Back in the saddle: Equestrians eagerly await Duluth trail improvements
DULUTH -- Horseback riding soon could return to Duluth's Magney-Snively Natural Area, and Jodi Johannesen said she and other Northland equestrians are "jumping out of their skins" to get back on the trails there.
DULUTH - Horseback riding soon could return to Duluth's Magney-Snively Natural Area, and Jodi Johannesen said she and other Northland equestrians are "jumping out of their skins" to get back on the trails there.
The park's trail system long had been a popular destination for local equestrians, but for the past few years, those paths have been closed to horses, out of concern for the damage the 1,000- to 2,000-pound animals could inflict on vulnerable areas.
"We've been told this would happen next year for the past four years, but now it's finally coming," said Jerry Brost, treasurer of the Duluth Area Horse Trail Alliance.
On Monday, July 17, the Duluth City Council is expected to approve a resolution that would provide $137,610 in funding for trail improvements at Magney-Snively.
For its part, DAHTA has chipped in $30,000 and is actively working to raise another $14,500.
By October, a 6-mile loop on the upper side of Skyline Parkway should be open to horse riders, with a second 2.4-mile loop below the road expected to complete the Ely Peak circuit shortly thereafter.
Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration, referred to alliance members as critical partners in the project.
"They've spent countless hours playing a critical role in helping to forge a smart, appropriate vision that will provide a top-flight equestrian trail riding experience that will be environmentally sustainable and appropriate in an environment that requires that."
The city of Duluth and DAHTA weren't always on the friendliest of terms.
"A couple of years ago, things got a little feisty politically," said Brost, recalling when signs went up at Magney-Snively notifying users that horseback riding would no longer be allowed on the trails.
"It caught people totally off guard," he said.
Currently, equestrians are allowed to ride on the Amity Trail in Lester Park and on the segment of Skyline Parkway located between the Magney-Snively trailhead and Becks Road.
Johannessen, who serves as president of the Duluth Area Horse Trail Alliance, noted that the area has a rich but largely unrecognized horse history largely related to logging and general transport along the many cartways that once served the Northland.
"The unfortunate part is that the horses have been slowly elbowed out over time. I don't know how else to put it," she said.
In recent years, DAHTA members have mobilized and challenged the city to provide more horse-riding options. Filby Williams said the city heard and heeded that call to work with the alliance.
"We really appreciate and admire and respect our partners at DAHTA. They put in the time and the hard work. They offer passion and vision. When they need to challenge the city, they do that, and they've learned to do that in a way that is at once challenging and instructive. I feel like we've built a really nice partnership," he said.
The city's initial well-intentioned efforts to designate more trails for specific uses and reduce conflicts sometimes had almost the opposite effect, according to Brost.
"During kind of the hoopla, there was a lot of misinformation or misunderstanding between some of the user groups, because when the city started saying this is where you can go, and this is where you can go, it set up a competitive atmosphere," he said.
But Johannesen said DAHTA responded by reaching out to other user groups.
"I think the equestrian group has really aided in bringing a lot of the user groups together and getting them to the table to say: What does everybody want? Duluth has so much real estate, and we all have to figure it out," Johannesen said.
Filby Williams said the pending improvements planned for Magney-Snively are a good example of that collaborative spirit.
"Interestingly, the selection of the Ely Peak loop and the design to improve it for equestrian use were the result of an intensive stakeholder process, in which not only the equestrians participated, but so did snowmobilers, the cross-country ski club, to some extent users of the Superior Hiking Trail, to some extent COGGS, the Izaac Walton League, and we looked at all of the trails in that vicinity to assess which ones would be most suitable to be improved for equestrian use. The decision to focus on Ely Peak and to improve it like this was really the collective vision of that whole group," he said.
Just a start
Johannesen hopes the Ely Peak loop is just the start of what will be a much more extensive equestrian trail network in western Duluth.
"We have huge dreams," she said.
Those dreams include extending a horse trail to the old Duluth, Winnipeg & Pacific Railway line via the Clyde Connector Trail and eventually linking into equestrian trails at Jay Cooke State Park.
"We aim to have a 22-mile trail with hopes of a campground," Johannesen said.
"We have been in conversations with the Buffalo House and they are supportive of an equestrian campground. It's still in the planning stages at this point, but the discussion has begun," she said.
Filby Williams said the city shares DAHTA's aspirations.