By Jan Lasar, www.mntrails.com
Last October the smell of freshly turned dirt was in the air at Barsness Park in Glenwood. On a warm fall day, the buzz of plate compactors and excavators brought a brand new singletrack trail system to this central Minnesota town of 2,500 on the shores of Lake Minnewaska.
It took more than five years, but the grass roots efforts of a few local mountain bike riders finally paid off with the beginning of the end of construction at the popular 200-acre park.
“We just knew the terrain was there,” said Tom Haus, a physician at the local Glacial Ridge Health Systems.
He and friend Jim Beck saw the potential for a mountain bike trail and began a fundraising campaign in 2016. “Jim and I just started knocking on doors and we were lucky to find some generous donors,” he said. They connected with a “civic-minded, local entrepreneur” who matched their initial donations of about $25,000. After getting the OK from the city, Haus, who owns some construction equipment, and a group of others, began building trails.
“We tried to pick a path that looked like it was going to be conducive to flow,” he said. The resulting four-and-half-mile system was just the beginning. After five consecutive, unsuccessful applications for a trail building grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR), the group finally got the nod and was awarded $200,000. It was time to bring in a professional builder.
Because the park has natural springs that cause massive ice dams in the winter, selecting the right contractor wasn’t easy. “It took us a while to find a builder who was comfortable with what we had in mind,” Haus said.
They finally chose Sensus R.A.D. Trails, a Nevada-based nonprofit, but construction didn’t start until October of 2021.
“It was one obstacle after another,” Haus said about the time following the grant award. “Maybe it was a frustrated homeowner who lived near the park, who didn’t want to see any bicycles in the park, maybe it was a little pushback from people who were worried about the environmental impact, but eventually things fell into place.”
Enter Cody Wilkins, Director and Project Manager for Sensus R.A.D. He and his crew were busy improving the existing trails and adding about two and a half miles by the end of the build season. Wilkins said his design comprises progressive mountain bike trails with a lot of berms and rollers to access the unused space within Barsness Park. “We’ll have some technical features with some of the great, big rocks we found in the area, some wood features. I want to put in some jumps where you can work on your skill set, but it’s really just enhancing this park. We’re getting singletrack into areas that haven’t ever had traffic in them,” he said.
Construction has been going well so far. “The dirt’s been pretty good here, it drains really well, so it allows us to build some really cool stuff and build really quickly. There’s not a lot of rocks, so it’s going really smoothly,” Wilkins said and he expects work to be wrapped up by June of 2022.
Haus likes what Wilkins has built so far. “We were very surprised what he could do, just by putting in rollers and berms and different features. We didn’t even know it was an option,” he said.
He, too, thinks the trails are an improvement because they create connections between park users and the city “These [trails] are in parts of the park you could never access because it was so overgrown,” he said. They’ve also spurred the forming of a local group to take on the Sisyphean task of eradicating buckthorn at the park by raising money and even bringing in goats.
Now that they’re almost complete, Haus said, the trails, conceived as multi-use trails, have been accepted by the community. “After the initial turbulence we see a lot of walkers, a lot of snowshoers on the trail,” which he said helps compact the ground. Visiting riders from other parts of the state have also had positive comments.
Haus is looking forward to this spring, which will wrap up construction “I think we’ll end up with seven or eight miles because we have some additional places where we can squeeze features in,” he said, adding he hopes to also see a skills area.
While they wait, local riders are working on forming a mountain bike club under the umbrella of the Big Ole Bike Club from nearby Alexandria. “We’re hoping that promotes the sport and we get more local riders involved in trail maintenance and the next generation of people can come and say ‘We can do this’,” Haus said.
This article was written by Jan Lasar, editor and publisher of Minnesota Trails Magazine. It was published in the spring edition of Minnesota Trails. Visit the website at www.mntrails.com.