Chester Park is one of Duluth’s greatest treasures. A forested, hilly oasis in the Central Hillside neighborhood, the park has provided a safe and welcoming environment for generations of Minnesotans in which to enjoy the great outdoors. The Chester Bowl Improvement Club (Chester Bowl) began in 1980 and was established as a State of Minnesota non-profit 501(c)(3) in 1982 to support programming for the thousands of users of the City of Duluth managed Chester Bowl Park. In 2008, Chester Bowl took over daily operations of Chester Bowl Park when the City was no longer able to commit financial resources to programming in the park. The City is responsible for maintenance of the grounds and facilities, but all programming staff are employed by Chester Bowl.
The Vision Statement of Chester Bowl is “To promote sustainable, quality programs for all Chester Bowl Park users in a healthy and safe environment.” While Chester Park is a City of Duluth park, all of the programs at the park are operated by Chester Bowl. Chester Bowl has a number of goals and objectives. It seeks to promote healthy living through a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities. It aims to serve individuals and families from all socio-economic backgrounds. It strives to offer a friendly and safe environment to learn skiing and snowboarding. It works to help teenagers gain confidence and leadership skills while furnishing a positive space in which to hang out. And it endeavors to provide year-round programming and events for people of all ages. In the process of providing this programming, we create a true community of Park Users recreating together in a peaceful, respectful environment.
Chester Bowl runs programs year-round. During the winter, it operates a popular downhill ski and snowboard area that has enabled generations of Minnesotans to learn to ski and snowboard. Chester Bowl has furthered its vision of a healthy Duluth by purchasing and then renting hundreds of pairs of skis, poles, snowboards, boots, and helmets at a minimal cost to users, and for those who cannot afford the modest expense, there are scholarships. Chester Bowl believes that anyone who wants to ski or snowboard should be able to, and it consistently makes this possible. In addition to the $32,000 in scholarships awarded for the 2021/2022 winter, Chester Bowl provides free lessons to those participating in its winter program. This past winter there were over 1,200 rentals for the season, along with over 1,800 season pass holders. Skiers, both adults and children, use the equipment at Chester Bowl, as well as at one of the seveb additional ski areas (Spirit Mountain, Giants Ridge, Mont du Lac, Lutsen, Mount Ski Gull, Whitecap Resort, and Mount Ashwabay) to which their Chester Bowl pass entitles them to a free or reduced cost day on the slopes. The chalet at Chester Bowl maintains an inexpensive food service for users of the ski area, and the CBIC sponsors ski and snowboard races that are tremendously popular with children. Freestyle Fridays give instruction and competition in the terrain park. Skiing and snowboarding are known as expensive sports, but at Chester Bowl we remove those financial barriers.
During the summer months Chester Bowloperates a day camp, the Chester Bowl Day Camp. Our unofficial motto is that “we promise to return your child tired, happy, and dirty.” With a daily capacity of 84 campers, nearly 200 different children ages 6-12 attending at least one of our programming days last summer. Camp runs Mondays through Thursdays for 10 weeks of summer, and families can sign up for whatever number of weeks works for them, and can choose from camp sites of Lower Chester, Middle Chester, and Upper Chester. The day camp takes advantage of Chester Bowl’s natural environment while also sponsoring field trips to locations such as City and State Parks and the Duluth Public Library. Honoring our commitment to have anyone participate in our programs regardless of ability to pay, we awarded over $6.400 in summer scholarships last year, the equivalent of 200 days of camp!. Also during the summer, Chester Bowl partners with the City of Duluth to host the Chester Creek Concerts Series at Chester Bowl; an average of 535 people attended the outdoor concerts each week in 2021. And approximately 10,000 people take advantage of Chester Park every year to play softball and soccer, to hike or ski its cross-country trails, to walk their dogs, to enjoy a picnic by its creek, to use its playground equipment, or to dryland train (for skiing, but without snow).
The Fall Festival organized by Chester Bowl is tremendously popular, with its booths featuring the work of local artists and the produce of local farmers, and the Chester Bowl stage featuring a number of musical acts. In 2021, more than 9,000 people attended the festival. Chester Bowl also rents out the Thom Storm Chalet to local organizations and families for their events.
Chester Bowl works closely with the City of Duluth Parks and Recreation Department, and it supports and cooperates with numerous organizations that share our mission of providing healthy, quality programs for the general public. Chester Bowl was a key stakeholder in the Chester Park Mini-Master Plan through Parks and Recreation that was passed in November 2014. The Duluth-Superior Alpine Club uses Chester Bowl for dryland training, and many members of the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club (DXC) Nordic ski at Chester. The Chester Park fields are used by softball, soccer, lacrosse, and Ultimate Frisbee teams, as well as many others. As mentioned earlier, we work cooperatively with other local ski areas, offering free visits to their season pass holders, while our members receive specified numbers of free or reduced prices visits at each location. They are happy to work with us because they don’t see us direct competitors, but rather a feeder program that is bringing the next generation of skiers and snowboarders to their slopes.
The Chester Bowl Board of Directors has 11 members; the current Chester Bowl Board Chair is Jesse Singer. The Board is a working board, with volunteers giving significantly of their time. Executive Director Dave Schaeffer is responsible for fundraising, grant writing, partnerships with similar organizations, and PR/Marketing, as well as other similar behind the scenes supports. Sam Luoma is the Program Director, and is responsible for directly implementing and supervising the programmatic offerings of Chester Bowl. Sam Gravelle is the Program Assistant, working to support and implement all programming. There are nine summer seasonal paid employees for Summer Camp, and three AmeriCorps members. There are approximately 40 winter seasonal paid employees each season, including the chairlift operators and ski and snowboard instructors. Chester Bowl relies heavily on volunteer contributions, with over 5,000 documented volunteer hours from parents just over the past winter! Other winter volunteers included almost 50 Ski and Snowboard Cadets and another 50 Summer Camp Cadets; the Cadets are typically middle-school students who assist with the winter and summer programs, providing them with excellent leadership opportunities.