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Birkie Launches 5-Year Fundraising Campaign to Ensure Race’s Future

Entering its 42nd year, the American Birkebeiner is doing everything it can to ensure Birkie fever continues, recently launching its first capital fundraising campaign to do so.

According to Tom Held of SilentSports.net, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ASBF) is seeking $2.3 million to buy land for a permanent start area — securing some 75 acres of Telemark property — improve its 107 k trail system, and build an outdoor recreation center.

Start of the American Birkebeiner around the 1980s.

Start of the American Birkebeiner around the 1980s.

Annually, the Birkie makes slightly more than $1 million, according to ABSF Executive Director Ben Popp. That goes toward covering event expenses and annual trail maintenance, but is not enough to fund large-scale improvements.

“Over the past 12 months, in collaboration with the board of directors, I completed a 5-year strategic plan for the A.B.S.F., Popp wrote in a press release. “We have acknowledged the greatest risks to the foundation, as well as identified key opportunities that will create stability and increase our reach.”

The Birkie’s five-year campaign, “Honoring the Legacy – Ensuring the Future,” began Nov. 1 at the Rivers Eatery in Cable, Wis., a few miles away from the race’s historic start at Telemark Resort. At the kickoff fundraiser, more than 100 supporters jumpstarted the campaign, bringing its total up to more than $192,000, Held reported.

By the 2015 Birkie on Feb. 21, the ABSF aims to have raised $650,000 to complete phase one: securing a start area “built to last for next 100+ years – with permanent access,” according to Birkie.com, including a “large warm area/building,” additional pre-race facilities for water, bathrooms, etc., more convenient bus drop-offs, and year-round trail access to the Birkie course.

Phase one also includes finish-line improvements, such as “indoor changing facilities and food, easier gear bag layout, increased medical facilities,” and better traffic flow for spectators.

Held reported that, the ABSF planned to spend about $115,000 on buying roughly 75 acres of the Telemark Resort property, which would serve as a new start line for the 50 k Birkebeiner and 26 k Kortelopet.

The races attract more than 10,000 skiers annually, and traditionally starts on the runway at the Cable Municipal Airport, crossing Telemark property for the first few kilometers.

“Working with the current ownership group at Telemark, we have been given the opportunity to purchase a section of land to build out a permanent start line at Telemark,” Popp stated in the release.

According to Held, the ABSF reached a tentative deal with Clifton Lewis, who bought the Telemark property at a foreclosure sale a year ago. The foundation also plans to build a storage building that doubles as a warming hut.

“Additionally, in cooperation with the DOT, County, City and other interest groups, we will be able to re-construct the ‘International Bridge’ made famous by Tony Wise, this time in downtown Hayward, reducing traffic congestion, creating an improved flow for safety vehicles (and spectators), as well as providing access to services and infrastructure that improve safety and experience for all participants,” Popp wrote.

Popp estimated the start-line renovations would be completed by 2016 or 2017, but the finish-line improvements — with a skier bridge over Highway 63 and indoor food and changing areas in Hayward — were should be complete by the 2015 Birkie.

Phase two — which calls for $950,000 to improve the 107 k of Birkie Trail the ABSF maintains — is on the horizon for 2017. In addition to protecting the trail from erosion, the budget would also allow for installing water and potentially electricity at aide stations.

Phase three is the year-round outdoor recreation center for skiers, hikers and mountain bikers, set to cost about $650,000 and be complete by 2019.

The ABSF is holding its next fundraiser Nov. 20 at Borton Volvo in Golden Valley, Minn., with a live auction, prize giveaway, food, beer, and wine. Tickets are $50 each and the event is limited to 125 guests.

A second event will take place Dec. 4 at Stella Blues in Eau Claire, Wis., with $50 tickets limited to the first 90 guests.

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