“As you would expect with a very different trail than any other in the area, it’s very polarizing,” said David Cizmas, a Lake County recreation forester who oversees the project. “There’s a really big cult that’s just captivated by this trail and this trail system, but there are also a number of people who are like, ‘I’ve never had my back put on a trail in Minnesota before – I don’t like it. ‘”
Built on county land, the 35-mile trail system includes a number of challenging features: an 850-foot-long rock garden – a boulder trail that cyclists are challenged to ride; a flyover bridge that sends riders over a steep, curved bridge without a guardrail; skip trails with gaps; steep, technical and rocky climbs; and rocks and endless drops.
An OTM Trail airlift rises above the Acer Trail seen Tuesday, September 28, 2021, on the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail system near Beaver Bay. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
It’s a system where a full suspension trail bike is best, Cizmas said.
And it’s supposed to establish itself as a tough system among all the new trails going up in northeast Minnesota. Most of what happens is usually a machine-built “flow” – smoother, twisty trails that are more accessible to riders of different skill levels with a few advanced and even less expert trails mixed in.
But Split Rock Wilds is the opposite. It’s an advanced trail with a few easy trails.
“We intentionally built it to be very raw and more of a traditional singletrack than your flow trail,” Cizmas said.
Daylight illuminates parts of the 850-foot-long rock garden called Joe’s Diner seen Tuesday, September 28, 2021 on the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail system near Beaver Bay. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
That’s not to say that there aren’t easier options available through smooth climbs and turns, across wide wooden bridges, and over dirt as much as possible (there is than a thin layer of natural soil in the area, hence the rock of the most difficult trails).
Joni and Danny Warzala were getting on and off their fat tire bikes on the mile-long green beginner trail called Hwy 61 on Tuesday. The Twin Cities couple own a cabin near Two Harbors and regularly hike the trails of northeastern Minnesota.
Twin Cities Joni Warzala fat bikes the Highway 61 trail on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, on the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail system near Beaver Bay. A fat bike is a mountain bike with tires wider than 3.8 inches. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
“There aren’t a lot of long climbs on this trail. It’s a short climb. The wooden bridges are really level – even the stone bridges are short – and so they are very easy for novice cyclists,” Joni said. “There isn’t a lot of technique on this trail.”
But turn on an intermediate blue or advanced black track and that changes quickly.
When the new trailhead opens in the spring, more green trails at the southwest end of the network will be more easily accessible.
Starting point, campsite planned for May 2022
Split Rock Wilds had a “soft start” with many runners hearing about it through word of mouth. Still, Cizmas said it has attracted more users than expected.
The trail system will more officially open when the new campground at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park opens in May.
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
Once opened, the campground, dubbed the Shipwreck Creek Campground, will feature 46 electric driving sites and will also serve as the main trailhead for the Split Rock Wilds Trail, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.
For now, cyclists should access the trail by parking at Beaver Bay and taking the paved Gitchi-Gami State Trail to Cove Point Lodge. Across Minnesota Highway 61, Cove Point has a gravel road alongside giant Adirondack chairs and flag poles. Pedal the gravel road (vehicles are not allowed on the road, which is owned by Cove Point) until you reach several white signs on the right side marking the entrance to the trail system. An interactive map of the system can be found by searching for “Split Rock Wilds” on trailforks.com or by using the Trailforks app on a smartphone.
A mountain biker rides the Neovision Trail on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, on the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail system near Beaver Bay. Neovision is one of 28 trails in the 22 mile mountain bike trail system. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
For now, this is the only way to get in and out of the trail system.
The current trail entrance is warning users that if they encroach on the campground, which seems like an easy way to reconnect with the Gitchi-Gami trail, it could force the trails to close or cause the cyclist to close. receive a citation.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cizmas had pulled his two-wheel-drive motorcycle with a chainsaw in the back to the side of the trail to eat a bagel. He was working clearing the fallen trees across the path.
Dave Cizmas, from Duluth, with Lake County Forestry, talks about mountain bike trail development during a lunch break on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, at the Split Rock Wilds Mountain Bike Trail System near Beaver Bay. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
As construction to establish the trails draws to a close, maintenance will be a constant.
Cizmas said the county would likely hand much of these responsibilities over to a local club and a non-profit organization.
Lake County Mountain Bike Trails has partnered with One Track Mind, or OTM, a non-profit organization that aims to build, improve and maintain mountain bike trails and will provide regular and seasonal maintenance.
But new trails will likely be added. Cizmas said he would like to see an advanced jump line and a beginner jump line (expert and intermediate jump lines have already been built) and gravity enduro tracks.
“Philosophy is not a boring track,” Cizmas said. “So we are not going to build a trail for the sake of having miles.”
The OTM Trails Skylight off-ramp seen Tuesday, September 28, 2021 on the Split Rock Wilds Mountain Bike Trail System. The OTM Trail offers an intermediate jump line for riders in the region. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
Twin Cities Joni Warzala talks about the new mountain bile trails by stopping during a ride on the Highway 61 trailhead on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, on the Split Rock Mountain Bike Trail System Wilds. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
A mountain biker rides a long walk on Tuesday, September 28, 2021 on the Split Rock Wilds mountain bike trail system. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune