IRONTON — The vehicle stood out at the parking lot between the Huntington and Pennington mine pit lakes, and not just because it was the only vehicle there at about 8 a.m. Wednesday.
A Subaru, it featured a double bike rack and Colorado license plates.
But there will come a time, possibly in the not-so-distant future, when such a classic mountain biking vehicle/setup likely will blend into the landscape at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
License plates included.
Mountain states such as Colorado and Utah have long cornered the market when it comes to serious mountain biking. But with the opening Wednesday of 14.2 miles of the 25-mile CCSRA mountain bike trail system, expect that to change. Coloradans coming to this area to mountain bike?
The 14-plus-mile portion of the trail opened Wednesday with little fanfare — that will change in June — and moderate bike traffic, according to Tim Collette, DNR conservation officer at the CCSRA. But Collette said those he spoke with who did bike the trails that opened Wednesday raved about what some already are calling one of the best mountain biking venues in the country.
“There weren’t a pile of bikers,” Collette said Friday of the first two days on the trails. “It was interesting — the first car I saw was from Colorado, and then I saw of batch of locals and some of the local bike club people, so it was a smattering of everything. And the ones (trails) that are open are in real good shape. Everyone I talked to who was out riding said the trails were awesome. I’ve heard a lot of good feedback.
“I anticipated (light bike traffic) when we opened on the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend. We’ll see more on the weekend. But in the middle of the week I didn’t expect a big rush. I’ve seen probably a few dozen bikers a day. I expect today (Friday) and the weekend there will be a lot more. But the trails are set up in such a way that you probably could have a couple hundred bikers and not see them that often.”
In forums on the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists website (www.morcmtb.org/forums/forum.php), riders also were raving about the trail. Said one rider in a forum: “Trails in great shape. ... Thanks to all who made it happen. The trail is very well-marked with many large maps at intersections. Great use of the terrain. Can’t wait to make it back to ride more of this sweet trail system.”
Segments of all three trail types — marked green (easiest), blue (more difficult) and black (most difficult) — are open and zigzag through the area that mostly hugs the north bank above the Huntington Mine Pit Lake, offering spectacular views of the lake and area. Currently, an easy-to-navigate map is available at the CCSRA office in Ironton, at the rec area campground and at a kiosk at an overlook near the trail access, park manager Steve Weber said. A downloadable PDF version is available online at www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/cuyuna_country/maps.html.
While signs of the trail names aren’t yet in place, all other signage is up, including GPS locations, which are numbered and coincide with those listed on the map. So if you come across, say, a sign posted with the No. 48, by referring to the map, you’ll see that you’re on the beginning stretch of Easy Street. Other signs warn riders to be cautious or to go slow as they approach steep hills and others indicate two-way traffic and when a rider is going the wrong way on a “one-way” trail. On the maps, EMS access points also are indicated, along with state trails, paved roads, unpaved roads, rest rooms, overlooks and more within the rec area.
“There are no trail names yet, but we’ve got all of our location markers up, so you should have a map in your pocket and look at it,” Collette said. “The trail names will come as we get time to do it. But with a new trail system that’s very extensive, there are lots of intersections and loops and a map is very handy.”
To access the segment of trails currently open, Weber suggests parking at the lot at the Pennington boat access — between the Huntington and Pennington mine pit lakes — and biking up the dirt road (Miner’s Mountain Road). An access is about 100 yards up, on the left-hand side. It’s a green/easy segment that crisscrosses blue and black trails, too.
“They were out here on the opener from 8 a.m. until dusk,” Weber said. “There were quite a few out here. But over 14 miles it just seems like a few. There were several from the Twin Cities, from Milaca, Brainerd, Colorado, Nisswa. From all over the place. It’s hard to say the numbers. Maybe just under 100 throughout the day. So for an opening we had during the middle of the week before Memorial Day weekend it went off without a hitch.”
The remainder of the trails are scheduled to open June 10, when the DNR will conduct a ribbon-cutting and grand opening beginning at 10 a.m. That will be followed June 11-12 by the first Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival in and around Crosby/Ironton and the CCSRA mountain bike trails. The June 11 schedule features a grand tour/parade, time trials, exhibitions/presentations, live music and the first Cuyuna Night Ride. June 12 features the Hans Rey Trials Demonstration and Clinic and the Kryptonite Crusher Cross Country Race, and the festival wraps up with the awards presentation at 5 p.m. at Crosby City Park. For more information on the festival, call the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce at (218) 546-8131 or go to cuyunalakes.com/outdoor/biking/u_outdoormountainbikefest.htm.
“We’re already busy with the SCUBA divers,” Collette said, referring to what he expects to be an extra-busy summer in and around the pits with the addition of the trails. “I’m sure we’ll be jammed every weekend.”