IMBA Trail Solutions pro builder Stephen Mullins (center) working with CoGGs members at Sprirt Mountain (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

IMBA Trail Solutions pro builder Stephen Mullins (center) working with COGGs members at Sprirt Mountain (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

The people of Duluth must have been pretty nice this year. Word came just before Christmas that the Cyclists of Gitchee-Gumee Shores (COGGS) have received a $250,000 grant from a Legacy Amendment fund to jump start development of a new 20-mile mountain biking trail system right in the heart of the city.

The Duluth Traverse will ultimately span the port town from Spirit Mountain to Amity Creek, from the bluffs of the St. Louis River valley to the crashing waves of Lake Superior. When completed, it will be the longest urban singletrack trail system in the nation, connecting several parks to each other which feature their own trail systems.

The Legacy grant comes only after five years of effort. And there are many years ahead and much work to do; this is not a project for the impatient or the lazy. Hansi Johnson is neither of those. One just has to follow his blog to see that (he recently captured several striking photos of riding an extra-fat tired Surly Pug bicycle on the ice of a St. Louis River reservoir).

The Midwest Regional Director for the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has been by all accounts essential to the project’s success so far. Though Johnson lives outside Duluth, he travels the region helping local cycling groups develop trails in their communities. The Traverse will be in his backyard when complete. Johnson shared the news by noting this is about more than just a new riding opportunity:

It is great to see that off road cycling has become a movement about creating better communities, we have stepped out from singly pushing the “trail” and are now pushing “Trails” plural and how they can create positive lifestyles and change lives.

That might seem like lofty description of some narrow paths through the woods, but the plan is ambitious. The COGGS’ website describes a trail network that will improve opportunities to get out in the woods not just for bikers, but hikers, runners, skiers, snowshoers, and even equestrians:

This trail system will feature trail hubs with more extensive trail networks in Lester Park, Hartley Park, Piedmont-Brewer Park, Spirit Mountain and Mission Creek and then have trails connecting them all together. Our goal for this system is to create the first 100+ mile system of singletrack all within an urban environment. This will connect communities together via natural surface trails and also create an environment where everyone has trail access within a short distance of their home that they can walk, run or bike on.

It’s easy to see why so many groups and individuals would come together around the vision. In any good partnership, you do more together than what you can do alone, and this one is doing a lot. In addition to Johnson and his colleagues at IMBA and COGGS and its volunteers, key supporters of the project include the city of Duluth, notably its mayor Don Ness, and other trail groups in the city, representing the hikers, skiers, birders and average citizens who want more places to get out in the woods.

COGGS members building a technical section of trail in Piedmont Park (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

COGGS members building a technical section of trail in Piedmont Park (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

The coalition has racked up success before this grant. Johnson told me in an email that COGGS has put vast amounts of volunteers hours into the city’s park restoring and closing old trails, as well as investing grant dollars in infrastructure improvements. This has taken a strain off the parks budget, while still improving the parks. This fall, they strongly supported a Parks and Libraries levy that was approved by voters on Election Day.

Mayor Ness recently proclaimed that he wants Duluth to be the “premier trail city in North America.” This isn’t just because there are a lot of mountain bikers or hikers in the town, but because the trail systems are seen as essential to the quality of life the city can offer, from health benefits to recreation opportunities to tourism dollars.

COGGS chairman Adam Sundberg said in a recent article in Northern Wilds that he sees the system having potential as a riding destination up there with other regional stars, reputation as a good place to live and raise a family: “We can have riding every bit as good as Rapid City, CAMBA [the Chequamegon area], UP of Michigan, but we have a town that is much more attractive for arts, culture, kids’ activities, shopping.”

A billboard advertising the Cuyuna trail system (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

A billboard advertising the Cuyuna trail system (Photo courtesy Hansi Johnson)

Just this summer, the biggest new mountain biking trail system in the state opened up amongst abandoned mine pits on the Iron Range at the new Cuyuna Country Recreation Area near Crosby. Johnson told Duluth-Superior Magazine that the park’s grand opening weekend this summer saw all the cafes in town entirely sold out of food.

Hopes are high for the Duluth Traverse. Right now, there is a map, trails scattered around the city, a bunch of dedicated folks, and now, some money to get things started, thanks to the voters and taxpayers of Minnesota. The entire system should cost about $1 million ultimately.

With the new funds, the partners will develop an implementation plan and begin work on the trail system at Lester Park. After that they will work on connector sections which will link trail networks to each other. Johnson wrote in an email that the grant will get things “rolling.”

More: View a map of the proposed trail system (PDF).

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