Responding to the Cuyuna call

Paddle boarders navigate the Pennington Pit at the Cuyuna State Recreational Area near the twin towns of Crosby and Ironton, Minnesota. (Aaron J. Brown)

Paddle boarders navigate the Pennington mine lake at the Cuyuna State Recreational Area near the twin towns of Crosby and Ironton, Minnesota. (Aaron J. Brown)

For months now, Aaron Hautala of the Cuyuna Cycle Crew down by Crosby and Ironton had been trying to get me to do a story on the changes related to their efforts to attract outdoor recreational visitors to these old iron mining towns. From mountain bikes to Yurts, paddle boards to SCUBA divers, the place has a decidedly different feel than when it was a more traditional boom and bust Iron Range town during the time my great-grandfather and grandfather mined there in the 1950s.

Yesterday I got the chance. I spent a whole day with Hautala and met half a dozen people involved with changing the script of this former mining region. I’ll be writing a full story for The Daily Yonder in coming days, and producing a package for Northern Community Radio as well.

For now,  however, I just wanted to share that there are remarkable small things happening on the Cuyuna. Not remarkable big things, like smokestacks or widget factories, but little things that are just endlessly exciting if you’ve lived in or around small towns as I have most of my life. It was a work trip, but a tremendous amount of fun. They haven’t figured everything out on the Cuyuna yet, but it was a decidedly enjoyable change of pace from my usual writing about our mining-dominated economy on the Iron Range.

And one note about mountain biking. I’d never tried it before, nor had I used a fat-tire bike. I don’t know how long I was on the bike (we did two of the loops at Yawkey). Time had no meaning. In truth, the experience is among the most viscerally exciting physical things I’ve done since I Baha’ed a kiddie trike off the top of grandma’s split entry stairway as a 3-year-old. Unlike that time I didn’t get hurt or cry, though I did yack once, mostly because I was so focused on not dying in a spectacular accident that I didn’t hydrate well.

Oh, and it didn’t help that I had spent time preparing for a print media interview but not training to ride a world-class mountain biking trail. But I’d do it again. If you’ve got a bike, it’s a free adrenaline rush for the taking. I’ve not experienced anything quite like it.

Meantime, here’s the new tire from the rig I borrowed from the bike shop before my ride:

Cuyuna Tire Before

And here’s the tire after:

Cuyuna Tire After

The red ore of the Cuyuna stains every bike that rides here. It’s a badge of honor for visitors and locals alike. Biking is just the tip of a very interesting economic story, however, and that’s what I’ll be working on this week and next. Stay tuned!


  1. I’m looking forward to your article!
    Also, a wise choice putting you on a FatBike; they ARE NOT just for snow! 😉
    Peace, Joe

  2. Scott S Dahlquist says

    We are trying so hard on this range to enlighten the populous and change the thinking that mining is the only path. We can’t even get the local paper to cover us. Check out the Fiddlin’ Fifty gravel grinder and pot luck picnic on Facebook or the Iron Rance Off Road Cyclists or GRIMBA out of Grand Rapids. The problem with this area is the ecomy has not crashed hard enough yet.

    • Independent says

      Be carful what you wish for. I think this stuff is great but if you hope for others to lose out for you or your favorite ideal to get more attention it tells me your “community” just haven’t done a good enough job promoting yet. Stay positive, it’s a better look.

  3. Ind, I’m not getting it. Are you saying that the folks trying out new ventures are hoping for others to lose out? Where did you read that?

  4. For some perspective…. Cuyuna’s mountain biking trails weren’t built over night.
    They didn’t even break ground until a few certain people had been working in the background for 7-10 years before that groundbreaking moment.

    It’s been proven over the years, (all over the country) and the Crobsy/Ironton area proves it locally, mountain bike trails (and biking in general) brings in big dollars to local economies. Which in turn spawns other outdoor activities.

    It also shows what communities can accomplish when everyone (citizen’s and local government alike) work together for the betterment of all potential trail users.

    The Iron Range as a whole is somewhat behind in their thinking, but more and more communities are starting to realize there is tourism dollars to be had from cyclist’s and other outdoor activities they’d like to do.


  5. Ind, you have an overactive imagination.
    It’s pretty common for humans to avoid planning ahead until they have to. Some do a better job at that than others. It’s a huge stretch to interpret “the economy hasn’t crashed hard enough yet” to mean that venture explorers are hoping for it to crash if that’s what you’re implying.
    It’s not a zero-sum game. There’s plenty of room for current ventures and new ventures to coexist.

    • Independant says

      Absolutely agree that is not a zero-sum game, which is why my fist statement was I think this stuff is great. I am a huge proponent for an all of the above economic development. That’s the beauty of it, I’m not anti anything. I am pro mining, manufacturing, tourism and anything else that can promote economic diversity.

  6. I wish them the best of fortune. It is always good to see folks trying new ways to bring people up to spend time vacationing in the North. When folks visit they eat out, need places to stay , buy gas and spend money that helps out local businesses.

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