Back for it’s 15th year, the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour is Saturday, Aug. 3 and, as always, this year’s tour manages to change things up enough to give riders a different look of the scenic Mesabi Trail and the Iron Range communities that dot it’s path.
This year’s tour begins in Gilbert with the full 72 mile trek ending in Gunn Park, about three and a half miles north of Grand Rapids. Other starting points along the way include Buhl (52 miles from start to finish), Nashwauk (24 miles) and Taconite (10 miles) so riders of all skill levels can enjoy the trail at their own pace.
With last year’s tour seeing every rider cross the new Tom Rukavina Memorial Bridge on Highway 53, only those that start in Gilbert this year will be able to catch the scenic view. However, tour director Ardy Nurmi-Wilberg says that the road to Grand Rapids will still be a gorgeous one, no matter which route riders take.
“Riders can always expect something new from us every year,” Nurmi-Wilberg said. “This year is different because at the end, we’ll be leaving the Mesabi Trail somewhere between Coleraine and Grand Rapids and joining the Itasca Trail that takes us right to Gunn Park.
“So it’s nice to shake things up a bit that way and give the riders something that they probably haven’t seen before. I think it’s a great draw for the tour that we can try something new like this and move the route every year.”
With putting the tail end of the tour on the Itasca Trail, Nurmi-Wilberg says Itasca County was all in favor of the idea with both groups citing the economic benefits of having the finish line at Gunn Park.
“It’s been so fun to work with them and it’s exciting to bring the tour to different communities and share the wealth of it all. Over 700 people are going to be riding through the towns along the way so seeing hundreds of people go through Calumet and Taconite and Bovey is pretty wonderful and it’s all about bringing awareness to the trail and our wonderful communities along the way.”
Overall, the 2019 Tour is set to pass through 15
different area towns, giving riders, many of which come from out of state, an in-depth look at the Iron Range.
With the tour making it’s presence known over the last 15 years, other area groups have wanted to come on board and be a part of the festivities. This year, Advocates for Family Peace, a local non-profit organization dedicated to creating awareness surrounding domestic violence and helping promote safety, equality, and responsibility in intimate and family relationships.
Riding the full 72-mile tour for AFFP will be two police officers in full uniform — one from Grand Rapids and one from Itasca County.
“It’s jus a win-win for everyone to have them along,” Nurmi-Wilberg said. “We’re really pleased and proud to partner with them and to help bring awareness to their cause on our tour is really something special.
“It’s great because they approached us to do that so it feels like the tour is really making an impact on our communities. People are reaching out to be a part of it,” including nearly 200 volunteers coming from all across the Range.
Those volunteers are scattered across the course before and during the tour and are making sure everything is going according to plan, says Nurmi-Wilberg. Volunteers could be working in registration at one of five different locations or working at a rest stop providing food and water in seven different spots. Bikes will be transported by three semi trucks and three 26-foot Uhauls to the starting spots for hundreds of riders with the trucking company donating their time and vehicles to make it happen. Course marshalls will be spotted along the course to help guide riders along areas that may prove a little tricky and to keep riders safe when crossing major roadways.
“It takes a small army to pull it all together,” Nurmi-Wilberg said. “But they’re so dedicated and they have as much fun as our riders do. Volunteering for an event like this makes you feel like a part of the community. It’s a regional thing from Grand Rapids to Eveleth up to Ely.”
At the finish line, riders will be treated to food and live music with Nurmi-Wilberg making a point to keep it all local.
“Local food, local musicians. We want to do everything we can to showcase what our small towns have to everyone visiting here.”
With it all said and done, the numbers for the tour are eye-catching: More than 700 riders, more than 400 bikes transported by truck, 400 riders transported by bus, nearly 200 volunteers, rest stops in seven locations, 950 event T-shirts, 2,500 cookies and granola bars, 200 gallons of Gatorade, 500 gallons of water and 70 ponds of trail mix.
Forty to 45% of the riders will come from outside of the area, but nearly everything is purchased and secured locally, fulfilling the tour’s mission of keeping it all on the Iron Range.
With each year bringing a new route, the Mesabi Trail is continuing to expand with new sections opening this year as well as for the foreseeable future. Nearing completion currently is a five and a half mile stretch of the trail from Giants Ridge to Embarrass. “They’re laying the gravel as we speak,” Nurmi-Wilberg said.
Along that stretch will be a three-quarter mile floating bridge along the Embarrass wetland complex that Nurmi-Wilberg described as “drop dead gorgeous.”
With plans of adding trails between McKinley and Biwabik, the tour could potentially end in Embarrass or even Ely, adding to the uniqueness that the tour provides.
“There’s just so much diversity to what we do. There’s not many tours that have enough trail to change the route every year and give the riders a different experience every time they come here.”
This year’s tour rapidly approaching, Nurmi-Wilberg says it’s shaping up to be another unforgettable ride.
“It’ll truly be something special.”
Anyone still interested in registering for the tour can do so at mesabitrail.com. A soft-deadline of Wednesday is set for registration with increased registration fees taking effect on Thursday up until the day of the tour.