Local businessman is a trailblazer
Tim Wegner has the same relationship with hills that many bikers have. He's not crazy about going up them, but he can handle it if he knows there's something interesting on the other side.
Unlike most bikers, though, Wegner has some say in the reward he gets for his work.
Over the last nine years, the Rosemount resident has become sort of the go-to guy for building mountain bike trails in the Twin Cities area. From Lebanon Hills in Eagan to Theodore Wirth in Minneapolis, if you've ridden a mountain bike there in the last few years, Wegner has probably had a hand in the route you took.
For Wegner, it all started with a belief he could do things better. The avid mountain biker was on the master planning committee for Lebanon Hills, and he was thoroughly unimpressed with the riding opportunities there.
"We convinced the county we could improve the trails at Lebanon Hills," he said. "They were basically two miles of gravel they spent a fortune on maintenance."
The problem, Wegner said, was that the trails were built on top of paths used in the winter for cross country skiing. When it rained, water had a tendency to collect there and run along the trail, rather than passing over it. That meant erosion, and that meant crews were constantly rebuilding areas that had washed out.
Wegner did some research on making trails "hydrologically invisible," and he and a friend pooled their money to buy a machine that was essentially a walk-behind bulldozer to clear the way. They built their trail, and everybody agreed it was better. Maintenance costs fell, and the trail was more fun to ride.
That project led to two more, and seven years ago Wegner met with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He challenged the department to build better mountain bike trails in its parks, and he got a chance to demonstrate what he meant at two sites in northern Minnesota. More jobs followed.
He still isn't busy enough to make trail building a full time job -- Wegner figures it will be another five years before he can quit his job as a medical device salesman and dedicate himself full time to TrailSource, his trail building company -- but he's quickly built a name for himself in the area. Wegner teaches classes on trail development to parks officials.
He's built trails for the cities of Eden Prairie and Maplewood and for the Wisconsin DNR.
"If there's a mountain bike trail in the metro area, at one point in its lifetime I touched it," he said.
For Wegner, building trails is a combination of art and science. When he gets a construction job he'll develop an idea of where he wants his trail to go, then use scientific instruments to make sure they're hydrologically sound. He might change his route four times to make sure he includes just the right mix of challenge, reward and scenery. He wants his trails to be challenging for riders of all levels, and he wants riders to stay engaged.
"I want to keep it interesting for you," he said.
He does that by varying the terrain, and by making sure riders can't see more than about 50 yards ahead. He provides alternate routes for riders of different skill levels.
Trails have become a big part of Wegner's life over the last several years. He often finds himself walking or riding other people's trails and critiquing their decisions. He's developed a heirarchy of trees to help decide what he saves and what goes when he builds a trail. Oaks are on top. Elms are at the bottom. Ash were higher before the emerald ash borer became a problem.
"Buckthorn is fair game," he said.
Building a good trail takes hours of work, but just like climbing those hills, Wegner said the rewards are worth the work.
"(Riders) come away and they've got a big smile on their face and they've had a good time," Wegner said. "We have had an impact on the entire state of Minnesota."
For more about TrailSource visit www.trailsource.net.