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Singletrack Paradise: Duluth trails plan gaining momentum


Single track
Sam Chandler charges along the Piedmont Trail in 2009.

Duluth has a bounty of trails: cross-country ski trails, the Superior Hiking Trail, and the Lakewalk. Not enough for you? How about 100 miles of singletrack woven into the city? It’s called the Duluth Traverse, and it is the vision of the Duluth-based organization Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (www.coggs.com).

There are already four destination mountain biking trail systems in Duluth: Lester-Amity, Hartley Park, Piedmont, and Spirit Mountain. The goal of the Duluth Traverse is to expand some of the four existing trail systems, link them up, and create new destination systems.

While it is an ambitious and long-range plan, momentum is building. I asked Adam Sundberg, chairperson of COGGS, to explain the next steps.

“We have been approved by the county and city to add five additional miles in Lester and five miles in Brewer Park (across Haines Road from Piedmont). We also hope to start connecting Lester to Hartley next year as well.”

This spring, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) donated the time of their most experienced trail designer to scout the terrain in Duluth. They are creating a plan for a 20-mile system in Mission Creek that they hope to start
next year.

Early cost estimates were $2,500/mile, pushing fundraising needs to $200,000 for the creation of the Duluth Traverse. The good news is that grants and private donations have already raised $26,000. This amount makes the club competitive for a 3:1 match from a Parks Legacy grant that could leverage over $100,000.

However, Sundberg says that initial estimates were “probably low, and it will be more like a $500,000-750,000 project.”

Besides making donations and volunteering for trail work, people can help make the Duluth Traverse vision reality by donating their skills. “The big help is people with unique skills using said skills to meet a need. For instance, we have volunteers where their day job is writing grants, GIS, fundraising, community relations, etc. Having those professional skills at our use is really helpful.”

This is exciting to me as I reconnect to the sport and introduce my kids to the game. I took my son to last year’s inaugural Great Hawk Chase mountain bike race on the Lester-Amity system. It was his first race and he had fun. I asked where beginners fit into the Duluth Traverse plans.

“Basically,” Sundberg says, “we want a portion of each trail and all of the trails connecting hubs (Lester to Hartley, Piedmont to Spirit) to be beginner-friendly. We realize there is a lack of easier trail here because there haven’t been many trails purpose-built for mountain biking in Duluth, they are just hiking trails that mostly have been created by use. But Lester and Mission Creek have different soils and no rock, which makes them much easier places for easier trails.”

I asked what makes the Duluth mountain bike scene special. Sundberg’s quick answer: “Elevation change, views, rock, a town of 85,000 people.” His excitement about Duluth trail development is palpable as he explains, “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.

“There are very few urban areas that have 100 miles of mountain biking in them.  You can count them on one hand and they are nowhere near here. It’s truly a unique situation and very exciting to be a part of.”

Okay, okay, I’m sold. Bring on the Duluth Traverse!





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