East Bluff Bike Park in Copper Harbor Plans to Offer 40 Miles of Bike-Optimized Trail

Photos courtesy of Rock Solid Trail Contracting

The small town of Copper Harbor, Michigan has changed a lot in the past 20 years. When Aaron Rogers moved there in 2005 from Wisconsin, he recalls a much sleepier town. Rogers had moved to the UP for access to outdoor recreation, and the various types that the area offers. He had experience building trails in Wisconsin and shortly after settling in Copper Harbor, he slowly started building new trail.

Rogers worked as a volunteer for years and then volunteered full-time until he and Sam Raymond established the Copper Harbor Trails Club in 2008. The CHTC started fundraising, and Rogers created a paid position for himself as the president of the club. The CHTC built more and more trail and it started to pay off.

“As we built out the mountain bike trail system, all the sudden, a lot more people started coming to the area and property started selling, land value was increasing,” said Rogers.

Rogers started attending IMBA Summits and educational trail building programs and added more value to the local trails. In 2011, Rogers left the CHTC to work for IMBA’s Trail Solutions program and saw the trail building landscape gain national momentum. His work in the UP had only snowballed. By 2012, Copper Harbor was designated as a Silver Level IMBA Ride Center and word spread that the town had trails that mountain bikers from all over might want to ride.

In 2014, Rogers left IMBA to start his own trail building business, Rock Solid Trail Contracting, which took off. Since the start, Rock Solid has grown to around 70 employees, built thousands of miles of trail in the US, and Rogers believes they are the biggest trail building company in the world.

Copper Harbor kept growing as a trail destination and like a lot of destinations, the township has been faced with the tough task of making it manageable and sustainable. During the 2020 and 2021 summer seasons of the pandemic, the small town received more visitors than ever as outdoor recreation boomed. Conflict boiled as county board members closed four iconic and advanced trails.

Back in 2017, a 525-acre piece of property came up for sale just east of Copper Harbor proper and caught the interest of Rogers and the Rock Solid crew. The property had been on the market for a while, and according to Rogers the owner was getting impatient and thought about splitting it up and selling them as 40-acre plots instead of one piece.

Rock Solid wanted to see the land remain unfragmented and with moderate elevation gain throughout the property, they imagined a bike park. There was more soil on the bluff, allowing trail builders to craft beginner terrain more easily, something that wasn’t abundant on the rocky hills where Copper Harbor’s main trails lie.

Though outdoor recreation has long been a fixture on the Keweenaw Peninsula, it’s apparent to Rogers that shaping and nourishing it in the future will be more important than ever. Rock Solid bought the land at East Bluff, and in charting a privately managed but publicly accessible, fee-free bike park they hope to drive the conversation around recreation forward.

This also comes at a time when a New York-based hedge fund, The Rohatyn Group, seeks buyers for 32,000 acres of land that has been used for timber harvesting and the Keweenaw Outdoor Recreation Group is pursuing the land for recreational opportunities, though the sellers may be pursuing private buyers as well.

In 2018, Rock Solid carved out the first trail at East Bluff, Flo’Rion followed by Summer School. Rogers explained that Rock Solid has focused on more approachable flow trails at first with berms but they will round it out with natural, hand-cut trails as well. Currently, there are about 7.5 miles of trail, but there should be close to 40 miles when the park is complete.

An old logging road traverses from the bottom to the top and Rock Solid may offer shuttles this coming summer, but wants to keep carbon emissions minimal. The total elevation gain is around 500′ and riders have a dedicated climbing trail dubbed Magic Carpet. Rogers mentioned they may pursue an e-bike fleet too, since that would be a faster, greener ascent option than shuttles.

CHTC co-founder and owner of Keweenaw Adventure Company co-owner Sam Raymond thinks the park will be special for the Copper Harbor community and continue to propel the town as a destination.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” said Raymond. He believes the East Bluff trails will flow seamlessly from Copper Harbor with connecting trails between the two locations. Since East Bluff is a few miles outside of the town, he’s also hopeful the new park will even out congestion and draw cars away from Copper Harbor’s main streets.

With word of the handful of trail closures in Copper Harbor spreading the past year, Raymond’s wife and Keweenaw Adventure Company co-owner Shelby sees the tide changing with the continuous trail building.

“That’s the story to be told,” she said. “It’s getting better and better. Yes, there’s been some losses but maybe they can be regained.”

The Keweenaw Point Trail which runs along the Lake Superior shoreline has two of three phases complete, with the trail skirting East Bluff. The CHTC expects to start digging on the final phase and the last 15 miles in 2022. Between the Keweenaw Point Trail and East Bluff, “You know, that’s going to more than double Copper Harbor’s existing trail system realistically within the next five years,” said Sam Raymond.

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