Teddy Schaefer and Peter Gustafson pulled up on their mountain bikes after pedaling through some of the 23-mile Cuyuna Country State Recreational Mountain Bike trail last fall. They proclaimed in unison, “awesome!”
“This is on par with the trails in Wisconsin and Michigan,” said Gustafson of Pequot Lakes.
“It’s an epic ride,” said Schaefer of Nisswa.
The two men were part of a group previewing the new Mountain Bike Trail at Cuyuna Country Recreational Trail in Crosby.
“We are just reaching the pinnacle of creating purpose-built off-road cycling trails that can not only sustain the impacts of cyclists, but can create an extremely enjoyable riding experience for a broad range of riders,” said Hansi Johnson, Midwest Regional Director of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA).
“The IMBA Cuyuna Ride Center is the only mountain bike destination of its kind in the Midwest and only one of five in the nation. There are plenty of really great riding spots, but none have this kind of design process, this kind of construction process and this kind of professional input both from IMBA, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and from the professional contractors.
“If we can create riding opportunities that have progressive trails within them, we can take beginner riders and let them learn in a friendly environment, and then give them progressive skills choices so they can move to be much stronger and skilled riders as they learn,” added Johnson.
“Cuyuna is a major gift to the Midwest Mountain Bike community, not only because of the extremely fun riding and experience it will be, but because it will up the bar for all other trail systems who will want to create a similar experience because of it,” said Johnson
Johnson also noted for its family friendliness with a variety of things like paved bike trails, kayaking, fishing, diving and camping provide something for every one.
Gary Sjoquist, advocacy director for Quality Bicycle Products, and Courtland Nelson, director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division, stressed the economic benefits of this trail as it is designed to bring in mountain bikers from all over the region to spend money on meals, lodging, gasoline and bicycle parts.
“This is phase one and next we have to do some planning to see how the city can be successful with this project,” Nelson said. “This will help the economic vitality here.”
Steve Weber, the Cuyuna park manager, oversaw much of the trail development.
The result is a trail full of switchbacks that cut through the trees and at almost any point look over beautiful blue lakes.
Being a purpose-built trail specific for mountain biking and the unique terrain, Weber said they made a point of directing trails near overlooks.
“The beauty of these overlooks will make it hard for bikers to keep an eye on their front tires,” said Sjoquist.
The trail system is built around the remains of an iron mine with a red waste rock piled as high as 200 feet at the Cuyuna Country Overlook.
The trail will extend from one end of the 5,000-acre park to the other, offering a series of connected loops with 34 inter-connected biking opportunities.
People camping at the campgrounds can bike east to the Croft Mine Historic Site and Manuel Mine Lake, or go west over the channel between Mahnomen Mine Lake and Pennington Mine Lake, up the Cuyuna Country Overlook and nearly to Portage Lake. Occasionally the trail passes an eight-foot mining truck tire and other mining wreckage.
Bikers can find trailheads at Croft Mine Historic Site, the campgrounds, in the cities of Crosby or Ironton and at the overlook.
The trail system covers about 800 acres, stretching about four miles from Manuel Mine on the east to Portage Lake on the West.
Weber says the trail won’t be open this spring until the frost is out of the ground, the trees are cleared and the ground is dry.
“We’re very excited about what we have to offer here,” said Weber. “We want to get open as fast as we can.”
There will be an official grand opening June 10, with the first Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival following June 11 and 12.