I spent a few days with some buddies at a cabin near Lutsen over the weekend. We hiked the state park trails at Temperance and Cascade but I brought my 29′er in case any of the COGGS mountain bike trails around Duluth opened up/dried out in time for my drive back home to Northfield. Alas, no such luck. The trails were all too soft yet because of the late-season heavy snowfall and cold temps.
I was going to head back home to ride the metro-area MORC trails but torrential rains there closed all the trails that had just opened up a week ago. So I sent a text to CLMTB Crew president Aaron Hautala in hopes that Cuyuna Lakes would be open. YES! They had heavy rain overnight but the trails dried out quickly and were tacky fast.
I got there by 3:30 on Saturday and promptly ran into fellow Northfielders Todd Orjala, Ken Drivdahl, and Steve Schmidt. After riding all the trails in the Mahnomen Unit (see inset B on the DNR map), I pooped out by dark and was planning to make the drive home but got rescued by CLMTB Crew member John Schaubach who offered me dinner at his cabin and a place to pitch my sleeping bag for the night. YES!
John and I went for an early Sunday morning ride in the Yawkey Unit. He showed me how the CLMTB Crew had painstakingly spread a layer of Cuyuna’s red dirt/gravel mix on top of many sections of the trails that were primarily clay. John said that they refer to this mixture as ‘Cuyuna Gold’ because of its ability to harden the surface of a trail while still providing good traction. It’s amazing the amount of work that’s gone into doing this and what a difference it makes, especially after it’s rained. Props to Cuyuna Dirt Boss Nick Statz, Yawkey Unit Dirt Boss Dave Taylor, and their team of CLMTB Crew volunteers for working with the DNR to make this happen.
The rain ended our ride at 9 am so we promptly headed to the Heartland Kitchen & Café in Crosby for their stunning Sunday buffet. I’d blogged photos of proprietor Maureen Christopher before but this was the first time I’d met her sweetie, Jim Christopher, who was the beauty on duty for the buffet. After two hours of gorging ourselves, John and I staggered out and I departed for home, sated and grateful for yet another Cuyuna weekend.
… a great opportunity to network with other park and trail supporters from around the state, learn about the issues, and hear from park leaders and legislators. Whether you come as a member of a Friends group, a concerned citizen or a student looking to learn about the process, you’ll leave informed and your involvement strengthens our efforts to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s special places! The morning will equip you with the necessary tools to meet with your legislators.
Wegner recalled that once he and others were glumly discussing the fact that they didn’t have the necessary state money to match the potential federal money when Parks & Trails Government Relations Director Judy Erickson approached them and asked what was wrong. They explained and she took them to the sixth floor of the State Office Building, told the people there that she wanted a bill written and what she wanted it to say and then took it to DFL Rep. John Ward and Republican Sen. Paul Koering and told them to sponsor it. Eventually, the $150,000 was appropriated. “The state is getting a million dollar trail for $150,000,” Wegner said.
Griff, I remember that conversation with Judy very well. It was amazing to me how much Judy was respected by everyone that she spoke with. Everyone from the people that wrote the bill to Rep Ward and Sen. Koering treated her with respect and obvious appreciation for all the work she did to lobby for state parks.
The energy that Judy exudes is infectious, she has such a positive attitude and full of attitude of we can get this done. She was also critical in holding my hand as I testified in front of the house committee in support of the bill. What a scary experience but, I knew that Judy was there and could always help me with a difficult question.
I asked Judy to send me a blurb about her role. She wrote:
A veteran lobbyist, sharing her strategic legislative and communications skills, and passion, to help communities secure state investments for economic development, tourism and infrastructure. For Cuyuna, helping them develop a community wide approach to state investments in the Cuyuna Lakes Trail and CSRA and turning the area into the place for active recreation year-round; and creating business opportunities along the way. "One ride on a mountain bike was all it took. The adrenaline and the scenic beauty of Cuyuna combine for an amazing memory." Unique signature, besides working really hard, is sharing apples and apple pies or two from our Pleasant Valley Orchard.
