Thursday, October 7, 2010

The start of what could be one heck of a bike trail

It's amazing how you can live in one area for so long and still find something new about it on a regular basis.

At least that's the case for me when it comes to bike trails around my hometown of St. Cloud.

I grew up in the Central Minnesota town assuming that it wasn't anything special for cyclists. The most ambitious bike trip I recall making in my youth was when I attempted to bike across town to the dentist office when I was 10. I got lost, almost got run over by multiple cars and swore never to do that again. Even today, I dislike biking in the city itself. It lacks commuter bike trails and the town's haphazard traffic patterns it a nervous endeavor for cyclists.

However, as far as area recreation trails go, I would come to find out that you could do a lot worse.

While attending college at St. Cloud State University (yes Mankato readers, I was/am a Husky), I found out about the Lake Wobegon Bike Trail in the neighboring town of St. Joseph. The trail apparently went all the way to the town of Sauk Centre (roughly 35 miles west). which gave me the perfect excuse (at least in my mind) to borrow my step dad's undersized mountain bike and bike to my parent's cabin on Big Birch Lake (see map). Aside from knee and back pains that resulted, it was a great idea.

Last year, I found out that the Wobegon Trail links up with the Central Lakes Trail in Osakis, taking cyclists all the way west to Fergus Falls (about 105 miles total). This discovery led me to take a few days off from work to bike from my parent's house in Sartell to Fergus Falls and back. The end result of that trip: A flat tire, multiple bike malfunctions, God-awful sunburn, a column for the Free Press ... and a decision to sign up for RAGBRAI this past summer.

Last weekend, I made a similar discovery while visiting St. Cloud to attend a friend's wedding. With some time to kill on Sunday. I took my bike to an unfamiliar stretch of bike trail that went from the town of Holdingford to Highway 10 north of Royalton (roughly 14 miles). This stretch of trail is part of the partially-undeveloped Soo Line Bike Trail, which already connects to the Wobegon Trail in Holdingford and will eventually be paved all the way to southern shore of Mill Lacs Lake in Isle (see map). An 11-mile segment of the trail between Onamia and Isle is already paved.

When completed, the Soo Line/Wobegon/Central Lakes trails will combine to form roughly 160 miles of continuous paved trails, a hefty amount for even the most ambitious of cyclists.

But that wasn't the only cycling-related discovery I made. The Soo Line/Wobegon/Central Lakes trail system could in fact be the early workings of a massive trailway that a cyclist could only dream of.

A conversation with a local biker in Holdingford led to research into the following:

  • The Citizen's Committee in the town of Little Falls (roughly 25 miles north of St. Cloud) is currently working with MnDOT to extend the Paul Bunyan Bike Trail (which MPR recently reported being completed from Brainerd to Bemidji) through Camp Ripley down to Holdingford to link up with the Wobegon trail system. There isn't a target date yet for the completion of this project, but it is on the immediate agenda for both trail systems.
  • The Paul Bunyan Trail already links with the Blue Ox Trail in Bemidji, which travels all the way along Highway 71 up to International Falls. Currently, the Blue Ox Trail is mostly intended for snowmobile and ATV use, so it's mostly gravel and largely undeveloped. However, most related websites indicate that the Blue Ox will eventually be paved, combining with the Paul Bunyan Trail to form one of the longest rails-to-trails projects in the country -- roughly 210 miles.
  • The Glacial Lakes State Trail is currently a 22-mile stretch of paved trailway from Willmar to Hawick in West-Central Minnesota. However, plans are already in motion to extend the trail east to the town of Richmond (land has already been purchased to do so and maps have been drawn up), making it roughly 40 miles. Beyond that, the Minnesota DNR also has a long-term plan to eventually link the Glacial Lakes Trail to the Wobegon system (though the exact plans for this have yet to be defined). Also, check out the state trail system map on page 4 of the Glacial Lakes extension project. Looks like Mankato might the hub of a massive trail system in the future as well.
  • The Willard Munger Trail currently extends from Hinckley to West Duluth (roughly 70 miles) along Interstate 35. Considering the fact that the Soo Line's snowmobile/ATV trails already extends to Moose Lake (a town on the Munger Trail) and beyond, it's not far-fetched to believe the Soo Line and Munger bike trails might eventually be linked.
All in all, that's potentially seven trails covering nearly 500 miles of biking if they ever get linked together. It would go as far west as Fergus Falls, as far east as Duluth, as far north as International Falls and as far south as Willmar.

Take the information with a grain of salt, as DNR funding is pretty tight and the majority of these projects are still in the early stages of planning. But it's still something to to be excited about if you're cyclist looking for adventure.

Without being a great biking community itself, St. Cloud could wind up being a hub for one of the largest grouping of bike trails in the nation.

No comments:

Post a Comment