Two men standing on the trail
October 24, 2015
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Bit by bit these friends are helping build a trail

By Lisa Filter, Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota

Today the Gitchi Gami State Trail, while still in progress, is one of the most iconic trails in Minnesota, as it winds along the North Shore with majestic views of Lake Superior. Yet when a group of locals got together in the mid-1990s to discuss the idea of a trail, that’s all it was: an idea in the minds of a group of locals.

It’s really impressive what a little imagination and a lot of dedication can create. After laying the groundwork, this group of volunteers convinced lawmakers of the idea and the trail was authorized in 1999. Quickly thereafter, the first three miles were built.

Since then it has been bit by bit. “We’re averaging a mile and a half per year,” says GGTA president Bill Blank, who has been involved since the “idea” stage. The ultimate goal is 88 miles along the North Shore from Two Harbors to Grand Marais, hitting the seven state parks in between.

Currently 29.5 miles are completed, but those miles are divided into several unconnected segments. The longest and most scenic segment runs 14 miles starting in Gooseberry Falls State Park and continuing through Split Rock Lighthouse State Park before ending in the city of Beaver Bay.

The biggest challenges, Blank explains, are the extreme terrain and high cost of land along the North Shore. Over the years the GGTA has secured millions of dollars in federal and state funds. They currently have a $600,000 grant from the federal government that requires state matching funds.

Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota is a strong ally in the GGTA’s efforts at the state capitol. In 2014, we successfully helped advocate for $1.5 million in state funds to acquire and develop three miles of the Grand Marais segment. In addition, this year the trail received Legacy Funds to complete a short gap between two segments near Beaver Bay. Once that’s complete the trail will offer a continuous 17 miles.

Ironically, the same qualities that make the trail challenging to build also are what draw in users to the trail. And as the trail miles grow, so do the number of users.

“We’re starting to see more and more tourists coming up with their bikes in tow,” says Blank. The trail offers a new way to experience the North Shore and gives public access to places that were previously hidden, like Thompson Beach just north of Gooseberry Falls State Park and Twin Points Beach another mile farther.

In addition to building the trail the GGTA promotes it with their annual ride that brings in many new riders. Three routes range from 28 to 55 miles, making it a good fit for a variety of bicyclists. The longer routes go off the trail and onto highways and roads.