Two Harbors—In recent years, the Lake Superior Basin has been developed into a renowned mountain biking destination, drawing riders from around the country.
In places like Duluth, Thunder Bay, Marquette, and Copper Harbor, mountain bikers enjoy hundreds of miles of world-class single-track, trails that take full advantage of Superiors natural terrain and beauty.
On the North Shore, more than 16 miles of new wilderness flow trail were completed just last year between Britton Peak and Lutsen Mountain in a project spearheaded by the Superior Cycling Association (SCA) in Cook County. The new trails, Jackpot and High Climber, flow beautifully along the Sawtooth Mountains with plenty of berms, features, and overlooks that make the ride enjoyable for single-track riders of all levels.
Now, in 2020, there is another exciting trail system in the works in nearby Lake County. As a part of their current trails’ initiative, Lake County is in the process of adding its own series of single-track trails, some 50+ miles or so, to utilize a landscape that feels like it was made for riding.
“It’s a very exciting time for single-track on the Shore” says Dave Cizmas, Lake County Recreation Forester and project lead for Lake County’s new single-track trail systems.
Cizmas has been mountain biking seriously for over 10 years, and took over as the county’s recreation forester in March of 2019. Prior to working for Lake County, Cizmas worked as a forester for Douglas County, Wisc., and served on the COGGS (Cyclists of Gitchi Gumee Shores) board in Duluth. He is currently on the Spirit Mountain board of directors.
According to Cizmas, there are two new single-track trail systems being built this year in Lake County: Demonstration Forest near Two Harbors, and Split Rock Wilds between the historic Split Rock Lighthouse and Beaver Bay.
Located a few miles inland from Two Harbors, the Demonstration Forest trails will consist of 15-20 miles of relatively beginner-friendly trail once complete.
“Already, there are 7 miles of completed, rideable trail in Demonstration Forest,” says Cizmas, “with four of those miles being proper single-track. For the rest, a Minnesota Conservation Corps crew (MCC) is doing more work as we speak.”
The Demonstration Forest project is being funded in large part by the One Track Mind Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is funding mountain bike trail building and maintenance across the United States.
The trails being built in this area will continue to be beginner-intermediate level single-track, passing through forested landscapes with minimal elevation change.
“The Demonstration Forest trails have a classic, hand-built feel to them” says Cizmas, who describes the construction of the new trails as “old-school.” Unlike the new trails in Cook County, which are flowy with plenty of berms and features, the new Demonstration Forest trails are designed to be “tighter and ‘twistier’, with fewer berms and more of a rugged feel to them.”
Also of note, Demonstration Forest is situated upon an esker—a natural gravel deposit resulting from the meltwater of a retreating glacier. Because of this it will be less susceptible to wet conditions, allowing the new system to stay open in all types of weather.
The second trail system in the works this year is the highly anticipated Split Rock Wilds, a set of trails that Cizmas expects to be classified as “intermediate with advance features” upon completion.
“This is the big project,” says Cizmas, “the one everyone is looking forward to. Currently we have three crews building in there, and hope to complete 12-16 miles by the end of the year.”
Unlike the nearby flow trails Jackpot and High Climber, Split Rock Wilds is mostly rock with a gabbro and granite base that “will look smooth but have a ton of traction.” There will be a plethora of overlooks along the trail, making it a destination bike trail despite its challenging terrain.
Just like with Demonstration Forest, the Split Rock Wild Trails are being built more as traditional single-track, with few berms and added bike features along the way.
“On these trails, the rock is the feature” says Cizmas, who compares the Split Rock Wilds to Piedmont in Duluth, or parts of the Pincushion system in Grand Marais.
The Split Rock Wilds southern terminus will be located at the new campground at Split Rock State Park, with plans to extend the trail North to Cove Point. Eventually the hope is to extend the system all the way to Beaver Bay proper.
“Next year we’re hoping to build another 8-10 miles that will make it a big loop,” says Cizmas. “We’re building the advance trail this year, the beginner loop on more mellow terrain next year. Then, the next phase will be to get through some private land and connect the trail to Beaver Bay.”
Currently, there is no legal access to Split Rock Wilds, but Cizmas implores riders to be patient and come ready to ride next spring when the trail officially opens.
“Keep your ears open for announcements and updates,” says Cizmas. “We will need lots of wheels on the trail next spring to pack it down.”
For updates and information on the new Lake County trails, visit the Lake County Mountain Bike Trails (LCMBT) Facebook page, or check out the trail postings on: trailforks.com.