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DULUTH – Crews have finished surgery on the "spine" of the western Duluth trail system, transforming a 6-mile stretch of abandoned rail line into a scenic gravel trail.

The all-weather, multiuse DWP Trail runs from Spirit Mountain to the Mission Creek trail system and includes a tunnel through Ely's Peak. Though widely used as an informal trail in the past, the $2.5 million improvement project replaced bridges and followed a number of standards to create what the city calls a "universally accessible multiuse pathway."

That's increasingly where public appetite for trails exists, and investment has followed, said Jim Shoberg, the city's senior parks planner and landscape architect.

"Everything else is niche," he said on a sunny Friday morning after visiting with some city workers who were working on gates along the trail ahead of Tuesday's ribbon-cutting.

Since the 2012 flood severely damaged the city-owned former railroad, a number of smaller fixes have been made. The overhaul that the Duluth City Council approved in 2019 was meant to follow federal accessibility guidelines for pedestrian trails as well as allow access for equestrians, bikes and winter users, according to planning documents.

Paid for by state and city funds, the project wrapped up this summer with the "capping" of the trail with limestone gravel that prevents erosion and allows access during and after rainstorms when other natural-surface trails are closed.

"Everyone should be out here today," Shoberg said Friday while dirt trails were still drying out from rain.

Shoberg said the trail could also be partly groomed in the winter, allowing access to fat-tire bikes, Nordic skiers and snowshoers. Parts of the trail will be open to snowmobiles as well.

The Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific (DWP) short line railroad was once a key link in the Canadian National system from International Falls to Duluth. Its reclamation as a trail follows the Munger State Trail, which was also a former rail line and connects to the DWP Trail to create a loop.

The DWP is one of many projects that will extend and fortify Duluth's trail system in coming years, with a major focus on multiuse trails:

• The Cross City Trail is heading toward its final phases connecting to the Munger trail, which will link the western edge of the city with the Lakewalk and, ultimately, the eastern edge of town.

• The Lakewalk is getting an extension at Brighton Beach.

Waabizheshikana, or the Marten Trail, could see a major extension in the next several years after the City Council approved plans this year.

The Duluth Traverse mountain bike network — which parallels the DWP in parts — has several sections still in need of completion as part of other plans to draw more cyclists.

"We're looking at making some small modifications to make the trails more inclusive and find ways to reach different communities," said Justin Martin, executive director of the Duluth-based mountain bike group COGGS.

As with the DWP Trail, the ongoing emphasis in trailbuilding is less for niche groups and more all-inclusive.

"We really want to provide access to all the different neighborhoods and provide a place for people from a variety of different backgrounds to interact," Martin said. "There's so much trail being built in Minnesota right now, it's just fantastic."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496