Chester Bowl 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 (CBIC) 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, the CBIC 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 the CBIC.
The Vision Statement of the CBIC is “To promote sustainable, quality programs for all Chester Bowl Park users in a healthy and safe environment.” While Chester Bowl is a City of Duluth park, all of the programs at the park are operated by the CBIC. The CBIC 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.
The CBIC 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. The CBIC 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. The CBIC believes that anyone who wants to ski or snowboard should be able to, and it consistently makes this possible. In addition to the $19,000 in scholarships awarded for the 2018/2019 winter, the CBIC provides free lessons to those participating in its winter program. This past winter there were over 1,200 rentals for the season, along with a record 1,880 season pass holders. Skiers, both adults and children, use the equipment at Chester Bowl, as well as at one of the six additional ski areas (Spirit Mountain, Giants Ridge, Mont du Lac, Lutsen, Mount Ski Gull, 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 six ski and snowboard races that are tremendously popular with children. Skiing is known as an expensive sport, but at Chester Bowl we remove those financial barriers.
During the summer months the CBIC operates 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 65 campers, nearly 183 children ages 6-12 are attending at least one of our programming days this year. Camp runs Mondays through Thursdays for 11 weeks of summer, and families can sign up for whatever number of days works for them, choosing from any of the available days. 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 $8000 in summer scholarships this past year. Also during the summer, the CBIC hosts the Chester Creek Concerts Series at Chester Bowl; nearly 500 people attended the outdoor concerts each week in 2019. And approximately 10,000 people take advantage of Chester Bowl 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 sponsored by the CBIC 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 2018, more than 8,000 people attended the festival. The CBIC also rents out the Thom Storm Chalet to local organizations and families for their events.
The CBIC 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. The CBIC was a key stakeholder in the Chester Bowl 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 Duluth Area Family YMCA houses its popular Camp Kitchigami at Chester Bowl, and the Chester Bowl fields are used by softball, soccer, lacrosse, and Ultimate Frisbee teams, as well as many others. As mentioned earlier, we work cooperatively with four other local ski areas, offering free visits to their season pass holders, while our members receive one free visit 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 CBIC Board of Directors has 11 members; the current CBIC Board Chair is Chris Hill. 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 Operations Manager, and is responsible for directly implementing and supervising the programmatic offerings of the CBIC. There are eight summer seasonal paid employees for Summer Camp. There are approximately 30 winter seasonal paid employees each season, including the chairlift operators and ski and snowboard instructors. Chester Bowl relies heavily on volunteer contributions, with over 5400 documented volunteer hours from parents just over the past winter! Other winter volunteers included 12 freestyle cadets and 45 ski and snowboard cadets; the cadets are typically middle-school students who assist with the winter and summer programs, providing them with excellent leadership opportunities.