VERMILION RIVER— More than four years of planning and fundraising reached its dramatic culmination this past weekend as work crews, using a massive crane, installed a 185-foot section of bridge …
VERMILION RIVER— More than four years of planning and fundraising reached its dramatic culmination this past weekend as work crews, using a massive crane, installed a 185-foot section of bridge across a remote section of the Vermilion River about 12 miles south of Crane Lake.
The bridge is the capstone of a $1.25 million multi-use trail project that will connect a 220-mile network of ATV and snowmobile trails in northwestern St. Louis County with the Prospector Trail network located east of the Vermilion River.
The project was the brainchild of Bruce Beste and Steve Koch, who have ATV’d on logging roads that crisscross the forest between Crane Lake, Elephant Lake, and Echo Lake for years. They knew if they could get a bridge built across the river, they could open up a whole new set of opportunities for riders like themselves.
So, they founded Voyageur Country ATV in 2015 and it has quickly grown into one of the largest ATV clubs in Minnesota, with 800 members and 82 business sponsors. The club’s dramatic growth reflects the increasing popularity of ATV riding in the state, according to Beste, and the location of this major ATV project is sure to showcase the riding opportunities to be found in northern St. Louis County.
“The timing of this was fantastic,” said Beste. “The use of ATVs is growing so fast.”
The total project includes about 15 miles of connecting trail in addition to the bridge. And while Voyageur Country ATV led the push, they had plenty of partners, including St. Louis County, the Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service. The Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation was the key financial partner, putting up the bulk of the funding for the project.
The bridge was fabricated in one gigantic piece, weighing 80 tons, which made lifting the structure into place a decidedly dramatic event. Workers from Bougalis and Sons out of Hibbing, using equipment from Vic’s Crane, undertook the installation, which went off largely without a hitch. “Those guys are absolutely awesome,” said Beste.
The 14-foot-wide bridge is engineered to support 15 tons, which means it will easily carry the weight of any number of ATVs or snowmobiles, and will also easily carry the weight of snow and a trail groomer come winter. The bridge includes two six-by-18-foot overlooks on each side of the bridge, which offer spectacular views down the river. “This really is a premier feature for the ATV community,” said Beste.
The new bridge, and the now-vastly-expanded trail network associated with it is likely to become a major draw for ATV riders. And hundreds of riders will have the opportunity to check it out next weekend as part of the ATVAM 2019 Fall Ride and Rally, set for Sept. 20-22 at Crane Lake. The event will include a Friday ribbon-cutting at the new bridge, followed by a barbecue at Vermilion Falls. There is no road access to the bridge site, so anyone who would like to attend will need to arrange off-road transportation. Beste said transportation to the site will be organized from the Crane Lake rally.
Officials from the various partners, including the Forest Service, St. Louis County, and various state offices will be on hand for the ribbon-cutting, which will be overseen by Cook DFLer and state Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.
The ATVAM rally also features 12 trail different trail rides in the area on Saturday, followed by a banquet and auction. For more information and a complete schedule of activities, go to the ATVAM website at atvam.org.