Construction of Gitchi Gami State Trail resumes in May on the North Shore
Gitchi Gami Trail Association
Outdoor News

Construction of Gitchi Gami State Trail resumes in May on the North Shore

A recreational trail to connect two North Shore towns has been a labored effort for over twenty years. 

The Gitchi Gami State Trail is an anticipated 89-mile trail along the North Shore of Minnesota, stretching between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. 

Each year the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and various friend groups, such as the Gitchi Gami Trail Association, work together to complete segments of the recreational trail that will someday connect the two North Shore towns.

As it stands, 34 miles of the 89-mile trail is completed. However, progress is made each year, and small segments are constructed with the help of volunteers and extensive funding efforts. 

In 2023, a 1.3-mile segment will be completed in the Lutsen area, stretching from Ski Hill Road to Arrowhead Electric Cooperative. If you’ve driven through the Lutsen area recently, you may have noticed tree clearing on the north side of Highway 61 to prepare for the upcoming construction. 

Construction of the 1.3-mile segment will begin in May, with completion wrapping up in October.

Oliver Liu, the area specialist with the Minnesota DNR parks and trails and who also serves as the Gitchi Gami State Trail coordinator, said the main focus is to construct something that reflects the values of the community. “I think it kind of speaks to the larger broader community planning sense that people are very invested in this and volunteer their own time, money, and effort into seeing it being built.”

Liu said funding is one of the driving factors contributing to the multi-decade-long project. 

“It’s a popular amenity to have, but it is also a very expensive project to do,” Liu said. 

Michelle Pierson, the executive director of the Gitchi Gami Trail Association, said they are actively “requesting additional funding from our legislative team to consider in the capital investment package.” The additional funding would dedicate funds for four trail construction projects in the coming years, including Lutsen in 2023. 

Additional funding would help solidify plans to construct a 1-mile segment north of Two Harbors in 2024. 

Pierson describes the construction of the Gitchi Gami State Trail as a slow-moving tedious task. Despite its slow progression, she said the association is “really thrilled that the DNR is engaged and has been engaged and participating in community discussions around a lot of these projects.”

“We are excited to think about each mile we add gives people more opportunities to connect to really great places on the North Shore and be off-highway shoulders,” Pierson said. “Seeing this trail progress and seeing our communities getting connected is really the ultimate goal.”

While there is plenty of the trail yet to construct, Pierson said the association and the DNR had identified prominent segments to construct for the next five years, including areas in Lutsen, Silver Bay, and north of Two Harbors. 

The next segment identified in Lutsen will start from Arrowhead Electric Cooperative to the Lutsen Town Center. However, the DNR anticipates construction of the segment will not begin until 2027. “We have put in for funds in 2027 to construct that segment. And as of now, we have yet to receive confirmation that it will be funded,” Liu said. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Oliver Liu and Michelle Pierson about the 2023 Gitchi Gami State Trail construction in Lutsen and upcoming projects and events. Audio from the interview is below.