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Bike trail awarded grant

After more than two years and thousands of hours of planning work, the Split Rock Wilds Mountain Bike Trail is one step closer to reality.

During the Lake County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday in Two Harbors, it was announced the proposed trail received a $659,000 grant from the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Commission to begin construction on the first phase of the trail.

The grant is part of the Minnesota Legacy Fund, that was established in 2008 through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and established three eighths of one percent sales tax to fund projects related to Minnesota's clean water fund, outdoor heritage fund, arts and cultural heritage fund and the parks and trails fund, according to the grant website.

The proposed Split Rock Wilds trail will eventually include a 50-mile network of trails on 6,500 acres of tax-forfeited county land between the Split Rock River and Beaver Bay. Earlier this year, the county contracted with Jake Carsten of Dirt Dojo in Austin, Texas, to flag approximately 25 miles of trail and create a GPS map of the flagged area. Carsten also created a description of the trail that includes length, difficulty and features of the trail.

Lake County applied for $2 million in funding in 2016, but was declined. Lake County land commissioner Nate Eide, who has taken the lead on planning and funding the trail since it was first proposed in 2015, revised the grant to include up to 25 miles of trail with two trailheads, one of which will be built by the Lake County Highway Department next summer.

The other trailhead will be on the edge of Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, where the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plans to build a new campground next summer. Eide said the DNR plans to build a parking lot for trail users to go along with the trailhead.

The grant includes $90,000 to pay for trailhead supplies, lighting and construction as well as $550,000 to pay for up to 20 miles of trail to be built during the first phase of construction.

Northeastern Minnesota has become a destination for mountain bikers over the recent years, with a mountain bike trail built at Spirit Mountain in Duluth and another beginning construction in Cook County in 2018.

Eide said the popularity of mountain bike trails means companies doing the construction are in high demand. The county won't receive funding until the end of the fiscal year, so Lake County can't contract for the work until the summer. Therefore, construction is unlikely to begin before spring 2019.

Despite the wait for construction, Eide, a biking enthusiast himself, is excited to have the funding awarded and believes the area between Beaver Bay and the Split Rock River will be attractive to day trips from Duluth and those looking for a longer stay. Not only does the area feature a variety of terrain for bikers to negotiate, it also offers views of Lake Superior, waterfalls and other features attractive to people using the trail.

The planned DNR campground will also access the Gitchi-Gami Trail. Once bikers follow the trail down to the DNR site, they can choose whether they want to use the trail to get back or take the bike path along Highway 61.

"You could start at the Beaver Bay trailhead and it's mostly downhill to the Split Rock campground trailhead," Eide said. "You could even take the Gitchi-Gami Trail and ride on black top on the way back to Beaver Bay. That's not a bad ride, come to think of it."

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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