New Mesabi Trail Taking Shape on Iron Range




Cyclists looking for new trails to explore can take in the scenery–and history–of northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range on several sections of a new trail.

When it is completed, the Mesabi Trail will meander for 132 miles, connecting 22 communities between Grand Rapids and Ely. It will be the longest paved trail in Minnesota, and probably the longest in the country.

For the 2000 season, there are over 60 miles of completed trail in several separate segments ready for biking, roller-blading, and hiking. The longest asphalt-paved sections are between Grand Rapids and Taconite, 13 miles; Hibbing and Kinney, 15 miles; and Mt. Iron and Gilbert, 11 miles.

The trail is named for the Mesabi Range of iron ore, which it traverses. The Ojibwe word “missabay” means “big man hills” or “giant ridge,” referring to the ridge of land here that is the divide between the drainage of waters to the Hudson Bay and those that flow into Lake Superior.

The Mesabi Range of iron ore, discovered in 1890, was one of the largest concentrations of iron ore in the world. At their peak, area mines shipped over one-third of the world’s ore, feeding the country’s steel mills. Nature is now reclaiming this area. Abandoned open pit mines have filled with water and become lakes, and a mantle of trees has settled over the ruddy-colored mounds of rock scooped from the pits years ago.

Like most other bike trails, much of the Mesabi follows the bed of abandoned railroad grades. But unlike typical rail-to-trail pathways, which tend to be level and fairly straight, this trail links a series of shorter, former rail beds leading to mines with old mining roads and new trail segments laid out on the landscape. The result: many sections of hilly, winding trail, making for a more varied biking experience.

Although the trail roughly follows the route of Hwy. 169 and Hwy. 135, most of the trail is well away from the bustle of the highway. Much of it travels through woods of aspen, birch and pine, past pit lakes, with views of creeks and ponds.

In Grand Rapids, the trail begins at the country fairgrounds and heads east through Coleraine and Bovey to Taconite. On the way, it crosses the Prairie River on a long bridge, and passes forest and abandoned mining areas. Between Hibbing and Chisholm the trail is fairly level, but there are hills and overlooks on the segment to Kinney. The Mt. Iron-Gilbert section is a pretty stretch, partly flat and partly hilly, passing by lakes and woods, and through long rock cuts carved to let the railroad through.

The trail passes through the city of Virginia, and near the Mineview in the Sky, a 20-story-tall overlook of the area’s deepest mine. At Chisholm, cyclists can take city streets to Ironworld Discover Center, which features the mining history of the Iron Range and its rich ethnic heritage, drawn from the European immigrants who came to work the mines.

There are also short (3-5 mile) trail segments completed at Ely and Biwabik, between Tower and Soudan, and between Nashwauk and Keewatin. Additional segments of the trail will be developed over the next few years as funding becomes available.

Travelers will find a wide variety of places to visit–interesting history museums, mine tours, golf courses, miniature golf, and a casino. For more details of things to do and places to stay, call the Iron Trail Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-777-8497, or see the web site at www.irontrail.org. The Iron Trail travel brochure and web site both include information on the Mesabi Trail.

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