The Anoka County Parks Department has officially added off-road cycling to its recreation menu this summer, after opening single-track dirt trails through the rolling hardwoods of the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve in Lino Lakes.
Trails near Centerville Lake and the Chomonix Golf Course are the first anywhere in the sprawling north metro park system. They formalize user-created — but unsanctioned — trails that parks officials noticed years ago, and eventually amended the parks master plan to include.
"We knew they were here," said Parks Director Jeff Perry. "We knew there was a need."
Anoka County obtained $140,000 in federal and Metropolitan Council grants to pay for the trails, which take riders through mature oak, maple and basswood and feature twisting turns and jumps. Each node is about 1.5 miles long.
"This will be one people will want to come to," said Anoka County Commissioner Jeff Reinert, who has been an off-road rider for the past 25 years. "The trails flow along and are easy to ride."
To keep the trails in good shape, the county has partnered with the volunteer nonprofit Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists. The group, which has about 1,000 members, works with agencies like Anoka County Parks to maintain trails, create technical features to add interest and to serve as trail ambassadors for safe trail use, said President Gunnar Carlson.
Off-road riding, characterized by bikes that have extra-wide tires for pedaling on snow, gravel or sand, is one of the fastest growing sports in Minnesota. About 2,500 students in grades 7 to 12 participate in events put on by the Minnesota Cycling Association. The sport is also popular with leisure riders of all abilities, with nearly 40 million participants annually in the United States, according to the International Mountain Biking Association.
Still, some people get the wrong idea about off-road riding, Carlson said.
"You think mountain biking is like Red Bull and loud and brash," he said. "We are not blaring music and tearing things up. You have quiet moments to take in nature."
Reinert said adding the trails in Anoka County is another way the park system can stay fresh and meet the needs of its visitors.
"This is a sport people are doing, like pickleball," he said. "We are reacting to what people want. I could not be happier how it turned out. I'm glad we did this."
Reinert said he hopes the county can secure more grant funds to put in additional trails.
"It's kind of a no-brainer to expand," he said.