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Decorah Bike Trails, Decorah, Iowa

Dan Kaercher finds a diverse bicycle-friendly community, go to Decorah for paved and off-road trails for bicyclists of all skill levels.

Hosted by Dan Kaercher, Iowa's Simple Pleasures features Iowa travel destinations, restaurants, events, parks, recreation and more. Produced by Iowa Public Television, the series highlights fun things for Iowans to do, see and taste, right here at home.


Kaercher: There's a lot of talk about cities creating a bicycle friendly community. In Northeast Iowa, one community pedals the extra mile to appeal to bicyclists of all skill levels. Boy, if you look at the Iowa Department of Transportation's Map for Bicyclists, which shows over 50 designated trails, it's hard to decide where in the state to go. Now, I biked a few of those trails, but I'd never been to the ones in Northeast Iowa. So I traveled to Decorah, a place that offers both the challenging terrain for mountain bikes and, nearby, a little smoother travel on a trail adorned with some impressive sculptures. John, I'm really looking forward to biking the wonderful Trout Run Trail here in Decorah today. Tell me about what makes it so special.

Hjelle: Well, the Trout Run Trail has got a little bit of something for everybody really. You know, it's got the hills. It's got the coldwater trout stream right out behind us there. It's got a little bit of art that goes on -- that you can go through.

Kaercher: The artwork, tell me about that.

Hjelle: There are three pieces of art that are on the trail.

Kaercher: I understand they all have a double view.

Hjelle: That's one of the things that we wanted to try to do, to have it be visible from not only the trail but also from the highway. We have one that is visible from not only the trail but also from the river for canoeists.

Kaercher: Called walking with birds, this bronze figure by Luther College graduate Doug Freeman features a special mailbox for passersby to place a thoughtful message. This mosaic of fired clay by Decorah potter Dean Schwarz doubles as a sign for a nearby fish hatchery. And the inspiration for this stainless steel river horizon archway by Iowa City artist Bounnak Thammavong stems from the artist's experiences as a trout fisherman. John, I can't wait to explore the trail. Tell me how to get started.

Hjelle: Well, you just head down the trail that way. It's about a mile to the fish hatchery, and I've got a couple friends that will go with you.

Kaercher: Perfect. Thanks.

Hjelle: Yeah.

Kaercher: We start out on a flat section of the trail. And in a mile or so, we arrive at the Decorah Fish Hatchery. Run by the Department of Natural Resources, the hatchery supplies trout for 17 streams in a four-county area in Northeast Iowa. Also at the junction of the hatchery and trail is an eagle's nest whose residence, thanks to a web cam, often can be viewed on line. To really appreciate this trail, it would be good to thank the some 24 land owners who were willing to provide access through their property. Scores of volunteers, government, and nongovernment entities worked years to make this trail a reality.

3, 2, 1.

Kaercher: And it wasn't easy. A blast through a bluff was necessary to help make this trail a 12-mile scenic loop around Decorah, which is expected to be completed by Spring 2012. Other bikers would just as soon go over the bluff rather than through it. And there are trails for those folks too. Decorah has 18 miles of mountain bike trails, primarily built and maintained with the city's permission, by a group called Decorah human power trail.

Gosen: Building these trails, first of all, requires a little bit of vision. I'm always looking at ways that we can complete loops, that we can have nice flowing trails, and at the same time keep them challenging and interesting.

Kaercher: When you say challenging and interesting, what kinds of obstacles do people look for along mountain bike trails?

Gosen: One of the things that our trails are known for is that they're built on the steep bluffs surrounding Northeast Iowa. Every place is a little different. We have steep down hills. We've got big log rides. We've got technical, hard, rocky, rooty climbs. So it just depends on what your skills are.

Kaercher: If your biking skills aren't up to the challenge, Deke Gosen likes to point out the trail is user friendly to runners and hikers as well.

Gosen: What makes our trail successful within the community is that the value is seen as coming from the attraction to many different user groups. Our trail group in town is referred to as Decorah Human Power Trails. We're trying to be inclusive with hikers and runners and birders and nature watchers. We're not just bikers.

Kaercher: Deke is right. No matter what kind of human power challenge people want, whether on mountain bike trails or paved ones, I think they can find the perfect fit with what's offered in Decorah.


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Tags: bicycles Decorah Iowa IowasSimplePleasures tourism travel Winneshiek County


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