IRONTON - The mountain bike trail system being built in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area remains a well-kept secret, even in some cycling circles, it would appear.
Earlier this month, in conjunction with Minnesota Bike/Walk Week June 5-11, the League of American Bicyclists announced that Minnesota has been named the fourth most bicycle-friendly state in the nation for 2010 (Washington, Wisconsin and Maine were 1-2-3). That's up from No. 5 the previous two years.
A section of the mostly completed stretch of the mountain bike trail in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area in Ironton, as seen during a tour Wednesday.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
But still a disappointment.
According to LAB, several factors led to Minnesota's move up in the third annual rankings, including the formation of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (a new statewide bicycle advocacy group that helped increase the number of certified bicycle instructors from five to more than 50 last year); the creation of partnerships with the city of Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota Parking Services, the Humphrey Institute research staff, Transit for Livable Communities and other entities in an effort to conduct traffic counts for bicycles; and the creation of "Share the Road" - for five years, the nationally recognized bicycle safety education campaign has helped improve awareness of bicycle laws by motorists and bicyclists.
Throw in the new CCSRA trail system, and how couldn't Minnesota move up - to No. 1?
Yes, construction on the CCSRA trail system only recently started. But just the fact that the mountain bike trail system, already hyped as the best in the state and maybe beyond, was being constructed and will be completed in 2010 - sometime this fall - was worth noting. But nothing.
The LAB rankings were based on 95 questions across six categories, including legislation, programs and policies, infrastructure, education and encouragement, evaluation and planning and enforcement. Minnesota tied for first in evaluation and planning and third in policies and programs.
With impressive ascents and descents, high-banked curves and breathtaking cliffs cut naturally through the forest, the mountain bike trail in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area has a Colorado Trail feel. And the reddish pit dirt is reminiscent of the canyon-floor trails of Moab, Utah.
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
LAB admits the "annual ranking measures to the best of our degree the state's bicycle-friendliness but does not include everything states can and should do for bicycling."
Like providing a world-class mountain biking experience.
Minnesota already boasts one of the longest paved trails in the country - the Paul Bunyan Trail, which also cuts through the heart of the Brainerd lakes area. And recently, yet another leg of the East Gull Lake Trail - running parallel to the Madden's Resort driving range along Cass County Road 77 - was paved. This is indeed trail country.
I've biked Moab, Utah, and portions of the Colorado Trail in southwestern Colorado - regarded as mountain biking meccas (surprisingly, Colorado was 14th and Utah 23rd in the LAB rankings), and from what I saw of the CCSRA mountain bike trail system Wednesday during a short tour of a mostly completed segment of the trail, it will rival Moab and the Colorado Trail. With impressive ascents, high-banked curves and breathtaking cliffs cut naturally through the forest, it has a Colorado Trail feel. The reddish pit dirt also reminds me of the wide-open canyon floors of Moab. And trail planning and work has been overseen by mountain bike advocates. It's being done right.
The Brainerd lakes area is indeed trail country: Yet another leg of the East Gull Lake Trail - running parallel to the Madden's Resort driving range along Cass County Road 77 - recently was paved. Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
The LAB describes itself as a nonprofit membership organization that promotes cycling for fun, fitness and transportation through advocacy and education. So why wouldn't that include mountain biking? Yet it's obvious that the CCSRA trail system isn't on the LAB's radar. Not that I put a whole lot of stock in rankings. But my hope is that this isn't part of a larger problem - that just because the trails are in a rural area 150 miles from the metro, they are being lost in the shuffle.
The mountain biking world won't likely let that happen. This trail is huge news in mountain biking circles.
A bicycle group's ranking won't change that.
BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson.
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