Peter Hark is a resident of rural Northfield, the DNR’s Field Operations Manager State Parks and Trails, and a Founding Supporter of CROCT. He joined me and Marty Larson on his first ride on the Sechler Park MTB trail on Wednesday, a day off for him because it was his birthday. He seemed to enjoy the ride and was complementary on what he saw. For a relatively new mountain biker, he’s not half-bad, and if he got a proper mountain bike with better tires he would definitely be more than marginally adequate.
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.
I occasionally blog here about bicycling issues that aren’t related to mountain biking. This is a good example, though indirectly, this is related to mountain biking because the DNR guys at this meeting also get involved in mountain bike issues on DNR land.
Top officials from the Minnesota DNR Parks and Trails Division held a meeting for a group of local elected officials on Friday at Dundas City Hall to bring them up to speed on current and future developments with the Mill Towns Trail.
- Courtland Nelson, Director
- Peter Hark, Field Operations Manager
- Steve Hennessy, Acquisition and Development Specialist
- Joel Wagar, Area Supervisor
Local elected officials who were able to attend:
- David Bly, Representative, MN House, District 20B
- Dana Graham, Mayor, City of Northfield
- Galen Malecha, Commissioner, Rice County Board, District 2
- Glenn Switzer, Mayor, City of Dundas
Local bike advocate Peggy Prowe also was there.
Among the many developments with the trail that the DNR staff shared were these, most relevant to Northfield and Dundas:
- Acquisition of a 6.5 mile railroad right-of-way is in progress to connect Faribault to Dundas
- The current Dundas to Northfield segment needs a complete rebuild, but a new route is bring pursued that would be more scenic and eliminate two railroad crossings
- Discussions with Union Pacific Railroad on acquiring right-of-way for the segment from Northfield to Lake Byllesby have not been successful; other possible routes are being explored including a combination of private land acquisition and road right-of-way.
I’m particularly intrigued about #2. If you want to know why, ask. Likewise, if you have questions about what’s happening with the trail in the Faribault and Cannon Falls areas, as staff provided updates on developments with those cities, too.
What’s the big problem facing Northfield?
The City of Northfield currently has no plan to provide a visually significant route for Mill Towns Trail bicyclists to ride through Northfield. Those are my words. I use the phrase ‘visually significant’ because DNR staff was unequivocal: a bike trail that appears to end as it enters a city is a giant disincentive for bikers. Yes, trail bikers like to stop in towns along the trail to eat and shop and sightsee. But without strong in-town trail visuals, people tend to not return. The trail itself as it goes through town needs to be memorable, not just the town.
A good example is the visual impact of the Root River State Trail as it goes through downtown Lanesboro (screenshots above from the DNR’s cool virtual tour of the trail). Lanesboro is much smaller than Northfield, of course, so it’s not a perfect comparison. But the point is, once you’ve ridden through Lanesboro on the trail, you don’t forget it and you want to go back.
As I blogged back in March, there are other projects and developments here in Northfield that have a bicycle-component: the Northfield Depot; the East Cannon River Trail segment; the TIGER Trail (aka the Northfield Modal integration project); and the Cannon River Corridor recreational concept.
So the time is right for more citizens to get involved as bike advocates. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement. In the meantime, see my three blog posts about the need for Northfield to get its bike act together, including the formation of a regional bike advocacy committee.