Mobile bike fleet in Duluth, accessible playground in Rochester among projects in line for state grants

The Duluth Composite high school mountain bike team on a practice ride.
Members of the Duluth Composite high school mountain bike team get in a practice ride in Duluth’s Lester Park on Oct. 12, 2017.
Dan Kraker | MPR News file

A mobile fleet of mountain bikes in Duluth, an accessible nature-based playground in Rochester, and a new park in Sherburne County east of St. Cloud are among the latest parks and trails projects around Minnesota to be recommended for state Legacy Fund grants.

In all, the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission is recommending $12.2 million for 20 parks and trails projects around the state, with a focus this year on projects designed to make parks and trails more accessible to underserved communities.

The city of Duluth, for example, is slated to receive just shy of $170,000 to purchase about 50 mountain bikes, a truck and trailers to move those bikes to different trailheads around the city, and vans to transport kids.

The project will also hire instructors to teach kids how to safely ride on the Duluth Traverse, a 100-mile-long mountain bike trail network that spans the city.

Older riders will also have the chance to learn how to become instructors themselves, said Duluth Parks and Recreation manager Jessica Peterson.

“This is our way of building our next generation of instructors, who we hope will also be a more diverse set of riders and instructors, because mountain biking is still not very diverse,” said Peterson. “And we have a commitment to growing inclusion and building a more welcoming environment for everyone. Because all kids deserve and belong to be in the outdoors.”

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Another unique project recommended for funding is an inclusive expansion of a nature playground at Cascade Lake Regional Park in Rochester, designed to create a safe space to play for kids of all physical abilities.

“It's just a beautiful design. And that's going to make a huge impact in that area,” said Renee Mattson, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

Mattson said $1.25 million will go toward purchasing land for the new Big Elk Lake Park east of St. Cloud.

"That purchase, that acquisition is going to be really pretty much of a game changer for the park system in Sherburne County. So we're pretty excited about that,” she said.

The funding for the projects comes from the voter-approved Legacy Amendment, which dedicates a portion of the state sales tax to outdoors and arts projects around the state.

Legacy funding is split among four different funds, one of which is the Parks and Trails fund.

That fund, in turn, is divided three ways: 40 percent is allocated to state parks and trails; 40 percent to facilities in the metro area; and 20 percent to parks and trails of regional significance throughout greater Minnesota.

The latest recommendations now go to the state legislature for approval.

Parks and trails in all three of those areas have seen big boosts in usage since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. And that trend is continuing, Mattson said.

“It's encouraging to know that people who discovered parks and trails, who hadn't maybe used them in the past, have stayed active users,” she said.