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A gem within the jewel

RIVERTON — It’s safe to say that things have snowballed at the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

As a result, the Sagamore Unit of the CCSRA is starting to get some recognition for what it is — a gem within a jewel of a mountain bike destination.

Next week, it will be a year ago that the first portion of the main mountain bike trails in Ironton opened to great fanfare. The rest of the trail system opened in June during the first Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Festival and the trail system enjoyed an immensely successful first year that lasted well into the fall.

Then, in December, the rugged, mostly unknown trails on the far end of the CCSRA — in the Sagamore Unit near Riverton — were opened to fat-tire bikes and winter biking. The trails there weren’t nearly as extreme as some of the segments of the regular trail, lending themselves more to winter biking. And there was no worry about damaging trails that were years in the works — the trails within the Sagamore Unit were mostly old mining roads.

In a mostly snowless winter, 248 bikers took to the Sagamore trails, the DNR’s Steve Weber said. Most of that traffic came in the first Whiteout — a winter mountain bike celebration and mountain bike races held mostly within the Sagamore Unit in early March. Traces of Whiteout still remain in the form of pink ribbons tied around tree limbs to mark race routes.

Weber, park manager at CCSRA, has removed some of the ribbons. Spring cleaning of sorts. And a ribbon-cutting ceremony fitting of the no-nonsense Sagamore Unit.

The 10 miles of trails in Sagamore opened quietly this spring. Actually, they never really closed. But only recently have the trails started looking like, well, biking trails.

Not that it took much work. The trails were always there, in the form of old mining roads and the old railroad route through the mines.

“We did all this within a month,” Weber said Monday. “We just cut out some trees and brush and pruned some trees. We’ll remove some trees for a better view, so this isn’t the exact location of the trail.”

The trails are difficult to distinguish at times, but Weber said the plan is to mow a six-foot swath on the trails to help them stand out. The terrain isn’t nearly as severe as in the main trail system, but that’s what makes the Sagamore trails an attractive alternative.

“It’s for beginners — the entry-level trails offer an aspect for putting tires on dirt for the first time, without the steep (topography),” he said. “Some people want that entry level. That’s what this provides.”

The main trail system is for mountain biking only, which makes Sagamore an appealing option for other users.

“It’s another hiking trail option,” Weber said. “And off the asphalt for the first time, it might be a good challenge (for bikers).”

Like its big brother, the Sagamore Unit also embraces trail names that tie-in with the area’s mining history and, at the same time, gives users a hint of what’s to come. The full skeletal remains of a buffalo were long ago found at what is dubbed Buffalo Run Trail. And a huge copper nugget once rested — in a monument of sorts at the mine during its heyday — where the Copper Nugget Trail traverses. Among the 10 trails in the Sagamore Unit, there’s also the Hard Time Trail and the Dynamite Trail. Whether the latter gets its name more from explosives used in the mines or from its explosive nature is anyone’s guess. The terrain appears a bit more treacherous in Dynamite. But nothing the novice biker probably can’t navigate.

“It’s catching on slow,” Weber said of the Sagamore trails. “Bikers who use the regular trails want the flowing trails. This is more introductory trails for beginners.

“In the future, with these nice hills, we’ll build purpose-built trails,” he said of the Dynamite Trail.

“We’ve always had this (trails within Sagamore) in the back of our mind. We wanted to see winter activity here and make it a year-round attraction. We’re revising the map in early June so that the Sagamore trails will be part of the regular map.”

The trail head is located at the Sagamore Mine Lake access — look for the signage to the right as you enter the access — and the trails run mostly along the water, moving from lake level to points well above Sagamore, through heavy forest and vegetation. Very much a rustic, natural mountain biking experience. But again, very doable for even beginning riders.

It includes about seven miles of trail, but with a number of “turnaround” trails, it totals 10 miles.

“There’s a lot of real estate and a lot of nice overlooks,” Weber said. “There’s 10 miles of trail — that’s a lot of trail. It complements the other trail system so much.”

BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to For his blogs, go to