Mud-free mountain biking: All-weather trail could soon come to Duluth


DULUTH — Overeager mountain bikers can cause a heap of damage when they hit a wet and muddy trail, but soon riders may have a responsible rainy-day option in Duluth

On Monday, Aug. 13, the Duluth City Council will decide whether to fund the first phase of what could eventually be a 7-mile mountain bike loop fortified with compacted limestone to prevent erosion.

As Duluth becomes more of a mountain biking destination, the need for such a trail has become clearer, said Project Coordinator Jim Shoberg.

"One thing we're finding is that when people come to town and it has been raining, they use our trails anyway. And when you use wet trails, it does a lot of damage. The city and our partner organizations, like Spirit Mountain and COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores), they end up having to do the work to fix it," he said.

Shoberg said the new trail would ensure that anyone coming to town would have somewhere to ride, rain or shine.

Brandy Ream, Spirit Mountain's executive director, said: "It provides us with a little bit more of a weatherproof opportunity, which is something that we are continually striving for, not only from a revenue standpoint but for the experience our guests will have when the weather turns."

Councilors will be asked Monday to approve $72,000 in funding to help construct 1.8 miles of downhill trail, descending from the top of Spirit Mountain.

Spirit Mountain, with help from community partners — including COGGS, Bent Paddle Brewing Co., Loll Designs and Frost River — is expected to put up another $72,000 for the project. Some of that match will be in the form of the labor needed to build the trail.

Initial plans call for Spirit Mountain to open at least a partially completed trail by October.

Shoberg described the second phase of the loop trail, which is proposed to be constructed in 2018 or 2019, as "more cross-country based."

"There will be more ups and downs. You're going to have to work for the fun," he said.

The 3.4-mile cross-country trail, with multiple switchbacks, will ascend the hill, and the all-weather loop will be completed by adding a layer of compacted limestone to a linking segment of the existing Duluth Traverse Trail.

The estimated project cost of the finished loop is expected to be $310,000, with expense again to be split evenly between the city and Spirit Mountain, with help from its supporters.

If approved, funding for the city's share of the cost would come from a special half-percent tax on hotels, motels, restaurants and bars. The proceeds of that tax have been dedicated specifically to fund recreational investments throughout Duluth's St. Louis River corridor.

The proposed all-weather trail would be free and open to the public. However, people who decide to access it from the top without working up a sweat would need to buy a lift ticket from Spirit Mountain for the uphill transport.

Shoberg said the trail would provide new access to the mountain bike system for residents of Duluth's Fairmont neighborhood.

The trail also could prove to be a useful backup for races or other mountain bike events that are often scheduled months in advance, he said, noting that foul weather now can force cancellation.

Ream said the trail could lead to more events being scheduled.

"Once it is completed in its entirety with the uphill return loop, we should be able to host race events such as high school and collegiate finals," Ream said. "It really opens us up to an entirely new realm of being able to bring some bigger events in."

The proposed trail would be about 4 feet wide and feature plenty of twists and berms, but Shoberg said it won't be as wild and challenging as some of the other advanced mountain bike trails at Spirit Mountain.

Ream expects the finished downhill trail will prove unthreatening to riders, regardless of their skill level.

"It is going to be a true, easy downhill beginner trail," she said. "So as we have more people wanting to learn and get into mountain biking, this trail is going to provide that opportunity for anyone to ride."

"The beginner aspect, the learning aspect of the all-weather trail will provide will be unlike any other experience in the Midwest," Ream said.

She expressed hopes the new trail will prompt more people to try mountain biking, just as Spirit Mountain tries to encourage people to try snow sports.

"That really correlates with what our goal continues to be in the wintertime. If we're not recruiting and getting those new people into our sports, we're in trouble. That's what we need to do to survive, getting people biking getting people on the snow, getting people outside and engaged in recreation. It's a very important aspect of our responsibility not only to Spirit Mountain but to the city of Duluth."