Shred some trail on Lookout Mountain

U.S. Forest Service

U.S. Forest Service

An iron ore dust-stained mountain bike tire. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

An iron ore dust-stained mountain bike tire. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

On Thursday, Sept. 22, the U.S. Forest Service and Iron Range Off-Road Cyclists (IROC) will celebrate the opening of the Lookout Mountain Multi-Use Trail system. This new single-track mountain bike trail and recreational area hugs the Laurentian Divide overlook just off Highway 53 north of Virginia, Minnesota.

From the U.S. Forest Service press release:

Local mountain bike riders in the Virginia area approached the Forest Service in 2014 about the idea of building single-track trails in the Lookout Mountain area. The terrain and easy access from Highway 53 presented a great opportunity to establish the first specifically designed, single-track, mountain bike trails on the west side of the Superior National Forest.

Similar trails have been successfully designed and built in recent years on the east side of the Forest within the Gunflint and Tofte Ranger Districts near Grand Marais and Tofte. For the past two years, volunteers from IROC worked closely with the Superior National Forest – Laurentian Ranger District to develop the new trails.

“This project is a wonderful example of what can happen when volunteers work together with the Forest Service to provide and maintain recreational opportunities on their National Forest. If not for these volunteers this system of mountain bike trails would not be possible.” said Superior National Forest – West Zone Recreation and Wilderness Manager Tim Engrav.

Thousands of volunteer hours and support from the Minnesota and Iowa Conservation Corps and Youth Conservation Corps also went into making this new trail a reality.

The ribbon cutting will take place in 4-6 p.m. ceremony at the Laurentian Divide picnic area, where refreshments will be served. But never mind the refreshments. Most will want to check out the trail itself.

Single-track mountain biking trails are specifically designed and built for rider enjoyment and the challenge that is part of this growing segment of outdoor recreation. Forest Service staff guided the design, layout, and construction of the trails. The majority of the on-the-ground effort to layout and construct the trails was accomplished by volunteers from IROC who dedicated hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteer hours to make five to seven miles of new trails a reality. Club volunteers have continued their dedication by maintaining the trails.

Last year, I wrote about the way that mountain bike trails fuel a local cultural and economic movement on the Cuyuna Iron Range, where mining stopped decades ago. Later I wrote a column identifying that strategy as a possibility for the still-active Mesabi Iron Range.

In nearby Itasca County, the Grand Rapids and Itasca Mountain Biking Association (GRIMBA) plans a multi-use trail along the Tioga pit lake near Cohasset. I spoke with some of the organizers this week and they’re seeking a major investment from the state outdoor legacy fund which could accelerate the completion of the Tioga trail.

Mountain bike trails seem as popular as golf courses were in the ’90s, only unlike golf courses the bike trails tend to fit in with the existing, rugged terrain of Minnesota’s iron ranges.

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