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Wirth Park Off-Road Cycling Pilot Project
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Wirth Park Off-Road Cycling Pilot Project
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The eagerly anticipated off-road cycling trail in a section of Theodore Wirth Park is now complete, and it officially opened to great fanfare June 4, 2005. Over 200 area cyclists disregarded the rain to participate in the festivities and demonstrate their enthusiasm for the new trail and their dedication to the sport. The draft evaluation and recommendations are available for review.

Initiated to determine whether a sustainable, safe, and low-maintenance off-road cycling trail can be established in Wirth Park in a manner that protects natural resources, challenges off-road cyclists, and is compatible with other park uses, this trail was approved as a pilot project by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in April 2004. The project is being conducted in cooperation with Minneapolis Off-road Cycling Advocates (MOCA) and Minnesota Off-road Cyclists (MORC) and has been built according to best sustainable practices.

The Trail - Trail Review

    The 4.36-mile trail twists and climbs its way through a section of Wirth Park east of Twin Lakes, north of Highway 55, and west of the golf course in Theodore Wirth Park. It is in the 2nd Park District, which is represented by Park Commissioner Jon Olson. Trail sections with intriguing names like “Dingo,” “Enchanted Forest,” “Twister,” “Snake Trail,” and “Hoeg’s Hill” promise thrills and challenges. Banked to keep water from collecting, the eighteen-inch-wide trail is designed mainly for the beginner and intermediate cyclist with alternatives—marked on trail signage—for advanced cyclists.

Off-road cycling and Theodore Wirth Park

    Off-road cycling, which has become a popular and mainstream recreational activity, has been gaining enthusiasts in ever-increasing numbers. Developing suburban parks have been able to accommodate the new sport, but urban parks, established long before off-road cycling would come into its own, have been tailored for a host of other, long-existing uses.

    With its many acres of wooded hills, Theodore Wirth Park had become, in recent years, a magnet for off-road cyclists eager to find new riding challenges in the city. A network of unofficial trails in the park, created mostly by human hikers and deer, was readily adopted and extended by off-road cyclists. The park, however, simply could not support this unofficial use. A system of trails specifically designed for off-road cycling began to be explored as one possible way to protect the area from serious erosion.

    In an effort to both accommodate and manage off-road cycling, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board worked with MOCA and MORC to develop a pilot project. Over the course of a year—fall 2004 through fall 2005—this project will determine whether a sustainable, safe and low-maintenance trail can be established in Wirth Park in a manner that challenges off road cyclists, at the same time respecting natural resources and other park users and uses.

Rules and trail etiquette

    The off-road cycling trail in Wirth Park is a demonstration project. As such it is being evaluated throughout 2005, and the extent of its success will inform future discussions regarding the establishment and expansion of a permanent off-road trail network in the Minneapolis park system. Riders who follow the rules and respect the trails, wildlife, and other park patrons will help insure a positive evaluation of this demonstration project.

    The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), whose mission is to promote mountain bicycling that is environmentally sound and socially responsible, has established a code of conduct for mountain bikers (another name for off-road cyclists). These rules are recognized around the world as the standard code of conduct for mountain bikers. Cyclists in Minneapolis are expected to follow them as well:

    1. Ride on open trails only.

      Do not ride on trails that are posted as closed. Ask if you are uncertain. (Trail status is posted on the MOCA website and on the kiosk located on the northwest quadrant at the intersection of Highway 55 and Theodore Wirth Parkway.)

    2. Leave no trace.

      Recognize different types of soils and be sensitive to them. When the trailbed is soft, consider other options. Stay on existing trails and do not create new ones. Don’t cut switchbacks.

    3. Control your bicycle!

      Obey all bicycle speed regulations and recommendations.

    4. Always yield trail.

      Slow down, establish communication with other trail users, and prepare to stop if necessary to pass safely. Let fellow trail users know you are coming with a friendly greeting or bell. Anticipate other trail users around corners and in blind spots.

