The Iron Range Off-Road Cyclist (IROC) began their journey in October 2012. IROC is a chapter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). IROC’s goal from day one was to build more trails to provide more singletrack mountain bike opportunities across the Iron Range. To build world-class mountain bike trails you need great partnerships with landowners, sponsors and willing volunteers. In the summer of 2016 IROC accomplished this.
A good example of a very effective partnership was the completion of the Lookout Mountain Bike Trails near Virginia, Minnesota, in the Superior National Forest. The mountain bike trail started when a couple of mountain bikers explored the ski trails and former ski hill. They immediately saw tremendous potential. Lookout Mountain has everything needed for an awesome experience: beautiful hardwood trees, amazing views, giant rocks and changes in elevation on the mountain. The next step was to contact the landowners to see whether it was possible to build some singletrack. After a few meetings between IROC and the United States Forest Service (USFS), a partnership was created. The USFS performed an environmental study and gave the group the green light to start building. A core group of three dedicated volunteers began to pour thousands of hours over the next three years hand-building six miles of trail. The USFS supported this effort the whole way by providing tools and volunteers from the Iowa Conservation Corps and Youth Conservation Corp.
Lookout Mountain continued to get better and more popular every year as the trail expanded. With the popularity came some complaints — the biggest being the climb to the top of the mountain is too difficult and aggressive. The group evaluated an alternate route, but determined there was no feasible way to re-route without bringing in some equipment and professional trail builders. Once equipment and professional trail builders are brought into the picture, the next question is how do we fund this? The IROC crew began to search. The logical first groups to contact were the Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and the Minnesota Power Foundation. After applying for grants from the two organizations, IROC was awarded a grant of $5,500 from the IRRRB Culture and Tourism Program and $2,050 from the Minnesota Power Foundation.
With money lined up the next step was to find a professional trail builder. Local builder Adam Harju, owner of Dirt Candy LLC, was contracted to machine-build the challenging reroute of the climb. Adam, along with some local volunteers, made quick work of the trail re-route despite the wet and slimy conditions. The result was an absolutely awesome series of berms and rock garden that is a blast riding up or down! The trail system provides 6-10 miles of challenging singletrack with amazing views and beautiful trees all along the way.
To celebrate the accomplishments of the volunteers from IROC and the Superior National Forest, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on September 22. This provided great exposure to Lookout Mountain and the fledgling mountain bike club. There were a number of media outlets, local government officials and curious mountain bike enthusiasts present.
The story of the Lookout Mountain Bike Trail is a display of what a small group of dedicated individuals can accomplish with hard work, communication, organization and good stewardship. Positive relationships and strong partnerships are the key to any successful community-based project.
For now there are no immediate plans to expand Lookout Mountain. The group has other projects in the works at Maple Hill Park in Hibbing and a proposed bike park in Chisholm. Giants Ridge also is planning to build some single track at the beautiful resort in the summer of 2017. IROC also is working to get some groomed winter fat bike trails. The momentum is shifting on the Iron Range for mountain biking. If you’d like to see the momentum continue, please consider becoming a member of IROC or getting involved. To become a member, log in into IMBA.com, click join and select IROC as your chapter. IROC can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization also has a website, www.iroc-mtb.org, and a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/irocmtb