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'Shift Gears Saturdays' offers free, guided bike rides on trails for families

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After a busy week of work or school, bicyclists are invited to "shift gears" and enjoy a change of scenery during a new series of guided bike rides on Minnesota state trails - including four rides along the Central Lakes Trail in the Alexandria lakes area.

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Starting in May, which is National Bike Month, these free rides will introduce cyclists of all ages and abilities to the scenic, traffic-free, relatively flat, paved trails that helped earn Minnesota the distinction of "Best Trails State" in the country.

Riders should bring their own bicycles and helmets. Rides are two hours long. The pace will be moderate to accommodate riders of all abilities.

The "Shift Gears Saturdays" series, planned and organized by the Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division, will kick off with a ride at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 19, on the Gateway State Trail in the Twin Cities.

Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, will guide the ride with a naturalist from Fort Snelling State Park. They will stop along the way to point out wildflowers and other signs of spring, discuss the history of the Gateway State Trail and provide safety tips.

Riders will also have the opportunity to cruise over two newly constructed trail bridges at Manning Avenue and Century Avenue.

To reserve a spot and find out where to meet, call (612) 725-2724. Those who arrive early can receive assistance with helmet fitting and minor bicycle adjustments.

The "Shift Gears Saturdays" series will include 17 guided rides on eight of Minnesota's 25 state trails this spring and summer. Rides will all take place from 10 a.m. to noon on the following Saturdays:

• May 19: Gateway State Trail (St. Paul).

• June 2: Gateway State Trail (St. Paul).

• June 2: Central Lakes State Trail (Alexandria).

• June 16: Great River Ridge State Trail (Elgin).

• June 16: Central Lakes State Trail (Fergus Falls).

• June 16: Willard Munger State Trail (Sandstone).

• July 7: Central Lakes State Trail (Alexandria).

• July 7: Willard Munger State Trail (Carlton).

• July 14: Minnesota Valley State Trail (Shakopee).

• July 21: Central Lakes State Trail (Fergus Falls).

• July 21: Douglas State Trail (Douglas).

• August 4: Heartland State Trail (Dorset).

• August 4: Central Lakes State Trail (Alexandria).

• August 4: Willard Munger State Trail (Carlton).

• August 18: Central Lakes State Trail (Fergus Falls).

• August 18: Root River State Trail (Whalan).

• September 1: Central Lakes State Trail (Alexandria).

Advance registration is required for some of these events. Participants should bring their own bike and helmet (or check exploreminnesota.com for nearby rental options).

Anyone traveling from out of town and seeking overnight accommodations can get information about campsites and cabins at nearby Minnesota state parks and recreation areas by visiting mndnr.gov/reservations or by calling 1-866-857-2757 (TTY (952) 936-4008) between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit mndnr.gov (dnr.state.mn.us/biking/events.html), or call the DNR Information Center toll-free, 1-888-646-6367 (TTY (651) 296-5484 or 1-800-657-3929) between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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