    5. Never scare animals

      Give animals extra room and time to adjust to your presence. All animals are startled by an unannounced approach, a sudden movement, or a loud noise.

    6. Plan ahead.

      Know your equipment, your ability, and the area in which you are riding. Be self-sufficient at all times, keep your equipment in good repair, and carry necessary supplies for changes in weather or other conditions. Always wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear.

    In addition, cyclists should note that:

    • Trails are considered closed in wet weather and when the trail tread is wet.
    • Cycling trails are open to pedestrians as well as cyclists.
    • Please use caution when passing.
    • Park patrons use trails at their own risk.

Trail Status

    Trails are closed during wet weather, when the trail tread is wet, or if a section of trail is undergoing repair and maintenance. Trail status is posted on the MOCA website and on the kiosk located on the northwest quadrant at the intersection of Highway 55 and Theodore Wirth Parkway.

Penalty for building unofficial trails

    It should be noted that construction permits are required by the MPRB for any projects within the park system, including trail building. MOCA obtained a construction permit, and trails it constructed in accordance with the permit are sustainable and meet the MPRB’s risk management considerations. Engaging in construction within the park system, i.e., building unofficial trails, can result in a $1,000 fine per incident.

Access and Parking

    The trail has three access points—one from Hidden Lakes Parkway at the north end of the trail, another from the road just south of the Par 3 Clubhouse, and a third near the Highway 55 and Theodore Wirth Parkway intersection at the southeast end of the trail.

    It is anticipated that most riders will reach the area by bicycle. If needed, however, parking is available at Wirth Lake Beach. (See map.)

Volunteers needed

    In partnership with the Park Board, MOCA and MORC, groups of local cyclists passionate about preserving unpaved bicycle trails in Minneapolis, designed, built, and funded this sustainable, environmentally sound and accessible trail network. Now that the trail is complete, MOCA volunteers continue to monitor and maintain it. For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit MOCA’s website

Future trails

    A successful pilot project will lead to further discussion by the MPRB about establishing a trail network in portions of the Minneapolis park system, with the understanding that not all parks will be appropriate for off road trails due to soil types, competing uses, and sensitivity of plant and animal communities. MOCA is confident that the designated off-road cycling trail in Wirth Park will result in an improvement of the existing trails, actually reducing the impact on the environment and other users. If that proves true, MOCA’s goal of replacing the current proliferation of unofficial trails used by off-road cyclists with designated trails will be realized.


    The success of the project and the feasibility of continuing to designate off-road cycling trails in the Minneapolis park system will be determined using the following criteria:

    1. Trail Sustainability

      The evaluation will consider whether erosion has increased, whether there is damage to native plantings and re-establishment of invasive species along the new trails.

    2. Trail Maintenance

      In the agreement between the MPRB and MORC and MOCA, MOCA agreed to a variety of maintenance responsibilities. The evaluation will consider how well MOCA volunteers have been able to fulfill these responsibilities.

    3. Park Usage

      This evaluation will be made via the user survey and the community review process. Park users who use the area to bike, hike, walk, jog, etc. were counted and surveyed prior to the beginning of the project, and they will be counted and surveyed again at the end. Surveys will be distributed on-site, at bike shops, and online at both the MORC and MPRB websites. Usage-related concerns include

      • visitor satisfaction
      • the level of user conflict
      • impacts on surrounding communities
      • impact on decreasing cycling on unofficial trails in Wirth Park

      To encourage community review of the project, surveys will also be distributed through neighborhoods organizations near the project.

    4. Promotion and Awareness

      As part of the agreement between the MPRB and MOCA and MORC, MOCA agreed to create and distribute a map / pamphlet and to install signage advising users of the “Rules of the Trail.” Compliance with the agreement and efforts to promote awareness of the project and the rules will be reviewed.

For Further Information:

Draft Evaluation and Recommendations

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