Get Outside – Biking Across Minnesota
Summer is here, and we are dedicated to squeezing every last drop of sunshine out of these warm months as we can. In the spirit of summer, we are giving you a look at a few of the fun things you can do in the area.
Starting off, let’s hear from Jim C, who is writes about how mountain biking has invigorated the small community of Crosby-Ironton.
I’m a Crosby – Ironton Ranger, class of ’82. Growing up in Deerwood, we kind of looked down on Crosby as a washed up mining town. Businesses were dying and the economy struggled. An important source of high value ore, the Cuyuna Range played an important role in WWII, but production slowed after the war, and the last open pit mine closed in the early ’70’s. The Scorpion snowmobile plant closed about the same time. In high school the “mine pits” were a playground where we drove three wheelers and had parties. We called them the “mine dumps,” a wasteland with barren overburden hills and lots of bare soil. But some “Rangers” saw potential. A few visionaries and community leaders worked tirelessly to protect these “dumps” and give them a chance to heal, and in 1993 the Cuyuna State Recreational Area was formed.
Red tires are the symbol of the MTB riders in the area.
Fast forward to current day. The barren overburden hills are now covered in forest. The slopes leading to the clean, clear mine pit lakes are vegetated and, for the most part, stable. Though a struggle to make happen, there are currently over 25 miles of world-class mountain bike trails with plans for another 50. Snorkeling, trout fishing and kayaking in the pit lakes provide additional recreational opportunities. And like the natural environment of the mine lands, the town has begun to heal. New businesses are opening to cater to the tourists that flock to the area and new residents are moving to the area for the abundant recreation. Both the land and the community are healing…
Personally, I left the Crosby area. Not far, just Bay Lake township. But our kids went school in Brainerd and I worked worked there as well. Seldom did I go to C-I. That changed for me two years ago when my little brother took me biking on the mountain bike trails. I was hooked from the start. My interest was primarily staying in shape for skiing in the winter, but soon found biking was just as much fun. I’m in Crosby several times a week. Our farm is a vendor at the newly formed farmers market. For me, reconnecting with my hometown feels good.
The future looks good for the C-I area. As the mine “dumps” have healed, so has the community. We often hear the argument that protecting our environment “costs” money. Just like we need iron, we need a healthy environment. Nature is resilient and I believe we can have both. So visit our lovely town. Fish for trout, or go for a bike ride on the trail. But, I’d recommend not climbing Crusher on your first ride and hang on when you ride down bobsled!
Next, Colin M. shares an experience of biking all the way from Brainerd to Pine River, a short journey of 35 miles!
It was overcast and around 55-60 degrees out; perfect weather for staying cool while exercising. I decided to use the Paul Bunyan Trail because it went between Pine River and Brainerd with a straight shot. There was no higher thinking involved. All I had to do was point my bike forward and pedal. Hitting the first break point in Merrifield, I felt pretty good. I decided to keep my headphones off for the first leg, simply because I wanted to experience what the trail had to offer before losing myself in
With nothing to listen to, I started to get a little antsy and bored. I even created a game where running over leaves on the ground earned me 10 points (50 points for moving leaves!) But, something happened between the swallowing of mouth-high swarms of gnats and the headlong wind. I found that the trail was absolutely gorgeous. Even with a slight drizzle, there were squirrels and birds that would run and dart off to the side of the trail, showing me that wildlife was all around.
Nisswa Trail Break
It’s a straight shot for a lot of it, so you can get your speed going.
The trail overpass in Brainerd is one of many along the 120 plus mile route.
The trail goes through different landscapes easily. One moment, I was surrounded by marshes with red-wing blackbirds hopping along beside me, and another moment they were quickly replaced with beautiful lake shore and preening swans along the coast. And, I was amazed at the quiet. Expect for the rustling of wind in my ears and the shuffle of gravel on the trail it was starkly quiet.
As beautiful and easy as the trail is to ride, at around the 20 mile mark (around Pequot Lakes), my resolve began to waiver. The drizzle kicked to all-out rain by then and my back and head were soaked (along with the line of mud along the back from the kickback of the wet tires). Also, my left hand was beginning to go numb. With the cold temperatures and rain, it was particularly uncomfortable But, after a quick Snickers break, the last jaunt was over before you could say hypothermia.
Trails like the Paul Bunyan Trail criss cross all over central Minnesota. They’re great for getting your exercise on, but, you don’t need to use a trail to get outside and enjoy the sun. If you’re just thinking about biking, going around the block can be a great starting point. With proper city planning you should be able to bike anywhere you need.