Freewheel Bike held their Winter Bike Expo 2013 at their Midtown Bike Center this weekend and I was around both mornings, primarily wearing my MORC/IMBA member hat (unlike last year), as I did my first ever booth duty stint. Continue reading Winter Bike Expo 2013: my first MORC booth duty stint
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.)
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.
When 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).
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.
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.
Organizers set up six guided ride stops out on the trails, each staffed with someone explaining:
- Purpose Built Trails and Riding
- Trail Maintenance
- Community Connections for Economic Development
- High School Mountain Bike League
- Year Round Recreation
- 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.
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)
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.
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.
With my MORC member hat on, I’ve been doing a little advocacy work on issues related to the mountain bike trails along the Bloomington segment of the MN River Bottoms (see my July blog posts here and here). The MN Dept. of Natural Resources is among the land managers there with their Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area.
Last week I noticed that the DNR’s 2014 bonding request includes money to develop a trail down there. See pages 17-18 of this PDF which states:
Develop Key Trails — $10 million.
$10 million is to acquire and develop key segments of state trails and to provide funding to complete segments that only have partial funding. Project priorities include Cuyuna, Gitchi-Gami, Heartland, Paul Bunyan and Minnesota Valley State Trails.
So I had coffee at the GBM on Friday with Peter Hark, almost a Northfielder and Field Operations Manager in the Parks and Trails Division of the MN DNR. I first met Peter back in March at the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill.
Even though Peter’s not directly involved in trail acquisition and development, I wanted to pick his brain to try to get a better understanding of how the funding and planning process for trails works. He did not disappoint.
MORC’s concerns, of course, are that the creation of a new MN River Bottoms trail (likely paved) could jeopardize the natural surface shared-use trails there now that we use for year-round mountain biking.
Side note: One of Peter’s pet projects (my phrase) is the addition of yurts to the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System. See this April CLMBT blog post for some details. He also told me that there’s a good possibility that next year’s Fat Bike Summit could be held at Cuyuna, in which case, I’d like to make my yurt reservation right now.
Next step: getting Peter to go for a MN River Bottoms trail ride on a fat bike, Real Soon Now. He said he’s willing. Stay tuned.
I spent a few days with some buddies at a cabin near Lutsen over the weekend. We hiked the state park trails at Temperance and Cascade but I brought my 29’er in case any of the COGGS mountain bike trails around Duluth opened up/dried out in time for my drive back home to Northfield. Alas, no such luck. The trails were all too soft yet because of the late-season heavy snowfall and cold temps.
I was going to head back home to ride the metro-area MORC trails but torrential rains there closed all the trails that had just opened up a week ago. So I sent a text to CLMTB Crew president Aaron Hautala in hopes that Cuyuna Lakes would be open. YES! They had heavy rain overnight but the trails dried out quickly and were tacky fast.
I got there by 3:30 on Saturday and promptly ran into fellow Northfielders Todd Orjala, Ken Drivdahl, and Steve Schmidt. After riding all the trails in the Mahnomen Unit (see inset B on the DNR map), I pooped out by dark and was planning to make the drive home but got rescued by CLMTB Crew member John Schaubach who offered me dinner at his cabin and a place to pitch my sleeping bag for the night. YES!
John and I went for an early Sunday morning ride in the Yawkey Unit. He showed me how the CLMTB Crew had painstakingly spread a layer of Cuyuna’s red dirt/gravel mix on top of many sections of the trails that were primarily clay. John said that they refer to this mixture as ‘Cuyuna Gold’ because of its ability to harden the surface of a trail while still providing good traction. It’s amazing the amount of work that’s gone into doing this and what a difference it makes, especially after it’s rained. Props to Cuyuna Dirt Boss Nick Statz, Yawkey Unit Dirt Boss Dave Taylor, and their team of CLMTB Crew volunteers for working with the DNR to make this happen.
