Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood to officially open MMHP mountain bike trails

By LARRY HOLCOMBE

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Ironwood - Fueled by a good dose of "build it and they will come" attitude, the city of Ironwood has constructed a 10 miles of singletrack mountain bike trails in the Miners Memorial Heritage Park.

City officials will hold a ribbon cutting for the trail complex on Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Bonnie Street Trailhead, south of the Iron King dog park.

There were lots of reasons to build the trail, according to the city's economic director, Tom Bergman, including a "general desire to create a free recreational space to improve health," but key aims of the project were also "mountain bike tourism" and "talent attraction."

Bergman said they want to create enough miles of trail to make Ironwood a "stay over night destination" for mountain bikers. He said that takes about 20 to 30 miles. Adding the MMHP's new 10 miles, to Copper Peak's 6 miles and Wolverine's 5 miles, the region sits at 21 miles.

While Copper Peak has plans to build more, Bergman said the next big step would be the addition of 8.5 miles of trail at Mt. Zion with the aid of a grant. He said while the city didn't get the Mt. Zion grant the first time, they're refiling. "I'm not saying 'if we get the grant,' I'm saying 'when we get the grant.'"

Bergman presented some statistics from a 2019 study of mountain bike tourism in Bayfield and Sawyer counties in Wisconsin, claiming the pastime brought in $7.8 million, and 61% of the users had a six-figure household income.

As for talent attraction, Bergman isn't talking about bicycle riding talent, but instead human talent entering the local work force. He said people move to places were trails are. The idea is to make Ironwood an attractive place to live and play.

He also said Duluth is connecting neighborhoods to its trail system and spur trails create higher property values.

As for healthy outcomes, Bergman said 90% of households in the city are within a mile of a trailhead. "You don't have to pay to play," he said. While entry level bikes will cost somewhere between $500 and $1,000, the trails can be used for hiking and snowshoeing.

Costs

The 10 miles of new trail in the MMHP came from a $400,000 project that began with a writing of a grant proposal in 2018, that brought a $280,000 Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant.

Bergman said the Ironwood Tourism Council donated $66,000. The Sisu Dirt Crew added $40,000 and the city contributed $14,000.

He said every part of the funding was key to the project's success.

As for the Sisu Dirt Crew, he said they donated funds raised from their annual Copper Peak Trails Fest - funds that were matched by the Gogebic Range Health Foundation, so the GRHF was part of the new trail effort, as well.

Bergman said the new trail has many features including a 1,000-foot skills park near the Bonnie Street Trailhead, and new or improved with signage trailheads at the Red Devil baseball field, Hiawatha Park and along U.S. 2 near the AmericInn, where there is a connector trail across the Iron Belle Trail to the MMHP. He said connecting the Iron Belle to the MMHP was key to the DNR grant.

The MMHP mountain bike trail system has a sequence of loops that include trails of a variety of difficulties. A shorter, easier trail near the Bonnie Street Trailhead is a bit wider and includes wider turns to allow for the use of an adaptive hand cycle, which will be available for use and was paid for by the grant.

The system also includes a pair of gravity trails that are steep enough that the riders don't need to pedal the downward trails, but have a lot of work to do to get back to the top.

Work

Work began on the new trail system in 2021, with Snow Country Contracting building the connector trail and doing work on the trailheads.

In 2022, a company called Flowtrack of Marquette began working on the mountain bike trails. Bergman said at some point in time, Flowtrack subcontracted to work out to Joe Dykstra, a former employee who moved to Erwin Township and began his own business, Wilderness Contracting.

"I can't say enough good things about him," said Bergman, praising the quality and creativeness of Dykstra's work.

Work continued on the trail through the 2022 construction season, wrapping up in fall 2023.

Bergman said the city got its money's worth from Dykstra, as well.

"We got a crazy deal on the trail. The final cost was $4.75 a foot, where $10 to $20 is more common," said Bergman.

Bergman said the city has a memo of understanding with the Sisu Dirt Crew to maintain the trails, working with the Friends of the MMHP. He said the Sisu Dirt Crew is also contributing to a longterm maintenance fund to secure the future of the trail.

 
 
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