Last weekend I was fortunate enough to cycle one of South Dakota’s truly hidden gems, the Mickelson Trail. This rail trail changed how I think about exploring the Western United States.
My riding partner and I drove from Denver North to Edgemont, dropped our car at the Southernmost end of the trail, and hailed a 2-hour ride North to Deadwood with our bikes and saddlebags in tow.
After a night out in Deadwood’s historic Main Street, we hunkered down and prepped for the next two days of point-to-point cycling, filling our water bottles and fine-tuning our pannier bags. On Saturday morning, we hit the dusty trail.
This trail stretches from Deadwood to Edgemont, and from my perspective, represents much more than just a trail. This limestone path winds through forests and farms, showcasing what happens when communities come together for the greater good, historical conservation, and the benefits of time spent outdoors.
Stretching 109 miles, the Mickelson trail replaced an old railroad that supplied commerce from Deadwood to Mystic to Hill City to Edgemont.
Long before Shopify and next-day freight, this railway was the primary source of goods for local residents. Unlike the front fenders we purchased two days before our trip (thanks to Weather.com and Amazon Prime), the goods on these rail cars took weeks to reach their destination, delivering the optimal user experience in a pre-digital era.
Eventually, the railway was replaced by a more efficient means of transportation. After the tracks were pulled up and the ties discarded, the communities along this trail came together to build a space where community members could gather, recreate, and repurpose industrial progress for outdoor recreation.
We could all learn something by revisiting some of the challenges of developing such a project. Together with the SD Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the SD National Guard, SD Black Hills National Forest, and SD Dept of Game Fish & Parks, George S. Mickelson, the former Governor of South Dakota, fought tooth and nail to see this project through. The individuals tasked with building this trail gave their time, money, and energy to make it happen.
Unlike the original railway, the latest iteration of the Mickelson Trail is quiet, therapeutic and peaceful. People on horseback, on foot, or on wheels, each with varying interests and ideals, congregate here to enjoy the beauty of the American West.
The various trestle bridges, tunnels, and excavations carve this original rail path through the varying landscape of South Dakota, representing what can be done when people come together and work toward a common goal.
If you’re interested in an accessible, relatively moderate point-to-point trail, add the Mickelson Trial to your list.
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