How the MCA & Dedicated Volunteers Preserved & Reinforced a Beloved Mountain Biking Trail.

Making trail magic at Spellbound Trail with a utility loader

A compact utility loader and power buggy were donated to help make the project easier.
A compact utility loader and power buggy were donated to help make the project easier.

Every year, nearly 3,000 Minnesota children gather for the biggest competition of the mountain biking season. Minnesota Cycling Association (MCA) recently hosted the state race at Redhead Mountain Bike Park, but each time they take a big gamble. Just one rainstorm could wash away a whole year’s worth of planning.

“The whole mountain bike park was built to be fairly impervious to water,” said Joshua Kleve, the Executive Director of MCA. “It's actually built in an old mine pit. They coated the trails with crushed rock or mine pit tailings, which function almost like asphalt. Even when it’s raining, you can walk or ride right across the capped trails without slipping.”

But the main loop that provides access to the 25 miles of mountain bike trails, called Spellbound, wasn’t built with those tailings. The Minnesota Discovery Center and the City of Chisholm run the park. While they recognized a need to reinforce the Spellbound trail to improve access to the rest of the park, budget limitations were preventing improvements.

The Spirit of Giving Back

The Mountain biking community has a unique culture of volunteerism. Volunteers manage the bulk of mountain bike trail maintenance by hand. MCA started its Trailcrafters program to provide opportunities for their student-athletes to become immersed in the culture by teaching them how to join the maintenance efforts.

“We think it’s important as a youth development organization to get all our kids to understand the importance of giving back to the trails. That’s why we created the Trailcrafters program,” says Kleve.

While most trails can be groomed and maintained with just a little bit of blood, sweat and tears, MCA knew the manpower and expertise needed to fix Spellbound was outside the scope of their volunteer student program. With the same spirit of volunteerism and unity that has helped the club maintain trails over the years, they turned to their connections in the community for help.

Magical Connections

On top of teaching thousands of Minnesota kids about mountain biking and trail maintenance, the MCA also creates a pathway for parents to become coaches. That’s how Kleve met Ed Heston. Shortly after his children became members of MCA, Heston asked to become more involved.

“Ed came to me one day saying, ‘You know coaching only lasts three months, what can I do to help the other nine months of the year?” says Kleve. “That’s when I learned about his passion for earth-moving equipment.”

Heston came by his expertise in earthmoving machinery during his 15-year career at local equipment dealer. When Heston learned about the improvement plan for Spellbound, he didn’t hesitate to reach out to his colleagues in the compact equipment industry. Some donated equipment, and a few even raised their hands to help.

“There’s not a book that tells you how to do this,” Kleve explained as he worked to finalize his plan for Spellbound. “But trail-building knowledge does exist around the state, and part of our mission is to gather that and share it with others.”

Much of that knowledge resides within the minds behind the Iron Range Off-Road Cyclists (IROC). This local mountain biking club is familiar with how to work with the rocky ground that makes up Redhead Park. They volunteer regularly to maintain it. Kleve knew this group would be able to teach, guide and shape the new and improved Spellbound trail.

Armed with a well-rounded group of volunteers, experts and heavy-duty equipment, MCA set their start date for mid-July. 

A Permanent Fix

MCA knew just how backbreaking improving Spellbound would be—they had firsthand experience. In 2022, volunteers with the association went to extreme lengths to keep the race on track during a storm.

“Hundreds of people spent hours using shovels and 5-gallon pails to haul rock 500 yards just to get this tiny little section of trail in working order,” says Kleve. “We had to lose the most iconic section of the racecourse since it wasn’t capped, and we didn’t want to damage it.”

To fortify the Spellbound trail more permanently, the new team would need to move 80 cubic yards of dirt—the equivalent of 400 full bathtub—from a mine pit 400 feet below ground and about half a mile away.

A compact utility loader and power buggy were donated to help make the project easier. With the equipment, the volunteers made quick work of scooping up the rocky trail material delivered by the city. The power buggy made the daunting task of moving that material to the trail and back a breeze.

“Without the donated support from industry experts, this project couldn't have happened,” says Kleve. “Plenty of the machine operators took time off from their day jobs because they know how important this capital improvement is to the Redhead Trail Network, the city of Chisholm and the Minnesota Cycling Association. The equipment was a critical linchpin to this whole project.”

After dumping off the tailings, volunteers led by IROC experts spread and shaped the material to create a more durable trail surface. The permanent upgrade will take about a year to fully set in. After that, it should only need minor touchups.

Next fall MCA racers will return to Redhead Mountain Bike Park for the state championship. Organizers, racers and their families will all be able to participate with confidence knowing that the rain won’t wash away their big day.