Trail association has plan to build and fortify
How popular is the Superior Hiking Trail? So much that its keepers have singled out several high-traffic areas that need immediate attention and have come up with some funding to begin the work.
The Superior Hiking Trail Association calls part of its to-do list the “Big Bad Five” — five projects that are getting attention with a $100,000 grant this summer from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).
A second grant of $191,000 from the LCCMR will go toward recommended fixes on those five segments, which are under assault from foot traffic, wetter weather and more.
The plan, said association Executive Director Denny Caneff, isn’t just to repair the trail but to fortify it for years.
From day hikers to backpackers to runners, an estimated 50,000 people set foot on the trail each year. Popular areas like Gooseberry Falls, the Split Rock River, and the Bean and Bear Lakes Loop are among the troubled five. Gooseberry needs a reroute. And the Split Rock Loop segment is one of the most popular day hikes — the trail connects at the Hwy. 61 wayside — and heavy use is taking a toll. (There’s a separate issue, too, a few miles upstream where the trail crosses the river. The trail association has raised money for a new river bridge. While there are logistical challenges, construction could start next year.)
“They are heavily used and beat up. There is some damage to resources that makes me uncomfortable,” Caneff said. “Hiking is a very benign outdoor activity. Yet, we damage the resource. It’s just a fact.”
The association has hired trail-building experts to assess and make recommendations on about 30 miles of trail, Caneff said.
When deciding where to start on the 310-plus mile path, they took into account issues such as the impact on water quality or concerns about visitor safety.
“It was really clear which ones were the worst of the worst,” Caneff said. “In some ways, it’s a triage process.”
As part of the assessment, the experts will look at the condition of built structures such as bridges, or eroded or muddy areas that seem irredeemable. Recommendations could include fixes such as a stairway to help control erosion on a slope.
All proposals for trail work are expected back by fall. The process will be repeated on another 20 miles of trail next year.
Caneff said this two-year assessment and action plan has long-term ramifications.
“That’s the spirit we will go through the evaluations and the renewal with is, let’s make this thing last for decades and hold up well.”
Caneff said the association desperately needed a way to organize and track the trail’s needs. The grant also:
• Supports the work of a newly hired trail operations manager, Tamer Ibrahim, to oversee projects and the work of volunteer crews.
• Pays for a database to organize and store everything from notes and photographs to global positioning system coordinates for key areas. The plan calls for the database to be in place by March.
All told, Caneff said he expects the proposed repairs to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Still, he’s optimistic about the association’s trail renewal plan.
“It’s all a snowball rolling in a good direction,” Caneff said.
Bob Timmons 612-673-7899