CHISHOLM — Mountain bike enthusiasts, hikers, kayakers, and canoeists are finding an escape in the outdoors where active iron ore mines once operated, dating back to 1898, at the Redhead Mountain Bike Park near Minnesota Discovery Center (MDC) in Chisholm.
The Redhead Mountain debuted in 2020 with 15 mile of trail completed. An additional 10 miles were completed this year bringing the total mileage to 25 miles.
A $1.77 million grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board was used to cover the cost of constructing the trail that is now owned and operated by the city of Chisholm.
IRRRB, Minnesota Discovery Center and the Iron Range Off-Road Cyclists group remain partners with the city on this venture. MDC serves as the trailhead for the facility.
At least a half dozen mines once operated at the Redhead site, according to MDC Archivist Christopher Welter, who provided a rundown of their operation from west to east.
• Pillsbury Mine operated from 1898-1969 and produced 8.1 million long tons.
• Glen Mine operated from 1902-1957 and produced 13.5 million long tons
• Leonard Mine operated from 1903-1974 and produced 14.5 million long tons
• Leonard-Burt Mine operated from 1904-1974 and produced 6.9 million long tons
• Monroe-Tener Mine operated from 1905-1981 and produced 40.3 million long tons
• Dunwoody Mine operated from 1917-1977 and produced 16.9 million long tons
The serene view of the wooded trails of the Redhead, overlooking a pit filled with aqua blue water, paints a different picture than the rugged and even dangerous conditions faced by the early miners, as documented in the museum at MDC and across town at the Minnesota Museum of Mining.
A permanent exhibit at MDC called the Blue-Collar Battleground: The Iron Range Labor Story covers more than 100 years of labor history on the Iron Range.
A panel included in the exhibit, located near the underground mine display at the MDC museum bears the names, ages, marital status, causes of death, and nationalities of 96 mine workers who died on the job in St. Louis County in just one year’s time, from July 1905 through July 1906.
There are a number of displays in the Blue-Collar Battleground exhibit at the MDC museum that tell the story of the labor movement, unionizing of the mine workers, and how it led to mine safety regulations in place today.
Also documented at the MDC museum is the struggle early miners went through to earn a fair wage. As stated on one of the displays, the miners were paid by the ton mined, not by the hour. It goes on to say that some mining locations were rich with ore, while others yielded nothing.
Another display tells the story of mining companies forcing early miners to buy their own supplies — candles, dynamite, nails, blasting caps, and even handles for their tools.
Redhead offers outdoor enthusiasts year-round activities and offers a little something for everyone, with nearly 25-miles of hand crafted, purpose built mountain bike trails already on the ground and more on the way.
Difficulty ranges from beginner (easy) to expert level with a wide array of terrain features and options for riders to test out their skills.
Summer uses range from mountain biking to fat biking, hiking, trail running, e-bikes, and dogs.
There was a trial run for water recreation in September after The Redhead dock was installed allowing for mine pit lake access so people could swim, canoe, kayak, or go paddle boarding.
Throughout the Redhead trails remnants of earlier mining remain and the rich mining history of the region becomes apparent to riders and hikers alike as they make their way throughout the area.
Miriam Kero, president of IROC said one of her favorites is an old mining hat at the top of one of the hills on the Brightside trail.
“You make this steep climb and there it sits at the center of the corner,” Kero said in an email.
Another notable landmark spotted was on the Tough Mama trail, a hand-painted sign that references, “Fresh Pee Soup.”
“Yuck, but funny,” Kero joked.
Hanging from a tree on the Boneyard trail is an old mining lamp, and there’s a piece of exhaust pipe that can be found on the side of the Zen Trail, she noted, adding there are also rusted wheels, and cables along the trail.
“It is really pretty fun,” Kero added.
Gary Sjoquist, a mountain bike hall of fame inductee, and adviser for the Redhead Trail pointed out that it was a change in Minnesota State Statute allowing recreation on former mine property, which up until then was fenced off and off-limits to the public, that led to the creation of the area’s newest recreational opportunity.
“By riding Redhead, you really get to see things people didn’t get to see — the perspectives are amazing.”
Sjoquist said there are several pieces of old mining equipment alongside the trail, and in several places along the trail you can see old cables, rails, a miner’s hat, and even boots.
“When they built the trail, they left it,” Sjoquist said.
A section of trail appropriately named, “The Boneyard Loop,” goes through a section of the trail where old mining equipment, including trucks and steam shovels are parked.
Sjoquist said he was told there is also an old jail that once served the Glen Location, when it was an active mining location.
The Redhead Trail is open from dawn to dusk seven days a week as conditions warrant. The trails are closed when there is significant rainfall and remain closed for at least six hours after a rainfall or until dry.
There is no cost to ride the Redhead trail, but if you would like to tour the museum and exhibits at MDC, regular admission rates apply.
A majority of the trails are open for walking and hiking. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed on a leash of 6 feet long or less, and must be cleaned up after.
If you experience an emergency at the Redhead park, you should dial 911.
The Redhead Mountain Bike Park is available on the Trailforks app. If you experience an issue with the trail, you can report it on the app, or at the trailhead at MDC.
More information on the Redhead and trail conditions are available at www.mndiscoverycenter.com.