The Lake Vermilion Trail will be a premier, paved, scenic route providing an opportunity for healthy, safe, non-motorized, year-round, transportation and recreation connecting Cook and Tower/Soudan in the beautiful natural landscape south of Lake Vermilion for residents and visitors.
The proposed Lake Vermilion Trail is located in northeastern Minnesota. In the 1940’s, the National Geographic Society declared Lake Vermilion one of the top 10 most scenic lakes in the United States. The lake spans 40,000 acres with 1,200 miles of shoreline, 365 islands, and hundreds of bays and coves. The trail would traverse a variety of landscapes from peat lands, to hilly glacial till uplands with mixed hardwood forests, to bedrock cliffs with pine forests.
In 2010, the Lake Vermilion Resort Association (LVRA) in association with the Arrowhead Regional Planning Commission (ARDC) initiated trail planning with a local steering committee. Major accomplishments include a completion of a conceptual plan, route research in three locations, completion of a Master Plan that meets Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission guidelines, creation of a Friends of the Lake Vermilion Trail to focus on fund-raising, and creation of a Joint Powers Board (five townships, two cities, and Bois Forte Tribe) to own, develop, and manage the trail. In 2021, EAW work was initiated on segment 7 (from Tower to the Y-Store Intersection) and the process should be completed in early 2022.
Unique Community Collaboration:
The proposed Lake Vermilion Trail not only spans a wide variety of landscapes, it also crosses numerous small government entities and is supported by a wide variety of local businesses and organizations. The LVRA, composed of about 40 resorts, has been a key driver in planning for the Lake Vermilion Trail. The Friends of the Lake Vermilion Trail (previously referred to as the Steering Committee and Work Group) represents a variety of local businesses, governments, and private interests. In 2017/2018, Steering committee members worked cooperatively to form a Joint Powers Board made up of the two cities, five townships, and Bois Forte Tribe. The National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance facilitator for the Steering Committee has commented that there are few, if any, Joint Powers Boards for trails in the nation that cross so many local government entities.
The Lake Vermilion area is home to numerous regional destinations, but significant gaps in non-motorized, land-based recreation plague the area. While the City of Tower was recently connected to the Mesabi Trail, the Lake Vermilion area lacks safe places to walk and bike west of Tower, since most roads in the area are either gravel or have no paved shoulders, and there are only a few short local biking and walking trails. Unfortunately, the non-motorized recreational gaps that exist along the western and southern shores of Lake Vermilion are where many residents live and where tourists stay during their visits to the area. The few recreational trails existing in the area are limited to snowmobile facilities that pass through swamps and are wet in the summer, making them impassable for walkers or bicyclists. The few paved trail facilities in the area are only local trails with limited ability to serve Lake Vermilion residents and tourists. Likewise, other recreational opportunities are limited for people without boats. The Lake Vermilion Trail will help fill this non-motorized recreation gap.
The proposed trail is set in the year-round tourist destinations of the Lake Vermilion area, partially adjacent to the Superior National Forest. The trail would traverse state, county, and private land. The trail area would directly serve about 3,800 permanent residents, 20,000 annual resort visitors, as well as seasonal residents and other area tourists.
Trails in the initial locations would provide a safe place off of the high-speed roads for people to get exercise and stay healthy, adding to the area’s quality of life. In addition, the local economies depend heavily on tourism. The trail is supported by the Lake Vermilion Resort Association (LVRA) as a way to bring more tourists to the area, and expand the tourist options. The LVRA has about 40 members of which many are small “mom and pop” resorts that are suffering due to declining interest in fishing. Local surveys have shown that many people support the construction of a non-motorized trail in the area.
Mining has also been a major industry in the area and it has lost jobs over the years. Expanding tourist options by developing a non-motorized paved trail would help diversify the local economy.