‘Renaissance’: Beloved Mountain Biking Trails Bring New Life to the Iron Chain – WCCO
IRONTON, Minnesota (WCCO) – In the early 1900s, it was iron ore that brought people to the Cuyuna Range. Speed up 100 years and now the trails have become the destination.
“Ten years ago the mountain bike trails opened and about 34 years ago the idea started,” said Aaron Hautala.
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Hautala is the former president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, a club with over 300 members. He said that years ago, women and girls wanted to protect the land that their husbands and sons worked. So they came up with the idea of using human-powered sports to preserve Mother Nature.
“When I speak across the country they say to me, ‘OK, you turned a mining area into a mountain bike. How did it work? “Even when the slopes were opened, I didn’t understand how amazing they were going to be,” Hautala said.
Federal and state funding as well as numerous fundraisers have made it possible to build 55 scenic miles of one-way trails. As the trails grew in popularity, business in towns like Crosby, Ironton, Rivertown, and Cuyuna also increased.
“The word that I have heard used and that I really love is ‘rebirth’,” Hautala said. “I moved here 11 years ago and in the last 11 years there have been well over 25 new businesses. They weren’t there before.
“I graduated in 2004 and there was really nothing to do,” said cyclist Mari Kivisto. “Today you can walk down the main street and we have cafes, bike shops, a homemade ice cream parlor, pizzas and restaurants.”
New seaside resorts like Cuyuna Cove, with their huts on stilts, are aimed at outdoor enthusiasts. There are also new residents. Jim McCarvill moved to the Minneapolis shooting range. He said the area is bustling.
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“Last weekend was packed,” he said. “The restaurants were full.”
The trails too. But when you have more than 50 kilometers, there is always room for more cyclists. There are trails for beginners and trails for experts. With its “very difficult” designation, Cruser’s Kettle has a few bumps in the road.
“All of a sudden you will be rolling and there will be a rock fall or rock climb or there will be a rock feature stretching that you are going to ride,” Hautala said.
This is the type of mountain bike you see in the west. But the goal is to get mountain bikers to consider the Midwest, especially Cuyuna. It may already be happening. Last year, during the pandemic, 160,000 cyclists rode these trails, easily setting a record.
Many of these visitors came from other states, and it was all thanks to mountain bikers who led the way.
“If you go the whole 55 miles, depending on who you are, you will find a place that you like,” Hautala said.
By the end of next year, an additional 20 miles of trails will be added, meaning there will be over 70 miles of biking on the Cuyuna Lakes mountain bike trails. Paddleboarding, kayaking, and hiking have also become popular in the area.
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