Morningside Gravel Pit on Jean Duluth Road (south of Martin Road).
Morningside Gravel Pit on Jean Duluth Road (south of Martin Road).
The Spirit Mountain Run is one of the grand old men of Twin Ports area races. Dating back to 1974, only the Park Point 5 Miler can claim a longer lineage (1972). The event was originally founded by the North Shore Striders, then adopted by the Northern Minnesota Track Club (NMTC) when the Striders stepped away from holding the race in the mid-1980’s. Over time the race has varied between it’s original 10-mile distance and a slightly shorter 15K (9-ish) mile version, though all have used the western section of Skyline Parkway for the course.
Recently, the run returned to the full 10-miler and it’s original starting line below the Spirit Mountain chalet. The run is a simple out-and-back, following Skyline Parkway out to Becks Road, and returning along the same route. This is a very straight-forward dirt / gravel course leveraging a portion of a rather historic feature of Duluth. Following is a little bit of background we hope you will enjoy.
Back in the late 1800’s William Rogers had a vision. The Ohio transplant had an affinity for a natural formation that lay high up on the Duluth hillside; a terrace formed by the once lapping waves of an ancient lake. Over the course of 10,000 years, after the last of the glaciers had receded, the land upon which the ice had previously existed rebounded. The rising land, in concert with the falling lake level left behind a ghost of sorts – that of Lake Superior’s ancestor, glacial Lake Duluth – in the form of a natural bench that now sat at an elevation some 475′ above the current Superior shoreline.
Rogers appreciated the beauty of the vistas this bench offered those who could travel along it, and determined that it should be incorporated into a system of parks that he hoped would someday span the length and breadth of the fast-growing city of Duluth. The ancient shoreline, as he envisioned, could be developed as a parkway providing the backbone connecting parks and green spaces that criss-crossed the hillside. As a banker and head of the city’s first park board, William Rogers secured funding and began to make good on his plan. Skyline Parkway, though it was not called that at the time, was born. The year was 1889.
Two years later the first segment of the parkway was complete, drastically over budget but beautiful to behold. Only 5 miles of roadway were in place, from Chester Creek west to Miller Creek, but the route was terrifically popular among locals and visitors alike. Unfortunately, William Rogers left the city of Duluth shortly thereafter. The baton was set down, waiting for another champion.
The wait lasted over three decades, until Mayor Sam Snively appeared on the scene. Snively shared Rogers’ vision of the city-spanning parkway, and firmly established the political momentum and financing that would rekindle and sustain construction. Under Snively’s tireless leadership, the avenue expanded quickly and significantly. To the west it soon stretched as far as Fond Du Lac. It would also meander eastward and eventually connect with another road – which Snively had privately funded, built and donated to the city – called Snively Road, now known as Seven Bridges Road. In 1929, the road was given its current name, Skyline Parkway. By 1937, the final segments were completed to give the parkway its full 25 mile reach.
Each Spring, NMTC runners embark on the Spirit Mountain Run, ambling 10 miles out-and-back over a section of roadway that is the product of the dreams and fortitude of William Rogers and Sam Snively. Shortly after the start, as you approach the beautiful Stewart Creek Bridge, you will see the recently restored granite of a reflecting pool and its feeding channel on the right hand side of the road. This monument was constructed to honor the man who drove most of the construction of Skyline Parkway, Sam Snively.
As you run by, maybe give the monument a little tip of the hat, for Sam Snively’s sake, and for that of his predecessor, William Rogers. Thanks guys. We enjoy the view. And it’s also a nice place for a run…
NMTC runs tend to take on titles that reflect the personality of their course. So, while this route heads out to the end of what’s commonly called Park Point, it was aptly named the NMTC Point Pine Run – as the title encompasses two important aspects of the surroundings.
First, the course follows Minnesota Point. So, we have the “Point” part covered, but let’s throw this out there as well. Combined with Wisconsin Point, this stretch comprises the largest freshwater sandbar in the world. No kidding. Now that’s a nice conversation starter at a party. The “Pine” aspect honors the fact that much of the run flows through old-growth White and Red Pine, some of which is over 200 years old.
This out-and-back route starts at the end of Minnesota Ave. on Park Point, and follows the well-established Minnesota Point Hiking Trail, 2 miles out and 2 miles back. And we hear ya’, you trail runners want an elevation profile. So, here you go:
OK, we kid. But not much. Not a lot of up and down here – 60 ft. of calf-crushing gain and loss over 4 miles, about a foot at a time. But, don’t worry, the trail will throw in a little sandy surprise to make up for the lack of grade.
Along the way you’ll note a couple interesting structures. Almost at the end stand the ruins of the Minnesota Point Lighthouse, constructed in 1858. It operated for 20 years under a single keeper before being abandoned in 1878. Nearby is the old U.S. Lighthouse Station Depot, a concrete structure that once was used to store buoys and the acetylene used in batteries for the lighthouse back in Canal Park.
And, of course, the trail’s most distinguishing feature lies just north. We hear there’s a big lake there…
The NMTC Western Waterfront Run has become the traditional season opener for the NMTC Spring Series. Like a grizzled, veteran starting pitcher, the solid surface of the course provides a reliable option for the first race of the year, unflinching in the temperamental Duluth spring weather.
The course is an out-and-back, run on a 2.4-ish mile section of the trail starting in the trailhead lot behind the Willard Munger Inn. The easy-to-follow course traverses west, staying on the Western Waterfront Trail to Spring Street, where it turns-around and returns from whence it came.
If you’re still shaking the rust out of those those early season legs, the trail’s non-technical nature and flat profile will let you ease on in. On the other hand, if your engine is already revving, the wide trail allows you to grip it and rip it. As for what you’ll see, the Duluth Trails web site’s simple description tells it well:
As you amble about this 8-foot wide level, graveled pathway, you will likely note some of the 270+ bird species or aquatic mammals along the banks of the St. Louis River estuary. Several marsh habitats along nine miles of shoreline make this a gem in the park system of Duluth. This trail was designed specifically to provide non-motorized access on an old railroad right-of-way, on a route that provided service between Duluth and St Paul in the late 1800′s.
Excerpted from: http://duluthtrails.com/western-waterfront/