parks and Trails Director Courtland Nelson introduced the evening speaker, IMBA Executive Director Mike Van Abel. Mike and IMBA have a long history with Cuyuna (Hansi’s got a good summary in his June 2011 blog post, shortly after the park opened) so it was fun to hear some of Mike’s stories of that history. His message to the audience of 200+ participants was clear: the pursuit of IMBA’s mission (“to create, enhance and preserve great mountain biking experiences”) goes far beyond the sport and IMBA’s members.  Communities and regions all over the continent are seeing that the environmental, economic, and public heath benefits of mountain biking are significant and growing.

IMBA'sMike Van Abel, moderating MTB panel at PedalMN Bike Summit IMBA's Hansi Johnson, MTB panelist at PedalMN Bike Summit MORC Board Chair Reed Smidt, MTB panelist at PedalMN Bike Summit CLMBTC President Aaron Hautala, MTB panelist at PedalMN Bike Summit Mike Van Abel, Aaron Hautala, Hansi Johnson

One of Tuesday morning’s breakout sessions was dedicated to mountain biking. Mike moderated a panel consisting of IMBA’s Hansi Johnson, MORC’s Reed Smidt, and CLMBT’s Aaron Hautala.

One thing that stood out for me was Reed’s comment about MORC’s role in the state.  Despite the word ‘Minnesota’ in its name, MORC has recently become more focused on mountain biking in the Twin Cities metro area, as the IMBA Chapter Program has produced many chapters throughout the state. But with 3 million residents and thousands of mountain bikers in the metro area, MORC plays an important role in producing and supplying a significant number of mountain bikers who like to travel to the mtb trail systems throughout the state and midwest region.

So my take-away from the Bike Summit: I’m damn lucky to be a resident of Minnesota, a state that works for mountain biking. And the work that others have done to get us to this point inspires me to help keep it going and do what I can to get others to join the effort.

I’m in a Duluth coffee shop as I write this. I’m going riding.

Warming up for the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout: the Yawkey Unit is perfect

Cuyuna Lakes billboardAaron HautalaAaron HautalaGriff Wigley (eyes wide shut), Aaron Hautala

I came up to Cuyuna yesterday to get in a little riding before this weekend’s Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout. I met Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew (CLMTBC) president Aaron Hautala at 2 PM and we rode every trail in the Yawkey Unit, some twice. He and his fellow CLMTBC members had snowshoed the entire network of trails in Yawkey last weekend when the snow was sticky and their timing could not have been more perfect.  With yesterday’s colder temps, the trails are hard and fast. In some areas, if you wander too far off the center (the ‘bacon strip’), your tires find the softer snow and you’ll slow down quickly.  But generally, it’s primo.

FYI, Aaron was the guy who teamed up with WCCO TV reporter Mike Binkley for the Finding Minnesota: Cuyuna Lakes Yeti segment that aired earlier this week.

This morning I’m meeting CLMTBC  member John Schaubach to do it all over again. Saaaaweeeet. And tonight we’ll do it all again for the night group ride, when Aaron, John and I will be escorting the beginners around Yawkey.

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:

Winter Bike Expo 2012: fat bikes rule

Winter Bike Expo, Freewheel Bike Winter Bike Expo, Freewheel Bike Winter Bike Expo, Freewheel Bike  
Freewheel Bike held their 2nd annual Winter Bike Expo ("the world headquarters of winter riding fanatics") yesterday at their Midtown Bike Center. The fat bikes were everywhere (Surly and Salsa each had a big presence) and since I’m doing some work on the 2nd Annual Fat Bike Winter Summit & Festival coming up in January, the Expo gave me a picture of how much enthusiasm there is here in Minnesota for fat biking.

Griff Wigley being influenced by Aaron Hautala Joe Meiser and John Gaddo, QBP Hansi Johnson and Aaron Hautala Aaron Hautala's Cuyuna Series G Surly Moonlander
I hadn’t planned on going but on Friday night, I had dinner with Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew and while I was under the influence, he influenced me to go. I got to chew the fat (heh) again with former Northfielder John Gaddo, Outside Sales Rep at QBP (Quality Bicycle Products). He introduced me to Joe Meiser, Q’s Product Design Manager who, just a few days ago, had sent me all his photos from the 1st Annual Fat Bike Summit for posting on the site. I also got to talk fat bike advocacy with IMBA Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson.

I took a photo of Hansi and Aaron, two guys who, unlike me,  actually  know what they’re doing with a camera.  (See some of Aaron’s photos on his Sweet Cuyuna Living’ blog; see some of Hansi’s photos on his Universal Klister blog.) Alas, I was laughing when I took their photo and ended up with a very blurry image. So I’ve covered up my mistake with a stylized version of it. My choice of red was influenced by red accent that Aaron has used all over his Cuyuna Series G Surly Moonlander, which he had just outfitted with monster 4.8" Bud and Lou tires from Surly, complete with red valve stem caps.

See my large slideshow of 56 photos (recommended) or SLOW CLICK this small slideshow:

Cuyuna boys stray; no longer Leb virgins

Aaron Hautala, Reed Smidt, Todd Orjala, John SchaubachCLMTB Crew president Aaron Hautala and Cuyuna legend John Schaubach drove down to the Twin Cities from Crosby yesterday to attend last night’s MORC board meeting.

John and Aaron had never ridden anywhere besides the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails so they decided to check out Lebanon Hills before the meeting. I joined them, along with MORC VP Reed Smidt and fellow Northfielder Todd Orjala.

We spent 3.5 hours riding every trail at Leb. I was glad worried when they crashed a few times but I still think they enjoyed themselves and maybe even learned a thing or two.

I also walked them through the soon-to-be-opened skills park at Leb and then took them over to see the Lexington Pump and Jump park in Eagan, as they’re scheming to add similar features to Cuyuna.

Cuyuna Lakes MTB Fest BMX stunt show, airbag free-fall

CLMTB Crew president Aaron HautalaAt last year’s Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival, I was a wide-eyed spectator who didn’t even own a mountain bike and therefore had time to take lots of photos of every event.

Not so this year.  I was having too much fun participating this past weekend to take many photos. Plus, I knew that CLMTB Crew president Aaron Hautala, quite the photographer (see his blog) was on duty with his monster camera.  Keep an eye on his Facebook photo album for more of his festival photos.

DSC01114 IMAG0001 IMAG0002 IMAG0003 IMAG0004 
The guys from the Factory BMX Stunt Show brought their Mega Jump ("the largest portable jump in a five state area with a 7’ tall landing") to the festival. I didn’t get show photos but as you can see from the above photos of one guy warming up, the talent was amazing. The two shows they put on were a huge hit with the crowd.

DSC01117 DSC01118 DSC01119 
Seek Joy Productions brought a US Airbag free-fall station to the festival and a steady stream of kids and adults took the plunge into the big baggie throughout the day. It took a while to convince this kid to jump but he did it.

 458107_3556239216905_1607901711_o 410931_3556241056951_1908783502_o 410828_3556241976974_458477199_o 471759_3556242496987_1403600111_o 413067_3556259577414_1416172847_o 178718_3556260257431_1231051539_o 457432_3556262177479_663350528_o
I was pleased that Aaron took photos of me making the plunge, first from below and then from above. I returned the favor later in the day.

Evidence of shredding the red at Cuyuna Evidence of shredding the red at Cuyuna Evidence of shredding the red at Cuyuna
I love how, when you shred the red at Cuyuna, your bike comes home with the evidence.