The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation has launched an effort to secure a permanent home for the iconic ski race, seeking to raise $200,000 to $400,000 for land and the improvements that will become the start area for thousands of skiers.
Lapham Peak, in the town of Delafield, will be the starting point for the campaign and an effort to match a $20,000 donation from the Joe & Cheri Hoida Family Fund.
Ben Popp, the ski foundation’s executive director, will make his pitch Tuesday night at Birktoberfest, a dinner and gathering organized by Sandie Pendleton, Nelson Williams and other local skiers anxious to help secure the future of their winter pursuit. The dinner in the Hausmann Nature Center starts at 6:15, and features Caitlin Gregg, a two-time Birkie winner and member of the 2010 Olympic ski team. (Click here for details and registration).
Popp took over as the ABSF executive director in May and has made securing a permanent start area adjacent to the Telemark Lodge his top priority.
The first few kilometers of the Birkebeiner, from the airstrip on the Cable Municipal Airport, crosses over land owned by Telemark and others.
The uncertain future of the lodge – now closed and in foreclosure proceedings – and restrictions on the airport property threatens the long-standing arrangement.
Popp explained the goals of the campaign in a recent interview:
Dealing with Telemark: “Our goal is to have a permanent start area, whether it’s at Telemark or next to it or near it. We want a permanent home but we’re not going to tie it to the lodge. We want to have a great partnership, utilize the property and use it as an asset, but not be tied to the financial ups and downs of the lodge.
“That’s why purchasing a piece of land would be the best. We’re looking at buying a section of property from Telemark; that’s one option, a small sliver along the edge that would take us out to the power line.
“We project it will cost $200,000 to $400,000 to have a complete trail, either own it or have a perpetual easement.”
Invest in the lodge? “We have no interest in being tied to the lodge itself. We’re not in the hospitality business, running a lodge and restaurants. We’re in the business of maintaining a really great ski trail. We all agree, Telemark is a wonderful pace and a great asset, but has shown that it’s a difficult place to run effectively.”
Birkie Ridge Trail: Volunteers have nearly completed work on a new Birkebeiner trail head off Highway 63, near Boedecker Road. The area will have a warming shelter, parking lot, heated bathrooms and a three kilometer trail connecting to the main Birkebeiner Trail. This $25,000 trail head had been touted as a possible start area, but Popp prefers a Telemark option.
“It will be a great addition to the Birkie Trail system, and it could be used for events in the future. The county is looking forward to using some grant money to build this building. They look at it as a gateway for more recreational skiing, and mountain biking and running, to utilize this gold mine we have in the Birkie Trail. Our race goes from Cable to Hayward. If our backs were against the wall, we could use it, but it’s not our first choice. I bet we have eight to 12 options we’re looking at between Cable and Hayward as permanent solutions.
15,000? Popp has said in earlier interview that he projects the Birkebeiner growing from its current 10,300 participants to roughly 15,000. It won’t be easy.
“Ultimately, yes, we would like to grow the event. There are limiting factors, including water at food stops and how many people can we put in downtown Hayward, on Main St. How can we get more kids involved and how can we get more people do to the Prince Haakon (12K) a gateway event. One idea is put in a well at all the food stops. If that enables us over the long haul to service more people at aid stations, that’s great.
Race Across America lessons: In 2009, Popp completed the grueling Race Across America, the 3,000-mile bike race that puts competitors at the very threshold of their limits, confronting sleep deprivation, hallucinations, saddle sores and failed neck muscles.
“It helped me realize anything in life is possible if you believe you can do it. To me, initially riding 3,000 miles across the country in 10 days was unbelievable. Whether it’s creating a new event, or saying let’s finish the Kortelopet in Cable, why is that impossible? Let’s break it down into little pieces that are do-able. Let’s not say, never never or can’t can’t. Let’s see if there’s a way to overcome these issues.”