My photos of others who spoke during the morning session:
Brett Feldman, Parks and Trails Council Executive Director; Luke Skinner, Deputy Director of MnDNR Parks and Trails Division; Erika Rivers, Assistant Commissioner of MnDNR
Greg Mack, Director of Ramsey County Parks and Recreation; Tom Ryan, Superintendent of Olmsted County Parks; Rep. Alice Hausman, Chair of House Capital Investment Committee;
Rep. Leon Lillie, Assistant Majority Leader, Vice-Chair Legacy Committee; Rep. Jean Wagenius, Chair of House Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Sen. David Tomassoni, Chair of Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.
Sen. Dan Sparks, member, Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division; Rep. Phyllis Kahn, Chair of House Legacy Committee; Rep. Denny McNamara, member, Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Finance Committee; Joe Bagnoli, Government Relations Consultant for Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.
One of my favorite trails in the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System is the Timber Shaft trail in the Yawkey Unit. The trail’s Double X rock sections and man-made skinnies are at the top of a hill with gorgeous pine trees and boulder-infested gullies. So I was stoked to ride it on a fat bike on Friday before the Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout festivities. The trail’s snow conditions were perfect and the weather idyllic.
I purchased an iStabilizer Flex tripod mount a couple of weeks ago so that I could use my smartphone camera to take photos and video of myself riding. It’s not quite a GoPro put considerably cheaper.
Below is a 35-second video of me riding some of the areas pictured above:
I was also pleased to get a photo of former 8th District Congressman Jim Oberstar with Jenny and John as they were preparing to head over to the Capitol Rotunda for his keynote. When Oberstar was chair of the U.S. House transportation committee, he helped secure $700,000 in federal funds for the creation of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMTBT). See this June 2011 article by Brett Larson in Silent Sports magazine, Cuyuna Lakes Reclaimed, for more on the role that Jim, John, Jenny and many others played. It’s a marvelous story of how the organic process of bike advocacy can work.
I met the family who owns and runs Ya Betcha, Deb Bieganski, and her two daughters, Jamie Lynn Drewlow and Meranda Mosher. Like Maureen and Jim Christopher at the Heartland Kitchen Café, they’re quite pleased with the increase in business since the park opened last summer. It’s pretty clear to me that their outgoing personalities have something to do with that. I will be back.
There was just enough daylight left to get a ride in on some of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails, so I took Switchback from the campground over to the Mahnomen Unit and rode Crusher, Miner’s Mountain, Chute, Ferrous Wheel, Trammer, and Rocky Flats.
Early this morning, I took Drag Line from Portsmouth over to the Yawkey Unit, riding Man High Hill and Haul Road on the way and then Bobsled a couple of times.
Cool discovery #1: I had assumed both Switchback and Drag Line were just plain old connecting trails. Wrong. They’re both hugely fun intermediate level trails. Lots of rollers and a surprising number of berms for two-way trails. Non-stop pleasure riding, both directions.
Cool discovery #2: I took it a little easy on all the trails, as I was by myself, but it was so much more fun riding these trails than last year, I couldn’t stop grinning. Why? I’m in better shape, of course. But my skills are better, due mainly to A) what I learned about braking, turning, and ‘the attack’ position at the Leaders’ Summit skills class; and B) spending about an hour at Eagan’s Lexington Pump & Jump Park where I learned (thanks to Chance Glasford), how to pump, ie, accelerate without pedaling.
By 8 am this morning I was starving so I headed over to the Heartland Kitchen & Café, my favorite breakfast spot in Crosby. I lucked out, as some of the IMBA guys were there: Hansi Johnson, Midwest Regional Director; Andy Williamson, Great Lakes Region Director; and Aaron Rogers, Trail Specialist.
I coaxed the café’s proprietor, Maureen Christopher, into posing with them for a photo, since Maureen is such a fan of the mountain bikers who’ve helped her business thrive since the park opened last summer.
But the experience was so fantastic and the people I met were so fun and interesting that I bought a bike as soon as I returned home and my recreational life has been pretty special ever since.
