Terry McGaughey slowly walked the trail that all but bears his name, pushing his Cannondale mountain bike alongside him near the trailhead. It was a gloomy spring day. But to McGaughey, on the Paul Bunyan Trail, there is no such thing.
He is a slight man, but like the legendary figure for whom he named the trail, McGaughey looms large in many circles. This trail is one such circle.
The Paul Bunyan Trail is one of the premier recreation trails in the state, if not the nation. It was McGaughey's vision, his dream, and without his tireless efforts it may not even exist, at least not in its current state. Almost unimaginable now.
Terry McGaughey biked the Paul Bunyan Trail on Wednesday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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Because of his impact on the state's thriving public parkland and trails system, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota will honor McGaughey with its Citizen Action Award. McGaughey and nine other Parks and Trails award winners will be honored at the first Ball of the Wild Awards dinner Thursday at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis.
The aura of the award - any award, for that matter - was lost on McGaughey. Not that he doesn't enjoy celebrating successes - he most certainly does. But for McGaughey, awards have a way of blocking the view.
"When they first called me and told me about the award, the first thing I wondered was, 'How can I get out of this,'" McGaughey, 69, said Wednesday while biking on the trail near Northland Arboretum. "I'm always embarrassed to think of me as the Paul Bunyan Trail. It's the people ... the governments, the businesses, the communities that supported us. One man couldn't do it alone."
But McGaughey, the volunteer coordinator for the Paul Bunyan Trail Association, is the one person who has been there from the start. He grew up in the Twin Cities, moving to the Brainerd area in the late 1960s. He was in real estate until 1984 - two years after the real estate market crashed, he said. An avid outdoorsman, that's about the time he began researching the idea of converting the area's abandoned railroad corridor into a recreational trail.
"I specialized in recreation property," he said. "I had been involved in selling my whole life. The Paul Bunyan Trail was just another product."
Terry McGaughey (kneeling, second from left) gathered with trail-builders from across the state to drive home a golden spike Aug. 2, 2006, at the point where the Paul Bunyan and Heartland trails come together.
But it wasn't. Rather, it was the project of a lifetime.
McGaughey, a citizen activist and lobbyist at the Legislature since the early 1960s, spent the next five or so years trying to drum up public support. Then there were the endless dealings with government concerning financial support. Finally, more than 10 years after McGaughey first envisioned the project, the Paul Bunyan Trail - from Brainerd to Hackensack - officially opened.
The date was Oct. 15, 1995 - McGaughey's 57th birthday.
"The idea seemed like a Paul Bunyan-sized idea, so no one questioned me when I decided to call it the Paul Bunyan Trail," he said.
In these parts, the name is indeed fitting. But it was particularly fitting that it was McGaughey who chose the name. He was helping raise two daughters - now 37 and 39 years old - when the PBT was in its infancy. It, too, was his baby.
"My two daughters thought Paul Bunyan was a sibling," he said matter-of-factly.
Yes, the trail was family.
On Jan. 23, 2007, Terry McGaughey led a delegation of Paul Bunyan and Cuyuna Lakes state trails representatives to St. Paul to make a case for additional operations and maintenance funding for the trails. Making the trip were Kathy Bussard (left), John Schaubach, Rep. Frank Moe, McGaughey, Kathy Brophy and Jack Heule.
"Terry has just worked tirelessly for 25 years on this trail," said Forrest Boe, DNR Trails and Waterways director, who along with the DNR nominated McGaughey for the award. "Without his work and advocacy, the trail wouldn't have been nearly as popular or developed. Things wouldn't have happened as soon. He's done a lot of things to promote the trail."
Among the successful promotions has been the annual "Ride with Jim," a community biking outing with Congressman James Oberstar, an avid bicyclist. The 11th annual event is scheduled June 1 on an approximately 20-mile stretch of the PBT that winds through and around Baxter.
"He (McGaughey) always likes to celebrate the successes," Boe said. "You've got to stop and smell the roses. He's always at some kind of ribbon-cutting event or the annual ride with Congressman Oberstar. He takes time to celebrate. I think that's important, too. It's one reason he's been very successful.
"At least in the past, he was an avid bike rider. That certainly helped. But it went beyond that," Boe added of McGaughey's dedication to the trail. "There was more to it than a passion for riding a bike. Somehow he sees the benefit. Whether it's health benefits or what. It's one more thing the Brainerd area can offer."
Although much of the major sweat and effort is behind McGaughey, work continues on the PBT, and McGaughey continues to serve as he has for the last 20-plus years.
"I don't find myself thinking any less hours a day about it," he said. "I continue to be an advocate as necessary."
McGaughey looked on with pride Wednesday as the occasional bicyclist or in-line skater swept by. Then, after a short ride that took him about a mile from the trailhead, he turned around and made his way back to the parking lot at the arb. Towering trees on both sides of the trail kept the cold April wind at bay. It was a smooth ride.
Thanks to Terry McGaughey.
BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5864.
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