ST. CLOUD - A newly designated bicycle route stretching from St. Cloud to the North Dakota border needs a name — and Minnesota Department of Transportation officials are asking the public to help choose a moniker.
The 188-mile route on existing trails and roadways connects Moorhead and St. Cloud by way of Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls and Alexandria. It will also connect to the Mississippi River Trail — U.S. Bicycle Route 45 — that takes users from Bemidji to Winona and beyond.
The course is officially part of the U.S. Bicycle Route System, a network of numbered routes crisscrossing the country. Local tourism officials say its designation is good timing, as the pandemic has spurred an interest in outdoor activities and gas prices are keeping people close to home.
"When we look at what destination travel is doing right now in the landscape of the St. Cloud area, as well as Minnesota, outdoor travel is premier," said Rachel Thompson, executive director of the St. Cloud Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "That's really what people are using as their primary focus and then revolving the rest of their trips around that. Trail systems are what travelers are looking for."
The new route passes through a series of small and historic towns and takes advantage of several state and regional trails, including the Lake Wobegon Trail that roughly aligns with I-94 in Stearns County and the Central Lakes Trail that runs along a former Burlington Northern Railroad Line from Osakis to Fergus Falls. The trail then uses a portion of the North Country Trail, continues to Maplewood State Park and merges with the Heart of the Lakes Trail.
In the St. Cloud area, the trail will connect the Lake Wobegon Trailhead in Waite Park to the Mississippi River and nearby Beaver Island Trail using city streets. But more than two-thirds of the entire route uses off-road trails.
So what does bicycling through idyllic towns and passing by dozens of the state's 10,000 lakes bring to mind? MnDOT is proposing five names for the new route: Glacial Lakes Bicycle Route, Prairie Lakes Bicycle Route, MiddleSota Bicycle Route, Rivers to Prairies Bicycle Route and Towns and Fields Bicycle Route.
People can vote online through July 12 at research.net/r/USBikeRoute20name. The winning name will be announced later this summer.
"MnDOT is excited to give people another way to see our beautiful state," said Nancy Daubenberger, transportation commissioner. "Working with local and regional partners to develop projects like Route 20 is one of the goals of our Statewide Bicycle Plan, which aims to make bicycling safe, comfortable and convenient for all users."
Local tourism officials say new trails, expanded amenities and trail events help draw people to central and western Minnesota — especially since the pandemic when people are looking for safe places to be outside.
In recent years, both the St. Cloud and Fargo-Moorhead regions have seen upticks in trail-related activities such as bicycling, four-wheeling and longboarding in the warmer months and snowmobiling and fat-tire biking in the snowy months. The chance to explore new trails is luring people to often-overlooked areas of the state, as well as convincing people to add an extra day to trips planned for conventions or sporting events.
"We are one of those hidden gem destinations," said Danni Melquist, marketing director for the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. "People might not think of us top of mind but if they're looking to go somewhere new in this region, we're a great spot for that."
The U.S. Bicycle Route System is made up of more than 18,000 miles in 33 states, including neighboring Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. The network will eventually encompass 50,000 miles, according to the Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit organization that coordinates the national development of the trail system.
Possibilities for several future trails include a path connecting Seattle to Minneapolis by way of Montana and North Dakota, as well as two paths connecting central Minnesota to New Orleans.