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Single-track paradise

Duluth has miles of award-winning mountain bike trails for all abilities.

BY HANSI JOHNSON, THOMPSON, MINNESOTA
There are six IMBA Gold Level Ride Centers in the world. Duluth, Minnesota, is one of them.
Duluth is a small city built on a hill. It stretches 27 miles east to west on the rugged and rocky escarpment above that greatest of lakes — Lake Superior. Due to the boom and bust cycle of heavy industry, Duluth has a wealth of open space within its city limits that was once covered in factories and is now re-envisioned as parkland or corridors for recreation.
A decade ago a group of visionary off-road cyclists called The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores realized the terrain and the interconnectedness of Duluth’s green space could produce a legendary system of single-track trails.
That vision has become a reality. A plan to create 100 miles of linked off-road biking trails within Duluth’s city limits is 90 percent complete. The most impressive of these trails is the Duluth Traverse. This is a point-to-point trail that connects all of the city’s trail nodes like a string of pearls. Riders have the choice of riding the 50-mile length of the trail, or they can bite off chunks and do circuits at the six existing trail centers.
Each of the trail centers has its own flavor. On the far west side, Mission Creek is incredibly smooth, flowy and fast. Brewer Park and Piedmont are built on the living stone of the “Duluth Complex” and offer more advanced and technical riding. Hartley Park and Lester Park are local haunts and offer a fine mix of both advanced and intermediate-level riding.
The Spirit Mountain Recreation Center is a ski hill that converts to a bike park in the summer. While the majority of Duluth’s world-class riding is more cross
country based, Spirit Mountain is professionally created for the rider who likes things, how shall we say…more aggressive. Fueled by a modern high-speed ski lift, Spirit Mountain has downhill and flow trails for newer riders and much more advanced riders. It also has a full bike patrol, riding school and rental shop, so you can rent a bike and take a downhill lesson.
Following guiding principles helped developers make Duluth a mountain biking paradise.
It started with creating a high-quality trail experience. The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores partnered with the International Mountain Bike Association to plan the system and hired professional trail builders from across the country to design and build it. The system was purpose built with off-road cyclists and in mind. It also means the trail is built as sustainably as possible.
The system was also designed with the idea of “access for all.” It’s progressive in the idea that there are beginner experiences as well as options for advanced riders. The system also accesses nearly all the major neighborhoods of Duluth. This proximity creates equity in access for residents throughout Duluth, regardless of race, income level or gender.
Duluth now has a 10-month riding season. There are about two months of the year where trails are closed due to freeze and thaw conditions. Locals ride all summer and fall and then all winter on fat bikes on groomed trails.
The best place to find information on Duluth’s Mountain Biking is on the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores Website at www.coggs.com You can also check both the COGGS website and Facebook pages for current trail conditions. ♦
—Hansi Johnson is the Minnesota Land Trust’s director of recreational lands. He lives in Thomson, Minnesota, with his wife Margaret and son Tae.

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