by Ardy Nurmi-Wilberg
The new Highway 53 bridge and bike trail on the Mesabi Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota is worth checking out. After two years of construction you can now ride your bicycle, walk or even snowmobile across the tallest multi modal bridge in Minnesota. Now complete, this year the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour will include this section of the 135 mile trail system on their route.
So why did they reroute Hwy 53 and build a bridge southeast of Virginia, you ask? Cliffs Natural Resources holds the mineral rights under portions the old roadway and by relocating the highway it allows United Taconite to mine that ore. When construction started, the Mesabi Trail was closed and literally torn up. At the time of its closure there was no other way to reconnect the bike trail between Virginia and Gilbert. It was then decided to add an extra 14 feet to the bridges width to accommodate a new trail. At an estimated cost of $235 million to build the new bridge, with a new recreational path, it is 1,100 feet long, 92 feet wide and 200 feet above the Rouchleau Pit.
The scenery is stunning along the Mesabi Trail
The view is stunning as you cross over the Rouchleau Mine Pit. Open to both walkers and bikers in the summer, snowmobiles can enjoy crossing here in the winter. The contrast between the aqua blue water and the red cliffs below are breathtaking. The bridge spans across an abandoned mine pit that was named after Louis Rouchleau. It is now filled with water that is 450 feet at its deepest point. With many natural springs feeding this three miles long, by five miles wide open pit, it is the main water supply for the City of Virginia.
Accessing the new Mesabi Trail Bridge
The easiest way to access the Mesabi Trail for a scenic view while riding over the bridge is from the end of Chestnut Street, in Virginia. For more information and a map on how to access the bridge, visit the Iron Range Tourism Bureau: https://ironrange.org/attractions/Virginia-bridge/.
Be sure to add to your summer biking itinerary a visit to the Mesabi Trail. This paved trail system currently offers over a hundred miles to explore. When complete it will reach 155 miles, connecting Grand Rapids, at the Mississippi River Trail to Ely, next to the Boundary Waters. To learn more go to: http://www.mesabitrail.com/
The Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour
One of the most fun ways to experience the Mesabi Trail and this year the bridge is by riding in the Great River Energy Mesabi Trail Tour. This year the tout takes place on Saturday, August 4th. Riders of all abilities and ages find the tour a blast, with four different routes to choose from. The route changes every year. For 2018, riders can pedal from Bovey, a 71 mile trek; from Nashwauk, a 52 mile excursion; from Buhl, a 25 mile path; or from Virginia, an easy 11 mile distance. All routes will cross the new bridge and end in Eveleth at Mesabi Station. For more information and to register online go to: http://www.mesabitrail.com/trail-activities/tour/