Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hold on to Your Handlebars

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hold on to Your Handlebars

Article excerpt


Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., may not be the first place that comes to mind when mountain bikers think of challenging trails and exciting terrain. But a new trail in the Twin Cities area is proof that park systems can create facilities that satisfy mountain bicyclists' desires while preserving a park's natural resources.

Of all the facilities operated by Three Rivers Park District in the suburban Twin Cities area, Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve is one of the least developed. The nearly 2,800-acre park reserve includes 1,200 acres of oak forest as well as a 200-acre protected natural resource sanctuary. But the recreation opportunities are in high demand because the reserve is located in Scott County, one of the fastest growing areas in the metropolitan area.

But there's plenty of park to go around. Murphy-Hanrehan is full of recreation potential-facilities include a boat launch, fishing pier and multi-use trails. Although Murphy-Hanrehan has no mountains, the park's topography is well-suited for mountain biking. The park reserve is located on a steep moraine of steep, tree-covered hills that dot the park landscape. For many years, mountain biking was permitted on a trail developed for cross-country skiing.

But the situation with the trail was far from ideal. Because it was located near a bird sanctuary, it could only be used for mountain biking between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31 each year. Additionally, erosion was a significant problem on the trail. Park District Landscape Architect Kelly Grissman explains that the trail was built on the fall line, characterized by nearly vertical up-and-down hills. Maintenance staff would repeatedly fill in the soil that had eroded, only to have it wash away again.

Murphy-Hanrehan had available land and a trail that wasn't sustainable, something that members of the Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists (MORC) recognized. The grassroots organization dedicated to responsible, sustainable mountain biking approached park district staff about partnering on a trail project.

The partnership was launched in 2004, when MORC and the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) conducted a sustainable trail-building school at the park. During the school, representatives from MORC and IMBA worked with park staff to create a demonstration sustainable trail section. Another trail school was held in 2005, which included participants flagging the rough outline of beginner- and intermediate-level trail features. This got the ball rolling for the sustainable trail design.

In addition to collaborating on the planning and construction of the trail, the park district and MORC also partnered on financing it. MORC pledged $30,000 to the project, and the park district budgeted $47,000, funding half the project; a matching grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MnDNR) through Minnesota's State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) took care of the rest.

The trail project fit the priorities established in SCORP, which encourages park systems to strive toward facilities that balance recreation opportunities with protection of natural and cultural resources. SCORP calls on communities to improve situations where recreation is harming the natural environment. The new trail fit with this goal, since it replaced the previous erosion-prone trail with one that is sustainable.

Construction began in the fall of 2006 when the park district hired a crew from the youth organization Tree Trust to help with trail construction. Tree Trust was founded with the dual mission of helping to reforest the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in the wake of Dutch elm disease, as well as providing job opportunities for youth and young adults. The organization has grown to provide much more than reforestation.

After park maintenance staff designed the structures, cut the lumber and completed some pre-construction work, Tree Trust took over. …

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