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Cannon Valley Trail offers year-round adventure

The Cannon Valley Trail was named Minnesota's finest biking spot in 2004.

But trail manager Scott Roepke is quick to point out that the 20-mile stretch of blacktop has more to offer than just bicycling.

"The scenery -- the valleys, bluffs and the Cannon River -- is all great. There is a wide range of cultural and natural resources," Roepke said. "There's a lot of variety."

The trail attracts close to 100,000 people annually. They come on bikes, on foot, on cross-country skis. They come year-round.

With its scenic vistas and forgiving terrain, the trail is great for beginner bikers because it only descends 115 feet in elevation from Cannon Falls to Red Wing, Roepke said.

"It's a perfect place to learn how to ride. You don't have to worry about traffic," he added. "You could be a beginner and be just fine."

Those who are patient and looking for more than exercise or a relaxing ride may encounter any of 47 species of mammals, 41 species of reptiles and amphibians, 229 species of regularly observed birds, and 76 species of irregularly observed birds known to southeastern Minnesota.

Trail officials say some of the more common animals along the trail are fox, deer, bald eagles and turkey vultures.

In the fall, an impressive array of changing foliage attracts people in droves, Roepke said, adding that fall is one of the trail's busiest times of year.

The Cannon Valley Trail is managed locally by the nine-member Cannon Valley Trail Joint Powers Board.

A citizens group, Friends of the Trail, provides input to the joint powers board, raises money for the trail, and takes on special projects.

"Unlike other trails similar to ours, we are not a state trail," Roepke said. "We have a lot of citizen involvement."

Over the years, officials have created interpretive signs describing points of interest along the trail. And there are plenty of them.

Remnants of the camps, villages, and burial places of American Indians who occupied the area before white settlers arrived line the trail from beginning to end.

Most of the sites on or near the Cannon Valley Trail have been left untouched. Many of the sites are on private properly and are extremely fragile.

Researches, however, continue to delve into the Red Wing archaeology, specifically the sites along the Cannon Valley Trail.

If cultural and natural resources aren't enough, Voices of the Valley, an interpretive educational program, is available May through September, usually at the Welch station access.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month throughout the summer, officials will be on hand at the Welch access to talk about trees, wildflowers, geology, archaeology and Goodhue County history.

Check out the trail. You never know what you might find.