I’m going back this weekend for the 2nd Annual:
A collaborative fundraiser planned by and for the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, an IMBA Chapter and the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce in an effort to continue to foster the growth of mountain biking as a sport in Minnesota and the community of Cuyuna Lakes.
The schedule of events is pretty amazing but be sure to see the blog posts for more details, for example:
Ben strongly urged me to get it fixed, saying that bad (expensive) things can happen. I was due at a friend’s cabin on Mille Lacs so there was no time to find a local bike shop to fix it.
I arrived in Crosby-Ironton on Sunday at about 10 am and was still undecided about what do to. I drove by Cycle Path & Paddle and thought I was hallucinating. The sign said OPEN. At 10 am on a Sunday? Be still my heart. There’s no way they’ll have a mechanic on duty now.
The Cuyuna gods smiled upon me. Owner Jenny Smith wasn’t there but mechanic Ryan Anderson was and within 45 minutes, he cheerfully fixed my wheel, trued my rotor, and did a few other adjustments. Total labor charge: $16. I tried to tip him $10 but he wouldn’t take it.
I decided I had to spend more money at the store or the Cuyuna gods might extract payment in other ways. I bought a “Shred the Red” hoodie and t-shirt and asked store employee Becky McKay to take my photo. She coached me on how to hold the shirt so “Shred the Red” was visible on the hoodie. Other than my wife, I don’t think anyone has ever coached me when I’ve asked them to take my photo. Very cool.
I met up with Aaron Hautala in the park’s Yawkey Unit (Inset D on the PDF map of the park; screengrab image on the right) and after a warmup (hah!) up and down the amazing Bobsled trail, we headed over to Timber Shaft and its challenging double X rocks. I’d been itching to ride Timber Shaft since I first walked it as a newbie last summer after purchasing my bike.
Here’s a 3-minute video of Cuyuna Lakes Dirt Boss Nick Statz riding Timber Shaft on his fattie in March:
The photo above shows one of the Timber Shaft rocks that gave me trouble (there were, um, others). I thought the left line (red) would be tougher to clean because of the sharp left turn required to get around the small rock (red circle). Not so. While the green line was a straighter approach with a slight down and up, after 5 tries, I hadn’t cleaned it. I kept spinning my rear wheel as I tried to accelerate (green check mark) to get up enough speed to get over the big rock. I finally figured out that if I delayed acceleration a few more inches, the bike was more level and traction was better. As long as I unweighted properly, I was able to get over the rock clean just fine. Lesson learned. For now.
Aaron and I then rode all the other Yawkey Unit trails (Tugger, Little Rock, Grizzley, Man Cage, Manual Drive, Skip). WHEEEE! When he had to head home, I followed him, as it’s a short bike ride. The lucky guy lives adjacent to the park.
I rode back to the park and decided to re-ride all the Yawkey Unit trails again. When I got back to Timber Shaft, I ran into John Seery and Michael Knoll from Michael’s Cycles in Prior Lake who I rode with back in late March at the MN River Bottoms. They and two other friends were tackling the narrow and rocky upper section of Timber Shaft and one of the guys fell and sliced his leg on, you’ll never guess, a sharp rock. Shred the Red became Shed the Red.
Michael had a first aid kit, patched him up, and he promptly got back on his bike and cleaned the section where he’d fallen. Take that! Off they went to the Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby to get him stitched up. Just another way that mountain bikers bring economic development to the area.
By chance, I ran into Aaron later in the afternoon. He’d returned with his five year-old son Caleb who has gotten quite adept at riding Man Cage. I also happened upon Cycle Path & Paddle proprietor Jenny Smith out riding Haul Road. I told her she saved my butt by having her shop open on Sunday, and for being savvy in hiring these two talented young adults at her store, Ryan Anderson and Becky McKay.
So after 5+ hours of riding Yawkey, I reluctantly headed home. Cuyuna, I do love thee so. I will be back. Soon.
My first-ever mountain bike race, the Sagamore SnowXross Race at the 2012 Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout, started out well for the 15 of in the Beginners Class. After about 50 yards across the parking lot, however, soft snow created a big pileup and I soon learned firsthand what the phrase hike-a-bike meant. As Aaron Hautala wrote in this blog post:
Early into the Sagamore SnowXross Race it was obvious it needed a new name.
