Monday, May 28, 2012

Bicycling Hastings MN and to Schaar's Bluff

While researching Spring Lake Park Reserve and Schaar's Bluff I came across the nearby Hastings bicycle trail map and a related Strib article. Looks like a good family outing, and perhaps inline skateble too (emphases mine) -- though the bridge detour and lack of future plans is worrisome ...

A cycling gem in Hastings | StarTribune.comJIM ADAMS 5/2011

... Hastings' scenic secret: A 12-mile-plus loop of bike trails that circles the river town. The bikeway crosses breathtaking Vermillion River gorges and ambles along the Mississippi banks in the historic downtown that once hosted a spiral bridge.

... The trail provides easy access to downtown restaurants and businesses that will make Hastings a biking destination once it hooks up to regional trail systems, Grilley said. Planning is underway on several fronts to connect it to larger systems, Bernstein said.

The most immediate is a 3.4-mile stretch that will carry Hastings bikers northwest to Schaar's Bluff for impressive views of ravines and river in the Spring Lake Regional Preserve ...  the county has bike trails running south from St. Paul almost to Rosemount. The two final legs are expected to be paved by 2015 to complete a 27-mile trail from Hastings to South St. Paul's northern border, he said.

The Nininger bluffs segment is the steepest hill in the loop. It carries bikers down and across a dike between Lake Rebecca and Spring Lake to Lock and Dam No. 2. Ducks and geese nest on the woodsy Lake Rebecca dike side, while bone-white driftwood washes up on the Spring Lake side, a Mississippi backwater. Red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds and herons flew past on an overcast day in mid-May.

At the Lock and Dam, the trail cuts south along the Mississippi, passing a park dock equipped with a free viewing scope.... ... availability of downtown restaurants and ice cream shops.

... Construction of the new Hwy. 61 bridge downtown has detoured cyclists away from the bike path that went under the existing bridge and will be rebuilt under the new bridge....

For now, the bridge detour brings bikers to Second Street, the main avenue along the river with dozens of historic storefronts. Turning north on Sibley Street returns you to the riverside trail. A nearby interpretive trail sign displays actual photos of the 1895 spiral bridge, sitting next to the present span that replaced it in 1951.

After several blocks, the path leaves the river and heads south past an old railroad station along Bailey Street to 8th Street. Bikers can continue south 10 blocks to the Vermillion River, or take a left on 8th, which becomes busy Ravenna Trail. The bike trail swings east for a short, optional loop near Lake Isabelle, then follows a narrow Ravenna shoulder a few blocks to a trail sign. It points up a short hill into woodsy C.P. Adams Park, which offers picnic tables for a lunch break, and a disc golf course for a weary-butt break (bring your own disc).

The trail inclines up past the Hastings Veterans Home and then crosses gorgeous gorges twice along the tree-lined Vermillion River. After crossing over a wooden bridge, the trail leads to a walking path along the south bank cliff that overlooks the 35-foot-tall Vermillion Falls.

The falls powered a flour mill, built in the 1850s and now owned by ConAgra Foods. Mill stone and brick walls tower above the falls on the north bank. The trail passes under Hwy. 61 by ConAgra and follows the Vermillion west past farms along County Road 46 for more than a mile to Pleasant Drive. The loop's longest -- though gradual -- hills arise going northwest up to General Sieben Drive across Hwy. 55, and eventually back to Niinger Road.

Because it has few steep hills, the loop is popular with families and senior groups, Bernstein said. The trail makes a nice morning ride, he said, after which some families buy tickets to the city's public pool for an afternoon swim.

I'd like to know how much might be inline friendly and how bad the bridge detour problem is.

Update: This is a good reference: Hasting Bridge Re-Design Brings New Multi-Use Path (2/2011). I've added that blog to my reading list.

Update 2: A friend passes on a trail report:

... the trail going from Schaars Bluff to downtown Hastings is smooth and inline friendly IF one is comfortable with the hills and crossing traffic frequently (because the trail isn't connected very well). There are also two portions closer to the Schaars Bluff end where the trail crosses gravel. The trails going through town are also smooth enough for inline, but again there are several crossings where the trail doesn't connect....

According to my friend, the bridge construction affects a small portion, about two blocks, in downtown. The best, least busy portions of the trail go from the river parking by the boat launch up to Schaars Bluff and wouldn't cross the construction. Where to park would depend on whether you would want to do the uphill on the 1st or 2nd half of the trip.

Update 3: If you ask nicely, Google will show the route. This is what we took:

Spring Lake Schaars Bruff Hastings Chocolate Creative Confectionaire

It's downhill from Schaar's Bluff to our ice cream stop  I highly recommend Creative Confectionaire on 216 E 2nd street  If it's not too warm buy some chocolate for the one you love. The turnoff from the main trail to lock and dam #2 is VERY easy to miss. Helps to have map on your phone. It's not really marked. If you're on the river side of the road take the first left trail turn.

The trail is generally very smooth. Fine for inline, albeit steep for many in Spring Lake Park. The only bit I didn't like was the path along a dike leading to the lock. It's fine for adults, but if you have an accident prone child there's a terrifying rock strewn drop on the upstream side. I was grinding my teeth watching my accident prone son bike along, yelling at him to stay in the middle of the trail.

The 61 bridge is under construction, but the bike/pedestrian detour is no trouble.

Update 7/7/2013: The trail is little changed, even though the new bike is in place. The minor detours will probably be gone next year. Sad news though -- the main street ice cream shop, Creative Confectionaire, has moved (and may be out of the ice cream business)! I was shocked, it seemed to be doing well.

Spring Lake Park Reserve and Schaar's Bluff - tiny cross-country trail system

I've never heard of this trail south of MSP, but from the summer trail map and winter trail map and a friends report it might be a nice family outing if there's snow (not too likely this epoch):

Spring Lake Park Reserve - Mississippi National River & Recreation Area 
Spring Lake Park Reserve offers over 3 miles of cross-country classic ski trails and almost 2 miles of cross-country skate-ski trails.

Spring Lake Park is a little known Dakota County/State park system a few miles from Hastings MN. The shoreline is still private; from the satellite map it looks like there's some kind of logging going on in part of it (!). I get the feeling the owners would not welcome tourists.

The Park area is associated with Schaar's Bluff Gathering Center, an attractive event place for weddings, meetings and the like. It has the look of a congressional earmark. I don't think it's available for use during routine ski days (too bad), but one year they had a Jan ski event there.

Here's the Google Map view, and here's a good looking bicycle or skate option to ice cream in Hastings.

View Larger Map

See also: