Fifteen years ago, the idea for creating the area’s finest mountain bike trails at Britton Peak (Tofte, Minnesota) and the Pincushion Trail System (Grand Marais, Minnesota) began coming to life. Getting permission to flag, design and build the trails (the first to be allowed on national forest land in Minnesota) was the biggest hurdle. A planned visit from the Eagle Scouts of America looking for projects to be involved with on the forest helped to push officials to allow it. Initially, two non-profit organizations: the Superior Cycling Association and Sugarbush Trail Association were able to scrape together enough funding and volunteers from multiple sources to make it all happen. Even in those early days of trail building, a much grander dream was stoking in the back their minds: adding a high quality trail system connecting the communities of Tofte, Lutsen and Grand Marais. The goal was to make the North Shore a destination riding area for mountain bikers all over the country.
Today, that dream is beginning to come to fruition: a 1.2 million dollar wilderness flow trial, called Jackpot, is beginning to be built between Britton Peak in Tofte and Lutsen Mountains near Lutsen. Well over half of the trail to Lutsen is complete as of the time of this writing (mid-July 2019) and the remaining section of the intermediate trail is expected to be complete by the end of the summer. It will be an amazing, one-of-a-kind riding experience for bikers as it flows over and around ancient rock formations, past old growth cedar, under a dense maple canopy and through beautiful boreal forest.
The trail is being constructed by Rock Solid Trail Contracting, a company based out of Copper Harbor, Michigan, who uses the latest and greatest trail building technology. Watching their teams build trail is an incredible experience (imagine a small medium and large excavator working in tandem on the trail while being followed by a rock armoring crew who tamps down the trail and makes it smooth). They’re laying down approximately 500-600 feet of trail each work day.
One of the goals of the company and the Superior Cycling Association (SCA), who has spearheaded the project and raised the funds, is to make the trail as sustainable as possible. This means the trail is being built using materials– like rocks instead of wood – that reduce the amount of maintenance required for the trail upkeep. However, incredible amount of work and manpower will still be needed to go into upkeeping the trail. Regular upkeep includes removing wind-fallen trees and debris, repairing areas with rainstorm washout and trimming the relentless brush growth along the side of the trails. In the first month and a half of this season, the SCA had clocked about 350 hours of volunteer and contract time at Britton Peak and Pincushion to get the trails ride-ready.
The remaining section of the trail from Lutsen to Grand Marais is still part of the larger goal. Additional funding will need to be raised and the appropriate approval and permitting will need to be issued before the trail plans can move forward. SCA and local residents are hoping those things come together in the next few years.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for a great adventure on the North Shore, we encourage you to grab your bike and check out the new trail. It is accessed of the Skookum trail at the Britton Peak Trail head (about three miles up the Sawbill Trail from Tofte). You won’t regret it.
REMINDER: Please be respectful and obey all signs and trail markings as Rock Solid Trail Contracting continues to build Jackpot. And, as always, stay off of the mountain bike trails when they are wet and muddy. Traveling on them can cause severe and costly damage very quickly, ruining the experience for other riders.