At the southwestern edge of the upper midwest's iron range is the town of Crosby-Ironton, Minnesota. As the USA prepared to enter the War in the 1940's the iron range and its towns were bustling with plenty of jobs and healthy economies. The ferric compounds and iron ore in this area were rich deposits of high grade hematite and in the Crosby-Ironton area it lay just a couple hundred feet below the surface. The quickest and most cost effective means of mining was to dig it out from the surface. This approach resulted in two things that today have mountain bikers pretty stoked; 1) the mine pits are now clean, clear lakes having filled with water, and stocked with Rainbow Trout and 2) the tailings and dregs pulled from the pits now stand high above the "mine lakes" with significant elevation - climbing and descending on a scale atypical for this part of the country.
Today you have to look closely to see that once upon a time this was an ugly scar on the land. While it took less than a lifetime, about 50 years, Mother Nature has largely reclaimed the "hills and valleys" that rise up and down between the mine lakes. There are groves of Birch (my favorite), stands of Pine and Oak, and expansive beds of ferns under the dense canopy. What was once for good reason shunned by the State DNR Parks staff is now an incredible amenity to the nearby towns and their recreation-based economy and a credit to the DNR's progressive-minded commitment to outdoor recreation.
It was Gary Sjoquist, Advocacy and Government Affairs Director for Quality Bicycle Products and Tim Wegner, then IMBA's Volunteer Rep for Minnesota that first alerted IMBA to the potential of this place for trails. I admit my first reaction to the idea of trails on an abandoned mine site was not so enthusiastic. And then with IMBA guidance and support in 2006, while attending the National Bike Summit in DC, Gary and Tim were successful in their ask for federal funding for trails development in Cuyuna. The full history of the development of trails at Cuyuna is quite educational and a study of visionary commitment and persistence.
And I can tell you from first hand experience these trails flow! They were planned and designed and built with mountain biking in mind. And mountain bikers were at the controls during the design and construction phase. But mine's not the only word on the quality of Cuyuna's trails. Hans Rey attended the recent grand opening and proclaimed, "This is the future of mountain biking."
Congratulations to Minnesota's DNR, and to Crosby, Ironton and Brainerd community leaders. Congratulations to Gary and Tim, and Jeff Schoenbauer who did the original plans. Congratulations to the volunteers from MORC and its Crosby Chapter who have already stepped up to steward and conserve these trails. And congratulations to Hansi Johnson, IMBA's Midwest Region Director who marshaled all the right resources resulting in the Midwest's first IMBA Ride Center.