Minnesota's first mountain bike trail accessible to disabled people on three-wheeled hand cycles will be built later this year at Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove.

Advocates for the trail expect it to be an especially popular recreation outlet for injured veterans.

"I look around and see our veterans coming back with missing arms and legs, and these guys don't want to be handicapped, they don't want to stop doing things with their kids -- why not give them an opportunity?" said Tim Wegner of Rosemount, an off-road cyclist and professional trail builder.

If hand cyclists respond with enthusiasm, other dirt trails could be widened for accessible use, too, he said.

The accessible trail will be a 1- to 2-mile loop in a 12-mile dirt trail that the Three Rivers Park District plans to begin building this fall and open June 2011.

The $305,000 trail will be built with $90,000 from the state's Parks and Trails Legacy Grant Program and $50,000 from the Federal Recreational Trail Program.

Off-road hand cycles typically have two wheels in front and one in back. The rider turns a hand crank to go, and operates a brake on the handlebars.

Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, the state's foremost mountain biking promoter, will help Three Rivers design and maintain the trail, said Ryan Lieske, president of the Off-Road Cyclists. Mountain bikers welcome three-wheel cyclists to the trail, he said.

"Most of us ride every trail we can," he said. "This is a unique opportunity because we are lacking mountain bike trails in the north metro area."

The Courage Center, a rehab center in Golden Valley, advocated for the trail.

"It's a type of trail that's long overdue," said Taavasa Mamea, sports coordinator for the Courage Center. New federal funding is available for therapeutic recreation, and he said the center is "struggling to get newly injured soldiers in our doors."

Biking will be a big part of rehabilitation for veterans, he said. "It's one thing to go through rehabilitation -- then it's time to recreate."

To accommodate the three-wheeled cycles, the path will be 32 to 40 inches wide instead of the standard 2-foot width for off-road biking, said Tim Anderson, supervisor of the outdoor recreation school at Three Rivers.

Popularity growing

Courage Center will have several of the bikes available for people to try, Mamea said.

That's how George Kiefner of Little Canada started riding a three-wheeled, row-style cycle on paved trails. After trying one at Courage Center, he bought his own and has been riding it for eight years. He rides 20 miles every Wednesday with a group of eight to 10 hand cyclists.

Kiefner has never seen a hand-powered mountain bike, and said he would need to try one at Courage Center before deciding if more rugged cycling suited him. He expects the new trail to be a big draw.

"The hand cycling sport, the activity, is becoming more and more popular as time goes by," he said.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711