The rain ended our ride at 9 am so we promptly headed to the Heartland Kitchen & Café in Crosby for their stunning Sunday buffet. I’d blogged photos of proprietor Maureen Christopher before but this was the first time I’d met her sweetie, Jim Christopher, who was the beauty on duty for the buffet. After two hours of gorging ourselves, John and I staggered out and I departed for home, sated and grateful for yet another Cuyuna weekend.
I was in St. Paul yesterday morning for the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s Day on the Hill which their web site described as:
… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.
I first blogged about the Parks and Trails Council back in Nov. of 2011 when Tim Wegner’s contributions to mountain biking were profiled in their Minnesota Trails magazine.
That piece focused on Tim’s work on the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, which, as readers of this blog know, is the mountain bike park that changed my life.
So it was cool yesterday to see and hear from two of the people mentioned in that article, Executive Director Brett Feldman and DNR State Parks Director Courtland Nelson, because of the role they played in Cuyuna’s creation.
Better yet, my Cuyuna pals Jenny Smith and John Schaubach from the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails were there and introduced me to two of their colleagues, Jim Mayne (Deerwood Technologies, Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce) and Judy Erickson, former Government Relations Director for the Parks and Trails Council, now a lobbyist on her own with a new client: Cuyuna! A little history on Judy is in order.
After I blogged about the article on Tim Wegner, I attached a comment to it about Judy’s departure from the Council, linking to the Nov. 2010 article titled High-Energy Judy Erickson Leaving Parks & Trails Council. Pertinent Cuyuna quote from the article:
Wegner recalled that once he and others were glumly discussing the fact that they didn’t have the necessary state money to match the potential federal money when Parks & Trails Government Relations Director Judy Erickson approached them and asked what was wrong. They explained and she took them to the sixth floor of the State Office Building, told the people there that she wanted a bill written and what she wanted it to say and then took it to DFL Rep. John Ward and Republican Sen. Paul Koering and told them to sponsor it. Eventually, the $150,000 was appropriated. “The state is getting a million dollar trail for $150,000,” Wegner said.
Tim chimed in with this comment:
Griff, I remember that conversation with Judy very well. It was amazing to me how much Judy was respected by everyone that she spoke with. Everyone from the people that wrote the bill to Rep Ward and Sen. Koering treated her with respect and obvious appreciation for all the work she did to lobby for state parks.
The energy that Judy exudes is infectious, she has such a positive attitude and full of attitude of we can get this done. She was also critical in holding my hand as I testified in front of the house committee in support of the bill. What a scary experience but, I knew that Judy was there and could always help me with a difficult question.
I asked Judy to send me a blurb about her role. She wrote:
A veteran lobbyist, sharing her strategic legislative and communications skills, and passion, to help communities secure state investments for economic development, tourism and infrastructure. For Cuyuna, helping them develop a community wide approach to state investments in the Cuyuna Lakes Trail and CSRA and turning the area into the place for active recreation year-round; and creating business opportunities along the way. "One ride on a mountain bike was all it took. The adrenaline and the scenic beauty of Cuyuna combine for an amazing memory." Unique signature, besides working really hard, is sharing apples and apple pies or two from our Pleasant Valley Orchard.
You can also contact Judy via her profile on LinkedIn and her firm, Conservation Strategies, Inc.
My photos of others who spoke during the morning session:
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.
One of my favorite trails in the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System is the Timber Shaft trail in the Yawkey Unit. The trail’s Double X rock sections and man-made skinnies are at the top of a hill with gorgeous pine trees and boulder-infested gullies. So I was stoked to ride it on a fat bike on Friday before the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout festivities. The trail’s snow conditions were perfect and the weather idyllic.
I purchased an iStabilizer Flex tripod mount a couple of weeks ago so that I could use my smartphone camera to take photos and video of myself riding. It’s not quite a GoPro put considerably cheaper.
Below is a 35-second video of me riding some of the areas pictured above: