DULUTH—John Morton, founder of Morton Trails, visited Duluth, May 18-20, to begin the design process for the Grand Avenue Nordic Center (GANC) trail system. This is a new trail system near the base of the Spirit Mountain alpine ski area. The goal is to complete the trail system by the winter of 2016-17. This cross-country ski system will be the only one in Duluth with both lighting and snowmaking capability.
The GANC is part of the comprehensive St. Louis River Corridor Project, which includes plans for more hiking trails, a rock/ice climbing area, mountain bike trails, and a paddling facility in western Duluth. The Duluth Cross Country Ski Club (DXC) is prepared to help launch the GANC as the first project within this larger scheme of outdoor activity development. This project has received a great deal of support from the City of Duluth. According to the DXC website, the cost of this project will be approximately $1.5 million, the first million coming from the city’s tourism taxes. DXC is committed to raising $250,000. According to Cory Salmela, DXC’s head of fundraising for the GANC, over $100,000 has already been pledged toward that goal.
Morton walked the terrain of the project with Gary Larson of Gary Larson Sports LLC. Larson authored the City of Duluth Cross Country Ski Trail Master Plan in 2014. Together, they explored the site, looking for general trail options and identifying where the property borders private land. That evening, Morton and Larson met with members of DXC and discussed initial impressions, design challenges, and the plan for the following days.
On the second day, Morton flagged the entire proposed trail system. Meanwhile, Larson more precisely located the corners and borders of the property. Morton encouraged his own progress by saying, “it’s just a draft,” as he worked to find the best trail placement.
Morton was a two-time Olympian in the sport of biathlon (cross country skiing combined with rifle marksmanship) and also a coach of collegiate cross-country skiers. When asked how many trails he’s designed, he said the last time he counted it was 170 trail systems. Morton commented that he was chartered with designing “the best possible cross-country ski trail he could,” catering to the needs of novice skiers. He also kept an eye on the course’s potential to support racing.
Morton and Larson worked with a forester to tweak the design of the trail around some stands of timber. Larson took a GPS track of the 3.2K of adjusted trail and plotted it on a map. At the end of the third day, there was a meeting with Morton, Larson, Salmela, Jim Shoberg with the City of Duluth Parks Department, and representatives from local retailers and property developers to discuss the status of the Phase 1 trail design and the challenges involved as they move forward. Phase 2 of the trail design will involve connecting the GANC with the existing cross-country ski trail system at the top of Spirit Mountain.
As he stood near the Grand Avenue Chalet at the base of Spirit Mountain, Morton said he could “count on one hand” the number of cross-country ski trails that have the amenities that the Grand Avenue Nordic Center will have.
Visit the DXC website at www.duluthxc.com/grand-avenue-nordic-center.—Eric Chandler