The snow pack turned into champagne crystal powder overnight with the dramatic drop in temperature from Friday night, which made the race course a bit more challenging than we originally intended.
After about two miles of pushing the Mukluk, I lowered my rear tire pressure from about 4 PSI to near zero—I could feel the rim by pressing the tire hard with my hand. Much better traction. Another mile and it occurred to me to do the same to the front tire. Better yet.
Last discovery at about mile 4: I quit trying to always ride in the narrow tire ruts made by other riders. The amount of energy required to keep my balance while riding a rut wasn’t worth it, speed-wise. Instead, I could often go faster (especially when the terrain was flat or downhill) if I rode where riders had been walking. The low tire pressure usually gave me enough grip to get through the footprints if they weren’t too deep. Still, I estimate that I pushed my bike for 3 of the 6 miles. Uff-da. I finished in just under two hours. I’ve not yet seen the results posted but the top three riders (Beginners Class) finished in approximately 1 hr and 35 minutes. I’ll post a link to the results at the bottom of this blog post when they become available.)
Unlike Friday night, the Haul Road trail to the parking lot in the center of Yawkey was mostly packed down, sometimes to a width of 12 inches or more (left and center photos above). This makes for splendid riding.
I then rode Tugger, normally an intermediate difficulty trail that’s at the base of Bobsled (see the inset on page 2 of this DNR map of the park). It’s a gorgeous trail but like Friday night, riding it was very difficult because there was only a single rut from the few previous riders. I took it easy and just enjoyed the scenery.
The real boast of Cuyuna Country in snow season is 10 miles of trails encircling Sagamore Mine Lake designed, cleared and, yes, groomed, specifically for winter mountain biking. On Saturday, 57 racers tested their skills against the course as part of Whiteout.
His video commentary:
Handlebar-cam of me riding the Haul Road on the way out of the Yawkey Unit of Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area near Crosby, Minn. Sorry for motion sickness, but this was my first time on a snow-covered trail. The Yawkey trails were open to winter riding this weekend — normally they’re summer only — as part of Whiteout, a celebration of the park opening 10 miles of fat tire winter mountain biking trails.
His video interview of Aaron Hautala:
Aaron Hautala, president of Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, talks why he got hooked on fat tire mountain biking in Minnesota.
The plan was to pre-ride the race course at the Sagamore Unit at about 6 pm but the high daytime temps and sunny skies had softened up the packed snow so much that Cuyuna dirt boss and race director Nick Statz was worried we’d create deep ruts and ruin the course for Saturday’s XC race. He suggested we all ride the Yawkey Unit instead and we agreed.
We first headed back to the Yeti spaghetti feed at the Legion where Nick Statz’s daughter introduced me to her personal Cuyuna Yeti.
The Cuyuna Lakes Whiteout is a winter festival to celebrate the new Sagamore Winter Trails and to benefit the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew (CLMTBC), a division of MORC/IMBA. (Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists / International Mountain Bicycle Association). All event profits will fund continued expansion and maintenance of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails in Crosby-Ironton.
Earlier this summer I did photo shoot for Mountain Bike Action at Cuyuna. Pro rider Eric Carter flew in from CA and along with some great local riders ( Peter Gustafson, Rori Stumvoll, Nick Statz, Peter L.) we rode and shot the full system of trails. The results are in a 7 page, 16 photo feature in this months MBA issue. So check it out!
As an advocate for off road cycling I find myself constantly telling stories. For me, using the visual medium of photography seems to be an effective method of telling those stories. This feature is a direct result of that. I would like to thank all of the folks that helped me on this shoot, especially Mike Van Abel and the folks at IMBA!
My wife and I became members of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota earlier this year when we decided to make bicycling a regular recreational activity… and were thrilled at the number and quality of paved bike trails around the state.
