Photo credit: Minnesota Discovery Center
For over 40 years, following regional decline in iron-mining production and employment, a large iron-mine complex near Chisholm, Minnesota, lay inaccessible behind a chain-link fence despite the enormous recreation potential. After years of stakeholder, industry, and legislative engagement and education championed by the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, the city, and Barr, Redhead Mountain Bike Park became a model for the temporary use of inactive mines for recreation while enabling future mining to resume without encumbrance.
The City of Chisholm hired Barr to design over 35 miles of world-class, single-track mountain biking trails through this complex, rugged landscape. Applying an innovative land-use strategy, Barr designed Redhead’s trails to avoid stockpiles of iron ore and other potentially usable mine features and, should interest in mining return, the trails could be relocated.
Field fitting Barr’s design was a complex and iterative process. The final trail alignment was based on many factors, including the presence of mine shafts and other features, desirable views, sensitive plant species, slope stability, local drainage, ease of maintenance, and non-biking recreational sites and trails. The trails also needed to provide an exhilarating ride for all skill levels while incorporating safety and sustainability factors. Following International Mountain Bicycling Association trail construction guidelines, Barr worked with the construction manager to field-fit the design and conducted the environmental review and permitting for construction.
The first 25 trail miles were completed in 2022. To minimize disturbance, construction involved little more than small excavators, compactors, and powered wheelbarrows. Barr provided construction support, performed permit inspections, and created as-built maps. Barr is under contract with the city to develop additional 10+ miles of trail construction, a more permanent trailhead, enhanced signage, and a 10-year master plan.
The Minnesota Cycling Association held a middle school and high school championship race at the park, generating nearly $1 million in local revenue—over half the construction cost. Chisholm’s downtown area has also welcomed new businesses catering to Redhead visitors, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy.
Barr helped make Redhead a success by exercising a deep understanding of mining operations and by designing for both the mining industry and the public. Redhead also demonstrates how temporary-public-use planning could help overcome the social-license barrier to mine operation.