The St. Louis & Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority was established in 1985 after it was made public that the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range (DM & IR) Railroad planned to sell the railway line between Two Harbors MN and Duluth MN, known as the "Lake Front Line". Reacting to this situation, St. Louis County Commissioners and Lake County Commissioners met to determine what could be done to preserve this historic, scenic railway line along the shores of Lake Superior.
The St. Louis and Lake Counties Board of County Commissioners signed a joint powers agreement and established themselves as a Regional Railroad Authority (RRA), which is a political subdivision of the State of Minnesota, organized under M.S. 398A. The board is composed of three commissioners from St. Louis County and two commissioners from Lake County. The chairperson of their respective county boards appoints these commissioners annually each January. Regional Railroad Authorities have both levying and bonding power. The statutory mission of Regional Railroad Authorities is "to protect and preserve abandoned railway for future transportation purposes".
The St. Louis & Lake Counties Regional Railroad Authority was successful in securing the title to and the refurbishing of the Lake Front Line. Since 1990, the RRA, through private contractors, has leased the rail line for operation as a tourist train known as the North Shore Scenic Railroad which operates during warm weather months between Duluth and Two Harbors.
Shortly thereafter, the RRA began to look at other opportunities to preserve railway for future transportation purposes. At the same time several companies which operated railways on the Iron Range area of northern Minnesota were looking at abandonment of their lines. In an effort to preserve the right-of-way before the line became parceled off, the RRA began to research the possibility of a rail-to-trail alignment. With strong community interest and support, the concept of a trail connecting the communities between Grand Rapids and Ely commenced.