Riding a bike on a sunny summer day is one of life’s simplest of pleasures. Building a paved bike trail system across a large portion of Minnesota isn’t so simple.
It takes unwavering persistence, master political skills, creativity, respect for people and above all a love for rigorous outdoor recreation.
“It’s all about a bike ride” was Terry McGaughey’s motto and building the 120-mile Paul Bunyan Trail from Brainerd to Bemidji was his life’s mission. He died in July, leaving a legacy we’re dedicated to keeping alive as more trails are needed.
The day in 1983 that Burlington Northern announced it was abandoning its rail bed, this spry, upbeat Irishman set out visiting the 16 communities along the railway, preaching the economic, recreational and natural advantages of having the rail bed paved.
When he met opposition or indifference he argued “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.”
Terry urged quality construction and detailing in trail projects. This may be one reason the Paul Bunyan Trail has been named one of the top ten paved trails in the United States by the National Rails to Trails Conservancy.
I met Terry in 1991, planning Sauk Centre’s Heart of the Lakes ride along the Lake Wobegon Trail. We rode in Brainerd’s Tour of Lakes Bike Ride to learn how a successful ride is conducted.
Terry had some good advice taken from Walt Disney, “Keep it fun, have music, food and something to take home.”
When I bought the Minnesota Bike Trails & Rides from Vic Olson of Nevis, Terry came along with the deal as the advertising sales person for Paul Bunyan Trail. He stayed with us for two years as we went from an annual news print guide to a quarterly magazine, Minnesota Trails.
He was proud of his trail and made sure we covered every major event. He said press relations were essential to any trail project. So we attended many of his Ride With Jim events with Rep. Jim Oberstar.
He also made sure local and state officials and office holders knew what was going on with the trail and kept his projects on the top of their to do piles.
Terry loved to celebrate each and every new development along the trail with a ribbon cutting, complete with a souvenir to take home. In keeping with tradition, his daughters presented everyone at Terry’s memorial service with a commemorative T-shirt.
I wore it to work the next day.
Terry and I had a running rivalry over whose trail was the longest.
“I don’t care how many additions you make, Paul Bunyan will always be a mile longer than the Lake Wobegon because I can always find some adjoining piece of blacktop to count as trail,” said Terry with a smile.
Despite our friendly rivalry, he offered advice as we worked on paving the four miles connecting the Lake Wobegon Trail with the Central Lakes Trail. He urged us to keep in contact with legislators, commissioners and county officials. We called them the Forgotten Four Miles of the Lake Wobegon Trail after Garrison Keillor’s comments that you can’t find the town of Lake Wobegon because it sets in the crease of the paper road maps.
I wish he could have seen the driving of the golden spike bike-in ceremony we had with Keillor-a polka band, a rhubarb pie stand and some 3,000 people.
Since so many trails have been completed in Minnesota, Terry and I would often talk about maintaining and promoting the system, which we agreed could be a major tourist attraction.
“I can get you a million dollars for a new trail but I can’t get a dime to cut the grass,” said Terry.
This is why he supported the Legacy Amendment that will bring parks and trails an estimated $35 million a year for acquisition, programs and grass cutting.
He also believed we need to promote our bike trail assets through Explore Minnesota and local trail groups.
Terry was proud to see the 2010 Minnesota Bicycle Tourism Summit come to Breezy Point Lodge, not far from the Paul Bunyan Trail. The lodge was filled with Terry’s kind of people, filled with enthusiasm and commitment to Minnesota’s trail system.
It’s all about a bike ride.
Terry’s legacy will be a million bike rides along the Paul Bunyan Trail and across the state for many generations to come.