OUR OPINION: Bike trails could highlight N.D.’s recreational charms
Arrowhead State Trail, 135 miles. Heartland State Trail, 49 miles. Lake Wobegone Trail, 62 miles.
Now, call up the map of North Dakota on the same website, and you’ll see …
Nine pointers, including one highlighting the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Greenway — the only trail so indicated in the entire eastern half of the state.
July will see the completion of the Paul Bunyan Trail, a paved, 112-mile long recreational gem linking Lake Bemidji to Crow Wing state parks. It’s the sort of development that Minnesota has made almost routine.The event also should call attention to North Dakota’s almost completely untapped potential where hiking and biking trails are concerned.Times are changing, though, and for the better in North Dakota. Every Grand Forks resident likely is a believer these days, all of them having seen for themselves the Greenway’s transformative power.The popular and extensive riverfront trail system simply has made the city a better place to live — no question about it.Fargo residents have arrived at this conclusion as well. Among other factors, flood protection efforts have prompted improvements to Fargo’s own trails, adding riverfront segments to an already-extensive trail network that spiderwebs across the city.Meanwhile, at the north end of the Red River Valley, state officials in the Pembina Gorge are hoping to “expand the trail system and to develop new attractions to lure even more visitors,” a recent Herald story reported.And most important, North Dakota at last is wealthy enough to afford investing in recreational infrastructure.Here’s hoping the state recognizes the exceptional payoff bike trails can offer and follows Minnesota’s inspiring lead.To take just one example, the Pembina Gorge — arguably, eastern North Dakota’s most scenic spot — boasts some 24 miles of multiuse trails.About 5,500 people used those trails in 2012, the Herald reported.Meanwhile, the Paul Bunyan Trail in north-central Minnesota gets used by 650,000 visitors a year — and that’s just one trail.Add to that the fact that Minnesota leads the nation in miles of paved bike trails, and you’ll see why Minnesota Business magazine titled one of its 2010 stories, “Inside Minnesota’s booming bike economy.”For years, outdoors-minded Red River Valley residents have dreamed of a bike trail along the length of the Red River, maybe one that links Grand Forks and Fargo to start.Might North Dakota’s newfound wealth prompt development of such a treasure?Indeed it might, if enough residents ask for it. And with the coming of spring and the reappearance of bikes on local trails and byways, now is the time.