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  • Writer's pictureShelly Peterson

Pine Valley 360- Year-Round Gems of Outdoor Activities

Of all the parks within the City of Cloquet, the vast natural area of Pine Valley Park is the crown jewel. Situated on top of unique geological features, Pine Valley is the largest of Cloquet’s parks, covering approximately 240 acres.

Pine Valley is maintained by the City of Cloquet Parks Department and has a multi-use trail system for cross country skiing during the winter season and hiking and trail running in summer and fall. The ski jumping facility has multiple jumps and hills with a rope tow. The singletrack trail provides opportunities for mountain biking, hiking and running during the summer and fall, plus snowshoeing, hiking, and fat-tire biking in the winter.

Northwest Paper Company donated 40 acres of land in 1960 to the City of Cloquet for the purpose of developing the park for ski jumping and Nordic skiing, which was then a pine plantation with mixed hardwoods throughout its hills and valleys. The natural vegetation and geography would soon become the backdrop for a beautiful ski trail system in the forest and was named Pine Valley Park by Cloquet’s legendary ski coach Joe Nowak in 1961.

The primary purpose headlining the creation of the park was to provide a first-class ski jumping and Nordic ski trail network, sports Cloquet had become renowned for. Throughout its history the park has been supported by a vast network of volunteers who constructed chalets, built the ski jumps and trails, and then maintained the ski jumps and trail network.

The creation of the Nordic skiing and ski jumping park proved to be a successful endeavor, soon playing host to state high school championship ski meets, regional USSA ski races and jumping meets, and the annual City Ski Meet. Pine Valley and Cloquet High School produced 13 Minnesota State Champion High School Ski teams, many individual state champions in Nordic skiing and jumping, plus United States Olympic Team members in Nordic combined, biathlon, and ice hockey. The street into the park is aptly named “Olympic Drive.”

At the entrance into Pine Valley Park is the Pine Valley Ice Arena (Northwoods Credit Union Arena), home to high school hockey programs, the Cloquet youth hockey association, and the Minnesota Wilderness junior league hockey team. While Nordic skiers and ski jumpers had already been active at Pine Valley during the 1960s, a cooperative effort between the skiers and the growing hockey program looking for a place to build an indoor ice rink identified a suitable location at Pine Valley on which to build the new rink. The Pine Valley Ice Arena was built in the late 1960s, using local volunteer labor and funded by grassroots fundraising by the hockey program spearheaded by then head coach Bill Kennedy.

Improvements led by volunteers and City staff included a Nordic trail lighting project in 1998 that resulted in 2.5 kilometers of lighted ski trail. The ski jump landings were re-graded and the start positions at the top of the jumps were modified to accommodate new jumping techniques in 1999.

The most recent addition to Pine Valley is the five-mile singletrack trail that winds through the park. The singletrack trail concept initially came from a group of Nordic skiers who thought the addition of the new trail network would bring more users to the park, particularly during the summer and fall seasons, thereby making Pine Valley more of a year-round center for silent sports. Park Commissioner Tom Urbanski wrote the original proposal and rationale for adding a singletrack trail at Pine Valley, and first presented the idea at a Cloquet Park Commission meeting in 2011. The proposal had the backing support of about 50 people interested in the idea, many who attended an informal gathering hosted by longtime Pine Valley volunteer Greg Williams, along with Mark Hagen, Urbanski, and Hansi Johnson. Professional trail designer Jake Carstens marked and mapped out the trail corridor in the park in 2015, and then the first 2.5-mile section of singletrack trail was built in 2018 and the remaining sections were completed in 2020 and 2021.

All ski and singletrack trails at Pine Valley begin and end near the chalet and parking lot. The main 5.5-kilometer ski trail has cutoffs at 2.5 kilometers and 3.5 kilometers, plus the 4-kilometer White Pine Trail is entirely located across Spring Lake Road. The singletrack trail has a looped layout that includes beginner, intermediate, and advanced skill level trails of various distances. The narrow trail requires users to travel single file in the same direction of travel, whether riding a mountain bike, running, hiking, or snowshoeing. The singletrack trails provide a close connection to nature as they wind around obstacles such as trees, large rocks, and bushes. The narrow nature of singletrack makes this type of trail exciting for various users and provides an invigorating backcountry experience.

In 2021, the City of Cloquet invited and gathered input from the various users and community members during development of a Master Plan for Pine Valley Park as part of effort to look forward to the future of the park. The master plan is a vital element in preparation for identifying and applying for outside funding to complete park improvement projects. Designation as a “regional park” through the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission is a possibility, allowing the City to apply for state Legacy Grant funds. A second possibility is a local-option sales tax specifically designated for improvements at Pine Valley. And a third funding source is through private donations.

Long known as a recreation center for winter sports, Pine Valley offers opportunities for activities year-round, hosting literally thousands of park user visits each year.

With a vast array of active silent sports activities happening in the spectacular city park, Pine Valley 360 is a collection of park users dedicated to enhancing, promoting, and maintaining the silent sports activities at Pine Valley Park. This loose collection of volunteers has vision, energy, and passion to keep the trails and hills in excellent condition and works to protect and honor the history and legacy of Pine Valley.

Thank you to ALL of the community volunteers over the course of its history that have strived to protect and honor the legacy of Pine Valley Park.

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