Faces of Duluth: Ansel Schimpff

Faces of Duluth tells the stories of the people behind Duluth’s iconic attractions, hidden gems and everything in between. Traveling to Duluth? Learn the locals’ tips and tricks for seeing all the city has to offer.

Ansel Schimpff has been mountain biking since he was 6 years old. Every day after school, his friends would bike to their local park to build jumps and trails like the ones they saw in bike magazines. Ansel’s love of the outdoors and cycling continued through adulthood, as he traveled the country racing mountain bikes. Cut to today, Ansel’s passion continues in Duluth, where he serves as the executive director of the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumme Shores (COGGS), helping maintain the world-class mountain biking opportunities in the Twin Ports. While on a much larger scale, at the end of the day, he still feels like that kid, shovel in hand, building awesome biking experiences for him and his friends.

What’s your Duluth story?

I am originally from Madison, WI (my 6-year-old was horrified to learn I used to be a Packers fan) and moved to Colorado for college. After moving around the West for the next 10 years, my wife, who grew up in Duluth, convinced me that this city by the lake really could offer all the access to outdoor adventure that I was looking for. As usual, she was right.

Tell us about COGGS. When was it founded? What is its mission?

COGGS (The Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores) was founded in 1994 as a social cycling club. In 1999, COGGS, in partnership with the International Mountain Bike Association, built the Pokegema trail in Superior, the first official mountain bike trail in the Twin Ports area. Since then, the mission of COGGS has been dedicated to developing and maintaining world-class mountain biking opportunities for all in the Twin Ports.

How long have you been in your current role?

I’m coming up on my first year as Executive Director of COGGS. Prior to that, I served on the board for two years, and worked on the COGGS trail crew for two seasons before that.

Has mountain biking always been a passion of yours? How did you get started?

I was probably 6 or 7 when my mom brought me to a park in Madison where she took our dog for walks. Local riders had been building trails and jumps in the park for years, and it didn’t take long before my friends and I were riding down to the park every day after school, shovels in hand, trying our best to build the jumps and trails we saw in bike magazines and movies. I went to college in Gunnison, Colorado and had the opportunity to travel the country, racing bikes as part of the Mountain Sports Team. Bike shops and mountain biking have always been my way to meet new people. Mountain biking is one of those universal languages that can help you build community anywhere you go.

What makes Duluth an ideal destination for mountain biking?

Duluth is truly a gift to outdoor recreation lovers, no matter your activity of choice. We have amazing terrain, incredible access to public green space and trails that connect almost every neighborhood in town. For mountain bikers, we have opportunities for riders of every skill and experience level, from the rolling flow trails of Lester Park and Mission Creek, to the rocky, jump-filled hillsides of Piedmont and the lift-accessible gravity trails at Spirit Mountain. If you have the time and the energy, you can ride over 100 miles of purpose built, mountain bike-optimized single-track in one day without ever leaving the city limits.

What are some of the events COGGS has coming up?

The Bike Duluth Festival, July 19-21 features a full menu of mountain bike races, new bike demos, live music and events for riders of all ages and experience levels. Last year saw almost 1,000 racers participate over the course of the weekend.

The Race Across Duluth, September 7, is another incredible event, taking riders from Lester Park, all the way across the city and ending at Chambers Grove. This is a great way to ride the whole 45-mile Duluth Traverse spine. Entry includes 4-5 aid stations and a post-ride lunch or dinner depending on what time you finish.

What is a typical day like for you as Executive Director of COGGS?

One of my favorite aspects of this job is the wide range of roles and responsibilities I get to take on. My mornings are usually spent at one of our fantastic local coffee shops, working on grant applications or new project proposals. I serve as the project manager when we have maintenance or new construction contractors working on the trails. I meet regularly with the parks departments in Duluth and Superior, as well as the Duluth Devo youth mountain bike program to make sure our trails meet the needs of our growing community. On really good days, I get to spend some time in the excavator building and maintaining these wonderful trails. At the end of the day, I still feel like a kid just building jumps in the woods with my friends.

For someone mountain biking in Duluth for the first time, what is a “must ride” trail?

With such a variety of trails, it’s too hard to pick just one. Indigenous Land in Mission Creek offers great views, beautiful terrain and miles of rolling single track. On the other side of town, Hawk Ridge is the most technical, rocky section of the Duluth Traverse, and rewards riders with unobstructed views of Lake Superior and Canal Park, and a sense of just how lucky we are to live in a city that has prioritized protecting these public natural spaces.

When you’re not on the trails, how do you like to spend your time in Duluth?

My two kids keep me pretty busy! We spend as much time as we can just enjoying the natural beauty of Duluth. When I have time, I love to fish the local trout streams, many of which are accessible right from the trails. On rainy days we love to visit the otters, Agate and Ore, at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Duluth with guests from out of town?

Most of our guests these days are here to enjoy the trails, and I am always happy to play tour guide. Park Point and the restaurants and breweries across town are usually on the agenda, and we never miss a chance to stop for ice cream at Love Creamery or the PortLand Malt Shoppe.

Posted on June 18, 2024