Call it an early Christmas present for mountain bike riders in Cook County or the result of hard work by Superior Cycling Association but the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission (GMRPTC) announced it was recommending a $400,000 grant to continue building the mountain bike trail system in the county.
The recommendation now goes to the Minnesota Legislature for approval through the Parks and Trail Legacy Fund. Because the Legacy funds can only be spent to support parks and trails of regional and statewide significance, the Legislature has annually approved these requests.
Cook County was one of fourteen regional parks and trails in Greater Minnesota that will receive legacy funds totaling $11.4 million for fiscal year 2024.
“We were impressed with the many thoughtful and creative approaches we reviewed for broadening Minnesotans’ enjoyment of their beautiful parks and trails, which is why we’re recommending fully funding each of the 14 selected requests,” said GMRPTC Executive Director Renee Mattson.
“Since its creation in 2014, the GMRPTC has awarded more than $72 million in grants to 109 projects in the state’s 74 designated parks and trails. Combined with $25.6 million in community matches to date, grants are used to fund infrastructure improvements, land acquisitions, new facilities, trail rehabilitation and more.”
So, what will the money be used for?
“The grant from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission for $400,000 will include the development of a bicycle skills park and pump track at the Cook County Community Center, rehabilitation of damaged sections of the High Climber trail in Lutsen, and a Connecting People to the Outdoors program to purchase mountain bikes to offer to youth as part of a skills training program. The Skills Park/Pumptrack will be in place by the end of next summer with the remaining portions of the project scheduled for 2024,” said Tim Kennedy, President of the Superior Cycling Association.
But that’s not all of the good news Kennedy had to share, adding that the SCA received a Federal Recreation Trails Program Grant for $75,000 with a local match of $25,000 provided by IRRRB. “This grant will be used primarily to do rehab on existing mountain bike trails at Pincushion Mountain. Work on this grant is expected to be completed next summer,” Kennedy said.
Next, Kennedy added, “The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources has recommended funding for our $200,000 application to rehab mountain bike trails to improve environmental sustainability at Pincushion Mountain that will also include creating alternative riding lines to separate beginner and more advanced riders, replace boardwalks to accommodate adaptive bicycle riders, and add a section of new beginner trail. Funding for this project is provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Work on this grant will start next summer and continue into the following year.”
The County has 10 miles of spectacular IMBA standard single-track trails on the Pincushion Mountain Trail system and 18 miles of equally spectacular single track trails in the Lutsen/Tofte area.
Some mountain bike trail history
Kennedy gave a brief history about the mountain bike trail system two years ago at a celebration of the completion of the 16-mile route connecting Britton Peak Trails to Lutsen Mountains. Below are some of his remarks.
“In 2005, Mark and Melinda Splinler, owners of the bike shop in Grand Marais, received approval from Cook County to build mountain bike trails on 80 acres of County-owned land in the middle of the Pincushion Mountain Recreation area near Grand Marais. Working with the County, a grant application was submitted for Federal Recreational Trails Program funds that would build the first two miles of single-track mountain bike trails in Cook County, the Back 80. This trail was an immediate hit with riders.
“Then in 2009, the Boy Scouts of America were looking for a service project and contacted the United States Forest Service about a service project that would involve building mountain bike trails at Pincushion Mountain and Britton Peak in Tofte. This project was expected to construct 10-15 miles of new track, but only 2-3 miles of trail was built (trail building is not easy or fast as we all quickly learned). At the time that all this early trail development activity was occurring, the Superior Cycling Association did not exist. Still, the new trail development did generate interest in forming an organization to advocate for biking interests in Cook County, which included building more mountain bike trails.
“So, in 2010, the Superior Cycling Association was organized and the effort to complete the planned trails at Pincushion Mountain and Britton Peak intensified. Grants were written, funding was secured, and a relationship with the US Forest Service was established. And after a lot of hard work, more mountain bike trails were built. The first trail at Pincushion Mountain, the Back 80, was built using a rake and ride construction practice, then hand-built trails were constructed by the Boy Scouts, followed by machine-built trails to finish the loops at Pincushion and Britton Peak (trail-building techniques were quickly changing). But the Superior Cycling Association had the beginnings of a trail system in Cook County with 10 miles of trail at Pincushion Mountain and 7 miles of trail at Britton Peak.
“In 2015, the Superior Cycling Association recognized the need to have a plan to help focus trail development efforts and hired the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission to help prepare that plan. After a year of public meetings, community input, and working through various drafts, a Master Plan was completed in 2016.
“One of the first priorities was to begin pursing the construction of a Connector Trail that would link the two existing trail clusters at Pincushion and Britton Peak. Recognizing that tackling a 50+ mile trail was unrealistic for our small but enthusiastic bike club, it was decided to focus initial efforts on a trail linking Britton Peak to Lutsen Mountains-a 16-mile point-to-point trail. An application was made and approved by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to have the Cook County Mountain Bike Trail System be designated as a regional trail within their system of nearly 70 parks and trails in Greater Minnesota. The Cook County Mountain Bike Trails were now a part of a much larger system of parks and trails throughout Greater Minnesota. All while mountain bike trail development in Northeast Minnesota was growing rapidly.
“In 2017, a grant application was submitted and awarded for Federal Recreational Trails Program funding to begin constructing what we called the “Connector” trail. Additionally, a grant was received from the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission for another segment of this “Connector” trail. The momentum was growing, but these two grants were still less than 50 percent of what would be needed to complete this trail. In 2018, another grant was awarded from the Legislative- Citizen’s Commission on Minnesota Resources. And the final funding was provided by the Iron Range Resources Board. We were finally ready to begin construction. Rock Solid Trail Contracting, LLC from Copper Harbor, Michigan (one of the best trail builders in the country) was hired to design and construct the Jackpot and High Climber trails. It was immediately clear in the first mile of trail construction that we had something special in this trail, and the more trail built, the better it became.”