If you’ve been a bicyclist in Minnesota for very long, you’re probably aware of his contributions. If not, see the links from Adventure Cycling here and here. I like those because they’re a couple years old.
2005 – IMBA’s Jenn Dice suggests to Tim Wegner that MN 8th District Congressman Jim Oberstar might be able to help with funding. Wegner drafts a request for a federal transportation grant which he and [Gary] Sjoquist present to Oberstar in Washington, DC. When President Bush signs the 2005 federal transportation bill in July, 750,000 is earmarked for the CCSRA [Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area] to be administered through MN Department of Transportation to the MN DNR.
… 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.
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.
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.
My photos of others who spoke during the morning session:
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;
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.
I was also pleased to get a photo of former 8th District Congressman Jim Oberstar with Jenny and John as they were preparing to head over to the Capitol Rotunda for his keynote. When Oberstar was chair of the U.S. House transportation committee, he helped secure $700,000 in federal funds for the creation of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMTBT). See this June 2011 article by Brett Larson in Silent Sports magazine, Cuyuna Lakes Reclaimed, for more on the role that Jim, John, Jenny and many others played. It’s a marvelous story of how the organic process of bike advocacy can work.
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.
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.
In 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:
It 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.
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.
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:
I had a consulting gig in Brainerd last Thursday and my client put me up at the Country Inn in Deerwood, about 4 miles from the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails. Of course I brought my bike, even though my shoulder was still giving me a little trouble. I was hoping for a miraculous Cuyuna Cure. I was a bit stunned when I walked into the lobby of the inn to see a virtual shrine to mountain biking. Evidently the owner, Dan Brown, is a biker and has experienced an economic bump from all the mountain bikers flocking to the area. I didn’t get to meet him but I suspect it’ll be Real Soon Now.
On Thursday night, I stopped by the Heartwood in Crosby where Minnesota High School Cycling League director Gary Sjoquist was doing his high school MTB racing presentation, as there will be a Cuyuna area team next season. I ran into two of my Cuyuna geezer pals, John Schaubach and Steve Weber, and Cycle Path and Paddle proprietor Jenny Smith snapped the photo of us (above right) doing the smartphone dance. I arranged to go for an early morning ride on Friday with John.
The day dawned cool, clear, and still. With the fall colors, it could not have been a more perfect morning. We took Easy Street to Mucker Mountain and then Little Sidewinder over to Hopper Hill where we ran into Dirt Boss Nick Statz doing trail work. The cool thing about riding with John is that he’s a walking history book of the Cuyuna Lakes area, having grown up there. And as a member of the the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail Crew, he’s intimately involved in all aspects of the park’s development. So every time we stopped for a break, I got an education.
John stayed on to help Nick and a short time later, I ran into Twin Cities area mountain bikers Greg Henningsen and Scott Christensen who were up for the day. My shoulder was feeling stronger than I expected (thank you, ibuprofen) so I followed them around for hours. By 5 pm, I’d ridden every trail in both the Mahnomen and Yawkey Units (insets B and D on the revised Cuyuna DNR map, now with directional arrows on the trails).
It was one of those it-doesn’t-get-any-better-than-this days that I’m still savoring. Thank you, Cuyuna.