I typed up the text of the article (below) so that more of my fellow Minnesota mountain bikers might A) know what Tim Wegner has done for our sport and thank him for it; and B) become members of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, both in appreciation for what they did to help the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trail System become a reality (details in the article) as well as to support the organization and their work.
Tim Wegner: Mountain biking as a way of life
by Linda Picone
For Tim Wegner, a hobby turned into a business. But mountain biking not only changed his life, it helped create a new outdoor resource in Minnesota, the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System, a world-class 25-mile bike trail network with areas for riders at all levels.
Wegner, the former southern Minnesota representative of the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), is credited by many as being the single most effective mover of the the mountain bike trails at the Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area, which opened for use in June.
In the early 1980s, while Wegner lived Bismarck, ND, he did a lot of road biking and was a regular a local bike shop. “I walked in there one day and there was this funky looking bike,” he says. “The guys said, ‘You’ve got to ride it; it’s the best ride you’ll ever have.’”
They were right, and all of a sudden he was a mountain biker. When he moved to Minnesota about 10 years later, he assumed he was coming to a mountain bike mecca, but was disappointed with the number and quality of trails available. Appointed to a users’ group to represent cross-country skiers for Lebanon Hills Park in Dakota County, he ended up becoming friendly with the man representing mountain bikers and was encouraged to become the local representative of IMBA, becoming an advocate and activist for the sport.
Lebanon Hills turned out to be a good training ground for Wegner. “We learned that it really took a lot of time to build a trail by hand,” he says. Although there were machines that could make it go faster, they cost $25,000 to $40,000–more than Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, which was doing the work, could afford. “That put the kibosh on plans to expand the trail at Lebanon Hills. You burn your volunteers out pretty fast when they work all weekend to finish 50 feet of trail.”
That frustration led to Wegner’s next move on the mountain bike trail: He and his buddy from the Lebanon Hills user group became partners in a new business venture, Trail Source. They bought one of those expensive machines and went into the business of building sustainable, natural surface trails in Minnesota and Wisconsin (he still has a day job, as a pharmaceutical representative).
A new trail opportunity
About five years ago, Wegner was in search of areas outside the Metro where mountain bike trails could be established. He met with Courtland Nelson, DNR state parks director, to see what might be accomplished. “I said, ‘Minnesota doesn’t have any true mountain bike trails in its state parks; I think you’re missing the mark,” he old Nelson. “He said, ‘You’re right, we don’t.’”
Nelson urged him to look at Cuyuna. “I thought, ‘Who wants to look at an old iron ore mine?’”
That was before he saw it. Wegner took a trip north to explore the Cuyuna Lakes area. “I looked at it and thought it was incredible. The potential was so awesome and the place was so beautiful.” Steve Weber, manager of the Cuyuna Lakes Recreation Area, was with Wegner as he visualized the possibility of 25 to 40 miles of trails through the area, but he didn’t see the same possibilities.
Wegner not only saw what could be built at Cuyuna Lakes, he set out to do what was needed to create it, from convincing then Congressman James Oberstar to get federal funding to getting a bill written at the Minnesota Legislature for matching funds.
“It was incredible the way it came together,” Wegner says. “It could have stumbled at any step.”
The Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota was a key player at several points, Wegner said. When he needed someone to carry–and write–a bill to get matching state funds for the trail, the Parks and Trails legislative liaison Judy Erickson showed him into an office at the State Capitol, got a bill written, found a legislative sponsor and pushed her contacts for approval (it was approved, but then vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but it passed the next year). “Parks and Trails gave continuous support for us,” Wegner says. “I could always go to Brett (Feldman, now executive director) when I got beat up by someone.” At one point, the Parks & Trails Council provided a $50,000 loan in order to help get matching funds.
The finished trail
Construction of the trails had its challenges, Wegner says. “There were a lot of bidders on it, but not many truly qualified mountain bike trail builders.” That meant he, representing IMBA, was closely involved in advising the contractor. “We bumped heads a few times, but he was always willing to understand our point of view.”
Mountain bike enthusiasts see the finished trails as the best trails for accomplished riders in the Midwest. But Wegner is also pleased that there are trails for all levels of bikers, so it’s a place for families as well as for “aggressive” riders who want a serious challenge. “We put stuff up in Cuyuna Lakes that there’s no way I would ever ride,” he says.
