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The ultimate ‘spokes-man’

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The grand opening of an outdoor treasure was moved indoors, under sunny skies. The local Subway Station sold out of its featured sub and reportedly gave cookies as peace offerings. Other restaurants in town also ran out of food and a new furniture store in town had a run on queen-sized beds, selling one to a woman ... on a bike.

Strange days in Crosby-Ironton.

Strange good.

The official grand opening of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area mountain bike trail and the first Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival went off without a hitch last weekend in and around the rec area near Crosby and Ironton. In fact, two words being thrown around throughout the weekend were “world class.”

That was in reference to the 25 miles of mountain bike trails that wind through the rec area. The DNR teamed up with the Cuyuna Lakes Trails Association, International Mountain Biking Association, local chapter Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, Minnesota Parks and Trails Council, Quality Bicycle Products and Bikes Belong Coalition to create one of only five IMBA ride centers in the country specifically built, or “purpose-built,” for mountain biking.

A 14-mile segment of the trails opened in late May and the rest of the trails officially opened last Friday, when the threat of rain early in the day caused the DNR to move opening ceremonies from the trail to the Hallett Center in 

Crosby. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of those in attendance.

“It was a celebration,” said Johnna Johnson, executive director of the Cuyuna Lakes Chamber of Commerce. “It was a big recognition.”

And there were a lot of people to recognize, from the late Terry McGaughey, regarded as the pioneer of Brainerd area bike trails, to the hundreds of volunteers and the like who finally made the rec area mountain bike trail a reality.

Still, riding the trail remains a surreal experience. And while that 14-mile stretch that opened in late May is impressive, the segment that opened last Friday was all the rage over the weekend and includes what may be the most visible element of the trails — the 65-foot-long, 6-foot-wide prefabricated bridge that was put in place just before the grand opening, linking the trail between the Pennington and Mahnomen pits lakes.

Still, the quiet mechanics of the trails is what makes this a must-ride by mountain bikers of all skill levels. While the trails feature hundreds of feet of ascent and, ultimately, descent, you wouldn’t know it. Yes, there will be some climbing, especially with the more difficult trail segments. But for the most part, the trails are like a series of roller-coaster runs: The next thing you know, you’ll be on that stretch of the trail you saw out of the corner of your eye high above you.

And that’s the beauty of this trail. The natural beauty of the area, the peacefulness of the rec area, that’s all a bonus.

And despite the huge exposure the trail and the rec area received with the grand opening of the trails and the mountain bike festival, that tranquility remains because of the sprawling layout of the trails. Even with dozens of trail users, rarely do they cross paths, it seems. Years and years of carefully planning every detail paid off big time for the trail.

And for the Crosby-Ironton community. Build it and they will come, the visionaries there said. And they were right. Johnson estimated attendance for festival festivities at about 600, well above their goal. The mountain bike races attracted 144 racers, about half of what the festival was hoping for, but with local eateries selling out of food and local businesses seeing a spike in business, the plan is to make the festival an annual event.

For the trails, the grand opening was just the beginning of what will be grand things. Johnson said she was surprised by the fact that, even though the mountain bike festival was winding down Sunday, many came up that morning to ride the trails Monday. But in the summer, every day’s like a day at Disney on the trails. Or better.

“A lot of people said they might be reluctant to bring their kids out there, but one family brought a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old and they thought it was better than Disney World,” Johnson said, adding that despite all the racers and users on the trails over the weekend, no injuries were reported on the trails.

“It was everything we expected and more,” Johnson said of the weekend. “It was fun watching how many of the ... businesses put signs up welcoming the mountain bikers. The mountain bikers felt welcomed in our town. They said they felt like (the community) wanted them here.

“We didn’t get to our goal (of racers for the festival) but we exceeded it for the most part. People with bikes on their cars — that’s what we were looking for.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at brian.peterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.

Becca Clemens
After graduating high school in 2004, I attended Central Lakes College in Staples, MN for 2 years where I got a diploma in Communication Art and Design. I then transfered up to Bemidji State University in, you guessed it, Bemidji, MN. In the spring of 2009, I graduated from BSU. Then in the fall of 2009 I got a job at Echo Publishing, a sister company to the Brainerd Dispatch.
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