Cycling Club digs in on the trails

Members of the UMD Cycling Club were out on the trails last Friday, but this time not on bikes. Instead, they took some time off from behind the handlebars to volunteer in the reconstruction of a section of the Lester-Amity mountain bike trail system with volunteers from the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS). Tools in hand, the bikers chopped and dug away at the hillside above and below the tread, sculpting what is called a bench-cut design. This design allows the trail to be more resistant to damages from water erosion.

“With trail building, you have to think a lot about the sustainability and how the trails are going to hold up against the elements out here,” said UMD senior Travis Pedley.

The bench-cut design calls for fluid transitions between the trail and its sides. This means the side slopes almost blend into the tread, creating a cross-section that looks like an imperfect ramp. This encourages the rainfall or snowmelt running down the side of the hill to flow perpendicularly across the trail and continue moving down the hill instead of pooling on the trail or carving a river bed down the middle of it.

“You notice it,” UMD sophomore Ethan Hansen said in reference to the trail water. “Most often right after it rains, you know, obviously. But even after a few weeks, if the trail isn’t built right, you’ll see puddles of water and things like that. And then, when it starts to pool and people ride it and it gets loose, then the trail starts to deteriorate and kind of falls off.”

Volunteers first used pulaski hand tools, which resemble pickaxes, to chop away at the sharp upper bank and down-slope berm. This part of the project included the removal of tree roots and rocks in the way.

Then, rake-like McLeod tools were used to clear the dug-up topsoil from the construction zone.

COGGS biker Tjaard Breeuwer came out to help with construction because he feels mountain biking trails are an important part of the Duluth community.

“It’s an easy way to improve the quality of life at a low cost if you look at it in big terms,” he said.

Breeuwer said that he and the other volunteers are substitutes for “trail fairies.”

“If you want to ride it, you have to build it,” he said. “And if you want to have other people ride it, you have to build it, too.”

Once the bench-cut is finished, the trail maintainers will start adding fun features to the section that will also help with trail drainage, such as bumps.

“We want to make (the trail) accessible to most people,” said Daryl Peterson, a COGGS member and one of the trail stewards for the Lester-Amity system. “You make a mountain bike trail that’s really hard, but only really good riders can ride it. So, what we’re really looking to do is build features in that are all rollable but anyone can ride, but it’s still gonna be fun and engaging.”

After a little over an hour’s worth of labor, a thunderstorm pulled in and stopped workers in their tracks. Nevertheless, the determined volunteers plan to get back at it within the next few weekends.

The Lester-Amity trail is mostly clay, and because of this, the trails turn soft when it rains.

“If it gets too wet you really can’t work on this,” Breeuwer said, referring to the trails. “And we definitely don’t want people riding the trails when they’re wet.”

Later that night in a post on the COGGS Facebook page, Breeuwer asked bikers to walk and not ride over the incomplete reconstruction area so as to prevent further damage.


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