He sees an economic boon for the local community–something he wasn’t even thinking about when he first envisioned a trail. “I was only looking for a place to ride mountain bikes, but I looked at the town and saw a lot of empty storefronts,” he says. “I thought maybe we could have an economic impact on this town.” During the grand opening of the trails in June, both restaurants in town ran out of food, he says. “That says to me, yeah, mountain bikers can make a difference.”
The next challenges
Wegner is still hoping to make progress on a trail system in Camden State Park and there are trail possibilities at Pillsbury State Forest and Cut Lake Trail in Foothills State Forest. But, other than his business, he’s taking a quieter role. “I think at certain times you need to step away a little bit and let others come in.”
He looks back at his activities as IMBA representative and at the push for the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System and he’s satisfied: “I think we’ve improved the status of mountain bikers in Minnesota and I don’t think you could ask for more out of your life than to make it better for a sport you have a passion for.”
Online and offline among the mountain bike crowd, the shorthand ‘Cuyuna’ is widely used, eg. "Hey, when are you heading to Cuyuna again? I didn’t get to ride Yawkey last time I was up there." I see no problem with this in casual conversation, comment threads, forum posts, tweets, Facebook Wall posts, etc.
But when it comes to web sites, there’s a wide variety of phrases in use:
IMBA’s Midwest Regional Director Hansi Johnson also uses Cuyuna Lakes Ride Center in his blog posts here and here but sometimes drops ‘lakes’ from the phrase or refers to it as the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail system.
My preference: Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Trails (CLMBT). Including the word ‘lakes’ is preferable because lakes are part of the area’s identity. ‘Country’ is a lesser used word that’s more marketing oriented. ‘Trails’ is better than ‘trail’ because there are many trails, not just one. ‘Trails’ also implies ‘system’ which is more of technical/engineering term and not really needed.
Problem #2: The lack of a website dedicated to it.
The variety of names and phrases for the trail system wouldn’t be a problem if there was one major website dedicated to it that everyone linked to and that the search engines (primarily Google and Bing) would list first in a search.
But right now, there’s no such site and therefore, it’s difficult for the average person to easily get information about the trail system that’s complete and up-to-date. Some important web pages are out-of-date (Chamber here) or incomplete (MORC’s trail guide and Wiki).
If someone asked you, "Where do I go on the web to get all the info about Cuyuna?," what would you say?
On Saturday, local dirt boss and MORC member Nick Statz (right photo above) led the morning ‘fast’ ride group, mainly through the Yawkey Unit. (See this Silent Sports article featuring Nick: Cuyuna Lakes Reclaimed.) I’d not ridden Yawkey before so I was thrilled when we rode through its fabulous technical area.
I went back later in the afternoon to further explore the technical area of Yawkey and met MORC member Troy Lawrence who showed me how to do it without crashing. Some day when I get a little older…
In the evening, Don MacNaughton organized squirrel sled competition. Here’s his promo for it:
Have more in the tank? Did you drop your nuts? Let’s take it up a notch! Here are some details. Miniature bike, a sled, and the desire to pedal until you puke! Do you have what it takes? Can you pedal longer than your fellow squirrels? Game on!
With the dewpoint nearing 80, I declined but most everyone else punished themselves to the delight of the crowd.
Hans is a god, even in my world of motorcycle trials, so I was thrilled to be invited to join him and some other mountain bike industry guys for dinner and beers. In the photo, L to R: Gary Sjoquist, Advocacy Director for QBP; Hans Rey; John Gaddo, Inside Sales rep at QBP; and Jeff Verink, sales rep with GT Bicycles and the talented master of ceremonies for the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival.
While chatting with John Gaddo, I learned that he grew up in my hometown of Northfield. Many locals might know his dad, general manager at the former WCAL-FM. John mentioned that he was also a trials bicycle rider but I had no idea the level of his skills until he teamed up with Hans for the bicycle trials exhibition on Saturday night.