THUNDER BAY — Construction of a major expansion of Thunder Bay's mountain biking trail system is expected to begin in May and finish by October..
The city's Trowbridge Forest Recreational Trail Master Plan, developed in 2017, called for improvements to provide additional recreational opportunities for local residents and tourists, and potentially to attract national-level mountain bike competitions to Thunder Bay.
The Trowbridge Forest mountain bike trail system – currently about 21 kilometres of single track – includes Centennial Park, Shuniah Mines, Trowbridge Falls Park and Kinsmen Park.
Work to be undertaken this year includes the Balsam Connector ($120,000), consisting of four segments totalling almost four kilometres, between Trowbridge Falls Park and Balsam Street on the west side of the Thunder Bay Expressway.
A parking area will also be established at the start of the trail.
The new link will allow novice bikers convenient access to the larger trail system in the Trowbridge Forest area.
A second component, Mesa Trails ($245,000), will add seven new segments totalling six kilometres, including intermediate-difficulty and more advanced trails around the top of a large hill at Centennial Park.
In a third phase, a staging area will be constructed at Trowbridge Falls Park, where trails begin.
With funding secured for all three components, the city is now issuing Requests for Proposals from contractors.
The project is a partnership between the city, the Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club, and Tourism Northern Ontario.
Some of the funding is coming from the city's Municipal Accommodation Tax, which was established in part to support initiatives that will attract visitors to Thunder Bay.
Mountain biking is growing in popularity in the city, and across North America.
Mike McKenzie, a spokesperson for the Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club said an electronic counting device set up last August showed that an average of 1,000 riders a week were using the Trowbridge Forest trails.
The supervisor of parks and open space planning for the city, Werner Schwar, said Thunder Bay is building a mountain biking infrastructure that's in an ideal location.
"It's right on the Trans-Canada Highway, and we have the Trowbridge Falls campground there. It's quite attractive for people passing through. Mountain bikers travel to various places, and the ability to offer this spot mid-way between east and west is a great opportunity for tourism," Schwar said.
He added that the State of Minnesota is investing heavily in recreational trails including mountain bike trails along its Highway 61 corridor.
"There's an opportunity for us to be part of that, to draw the mid-American mountain bike crowd when they're allowed to travel again."
Schwar stressed however, that it's not only mountain bikers who will benefit from the expansion project.
"They are optimized for mountain biking, but the trails are also available to hikers, snowshoers, and so on. The idea is that multiple users will benefit."