Trail of the Month: August 2002
Mesabi Trail, Minnesota
Running through the colorful heart of northern Minnesota's Iron Range region, the Mesabi Trail is well on its way to becoming one of the finest long-distance paved trails in the U.S. By 2005 it is expected that the trail will extend for 132 miles across this iron ore mining area and connect more than 25 communites and two counties as it extends eastward from Grand Rapids to Ely. Currently, about 66 miles of trail are developed, with the longest paved segment running 30 miles from Nashwauk in Itasca County to Kinney in St. Louis County.
Five years ago, at the opening of the trail's first seven miles from Hibbing to Chisholm, U.S. Congressman James Oberstar (D-MN)—a native of Chisholm—said the trail, "balances transportation investment with quality of life considerations and promotes healthier lifestyles... [and] will emphasize the historic, scenic, environmental and educational aspects of the region, while providing alternative transportation opportunities for local communities."
As the dream of creating a 132-mile trail becomes a reality, the Mesabi Trail has quickly gained the reputation across Minnesota as a trail that, true to Oberstar's words, is both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.
From the perspective of the recreational trail user, the Mesabi Trail provides walkers, joggers, inline skaters, cyclists and the disabled with the opportunity to connect with nature as the trail winds through woods, stream areas, ponds and lakes. Animal sightings on the trail are common, with deer, raccoons, beavers, eagles, hawks and even the black bear—which is native to northern Minnesota—being relatively common sights. For history buffs, the trail is an open window onto the mining past, and present, of the Iron Range as the Mesabi Trail takes users past manmade mine-pit lakes, old iron ore pits and still-working iron ore mines. And with the trail connecting with so many towns and tourist attractions such as the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Hill Annex Mine State Park near Calumet and the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, the Mesabi Trail is also seen as a way to get from place to place without always hopping in a car.
The success of this extensive project is the result of the hard work and cooperation of two public agencies—the St. Louis & Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority and the Itasca County Rail Authority—and numerous citizens groups. Together they have succeeded in assembling the parcels of land and acquiring the funding necessary to construct the trail up to this point. To help fund the long-term maintenance of the trail, a $3 two-day or a $12 full-season pass is required for trail use. As always, community assistance is integral to the success of this trail, and towns along the trail route contribute to the maintenance efforts by sweeping, mowing and removing branches from the trail.
With summer in full swing, August is a wonderful time to get outside, enjoy the warm Minnesota weather, and experience the scenic and historic aspects that make the Mesabi Trail so unique. A visit to this corner of northeast Minnesota will most certainly make an interesting and exciting adventure for all manner of curiosity seekers.