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Building a biking destination in Woodbury

Mountain biking enthusiasts say a new trail at Carver Lake Park will be a regional destination for off-road riders clamoring for more trail options.

"It's a nice facility, so a trail there is going to get used," said Ryan Lieske, Minnesota Off-Road Cycling president.

But first the 6.5-mile trail must be built.

That work got under way recently when city staff and volunteers started establishing the path of the trail that will wind through wooded areas of the park on the western edge of Woodbury.

The project is being organized by Reed Smidt, Woodbury recreation specialist, with work being done mostly by local residents and members of the nonprofit Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists organization. They will be clearing, cutting and shaping the trail until its planned June 2011 opening.

The dirt trail is designed to be sustainable, Smidt said. That means that with the exception of minor work, such as filling small puddles, the trail will require little maintenance for at least several years after completion and will not disrupt the natural area or cause erosion. It is being built to guidelines prescribed by the International Mountain Biking Association.

Land guides trail

After identifying Carver Lake Park as the site for a trail, Smidt said topographic maps were used to sketch the route. Then he walked the site and made adjustments to the trail plan using a handheld clinometer, a simple tool that measures the slope of a hill. That is important because trail construction guidelines shy away from climbs or descents greater than a 10 percent grade.

The trail outline is being marked with flags tied to trees. The area will be cleared by hand of small brush and weeds. The city wants to keep as many trees as possible, so the trail is being designed around them.

"You let the land tell you where it goes," Smidt said of the trail.

The trail will be "bench cut," meaning it will be shaped to allow water to flow down a hill, wash over the trail and continue down the hill. That helps prevent erosion and damage to the trail.

After the manual trail clearing is complete, Tim Wegner cuts the trail using a walk-behind ditch-cutting machine. Smidt described Wegner as "the No. 1 trail builder in the Midwest."

Wegner, who lives in Rosemount, praised the site. There is a good view of Carver Lake from the trail, he said, and little evidence of invasive plants, such as buckthorn, in the area.

"It's going to be a sweet trail," Wegner said.

Unique to area

Standing in a wooded area southwest of the main Carver Lake Park visitor lot, Smidt said Woodbury will have the only free off-road trail in the east metro that is specifically designed for mountain biking. Mountain bikers use trails at Afton Alps, but at a cost, and trails at Battle Creek Regional Park in St. Paul were not designed for mountain biking.

"I'm excited," said Smidt, an off-road cyclist himself. "It's going to be popular."

A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant is providing up to $57,500 toward the trail construction. The city of Woodbury will provide an equal match, including $12,000 from the parks and forestry budget and in-kind costs for volunteer work, city staff and equipment use.

"This is a lot of work and the volunteers put a lot of time into it," Smidt said.

The first big volunteer effort will come Saturday, June 5 when off-road trail enthusiasts gather at Carver Lake Park as part of the REI outdoors store's National Trails Day volunteer events. Throughout the summer, volunteers will work on the trail Wednesday evenings.

Lieske, of Minnesota Off-Road Cyclists, said when a new trail is built mountain bikers think it will take the load off of other popular trails. But that doesn't happen. Instead, the new trail becomes as popular as existing trails.

That likely will be the case at Carver Lake, he said.

"There's a lot of interest in it," he said. "At 6.5 miles, it'll be long enough to get the interest of people to go there. It'll get used.