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Finding Minnesota: Mountain Biking In Cuyuna

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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CROSBY, Minn. (WCCO) — To have a good mountain bike trail, you need some mountains, right? Well, Minnesota isn’t naturally blessed with a lot of peaks and valleys, but bikers in the Cuyuna Lakes region are now enjoying rugged slopes that weren’t even there a hundred years ago.

They’re in an area that used to be one of the more unsightly spots in Minnesota.

The Cuyuna Iron Range was a wasteland ripped open and scarred by 70 years of mining operations.

But bikers are now discovering how much change can happen in a few decades.

“When you’re on top of the piles, you can see for miles,” said avid cyclist Dan Cruser. “You can look below you, and you see how nature has reclaimed all of the land from the mining industry.”

Since iron miners left the Cuyuna Range in the late 1970s, the deep holes have become turquoise lakes.

Tall piles of ore have become wooded hills.

“And it’s like, this is in Minnesota?” said Aaron Hautala, president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew. “I feel like I’m in the mountains. And that’s the awesome experience of Cuyuna.”

It’s the first trail network in the Minnesota State Park system, created just for mountain biking.

It opened just last summer.

“Every inch of it was made for a reason and was provided to have a flow and a momentum so that the rider is like on a roller coaster the whole time,” said Hautala.

“The word is out that this is a pretty nice trail,” said Steve Weber, the park manager.

The trail is divided into sections to accommodate everyone from experienced riders to beginners.

“And the point of it is that you provide something for everyone,” said Hautala, “so they can build the skills in order to eventually progress in the sport.”

There are now 25 miles of scenic trails in the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.

“We’ve seen deer, porcupine, turkeys, eagles,” said Bonnie Finnerty, who bikes regularly with her 12-year-old son, Nate.

It used to be the pits. Now it’s a destination.

“We’ve kind of said it’s like the Walt Disney World of mountain biking,” said Hautala.

On Saturday, June 9, the Cuyuna Lakes area is hosting a day-long mountain biking festival.

They’ll have a parade, some competitions and clinics for beginners.

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