By Dave Simpkins
Terry McGaughey went into Congressman Jim Oberstar’s Brainerd office to say he wasn’t going to host the annual Ride With Jim bike ride.
He said his fight against Parkinson’s was wearing him down and he just didn’t have the energy to put on the ride anymore.
Two weeks later, he was back in the office sharing a long list of ideas for the next ride.
McGaughey, founder of the Paul Bunyan Trail and one of Minnesota’s strongest proponents for bike trails and quiet outdoor recreation died Wednesday at his Brainerd home.
“That was Terry McGaughey, giving his all for the trail he loved and helped create,” said Oberstar. “I often called him the founder, the midwife, the godfather or the empersario of the Paul Bunyan Trail.”
“He didn’t take no for an answer. When they said a bridge couldn’t be build where the tracks crossed Highway 10 he pushed and pushed until a beautiful state-of-the-art Baxter Bridge was completed. He had a way of finding not only a practical solution to these problems but also a beautiful solution.
“I have a picture of Terry in my office taken at the Baxter Bridge, I say hi to him everyday. It is a testament to what a vision and hard work can do. He was a dear friend,” said Oberstar.
McGaughey, 71, had been involved in the Minnesota Canoe Association, Audubon and served on the governing board of the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve in Cass County. He helped establish Minnesota’s Designated Canoe and Boating Routes.
When the Burlington Northern rail bed was abandoned in 1983, McGaughey took the day off from his real estate and insurance business to visit each of the 16 communities along the corridor talking about the possibilities of a bike trail.
McGaughey argued the trail would add one more attraction to the resort area letting giving families more than one thing to do in a vacation. He also argued it would be better to have the rail bed
He said instead of having gas stations, convenience stores and shopping malls, strewn alongside the road like garbage, we’ll have preservation of wildlife, history and it will even improve our health.
Many community and government leaders didn’t think the trail could be built but the legislature authorized the trail in 1988. One of the final links in the 120-mile trail was completed this spring and there is only a three-mile stretch to Crow Wing State Park yet to complete.
Working with the Parks & Trail Council of Minnesota, McCaughey was a tireless lobbiest working on trail funding through the Minnesota Legislature and Congress.
Judy Erickson, Government Affairs Director for the Parks & Trails Council and former Executive Director worked with McGaughy on many legislative bonding bills.
“Terry McGaughy's legacy is as large as the legendary Paul Bunyan,” said Erickson.
“While he will be remembered as the tireless advocate who brought the Paul Bunyan Trail to life, his legacy is larger than the trail itself. He set an example for tenacity and patient persistence in pursuing his vision of a recreational trail that has inspired trail advocates all across Minnesota.”
“I'm not sure he ever realized what a mentor he was. Terry knew it was important to celebrate milestones, no matter how small. Progress, in any form, was a reason to hold an event! “
“It was a privilege to have known him and worked closely with him for over twenty years. I'm not sure I will ever be able to ride on the PBT again without thinking of him,” said Erickson.
“In the world of Minnesota's land developers, I think Terry McGaughey belongs right up there with the Ghermezian brothers, and his project is even bigger than the Mall of America,” said Pequot Lakes businessman Scott Rickard in 1996.