Chester Bowl Fall Fest — a fundraiser, so that all may skiChester Bowl Improvement Club will host its 29th annual Fall Festival at the ski hill in Chester Park, raising funds they intend to give to local skiers.
By: Jake La Jeunesse, Duluth Budgeteer News
Chester Bowl Improvement Club will host its 29th annual Fall Festival at the ski hill in Chester Park, raising funds they intend to give to local skiers. Last year the club gave away $10,000, more than $6000 of which came from this event. This made season passes to the ski hill and equipment accessible to nearly 50 families.
The event happens Saturday, Sept. 21.
“It absolutely changes families’ lives to be able to ski in the winter,” said Thom Storm, executive director of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club. Storm told of one family with five children where the whole family learned to ski — four children and the mother and father; an infant was too young. Storm said the mother reported that the family was able to enjoy time together and that the winter went by so much faster. The value of the scholarship for the family was more than $520 and included skis, helmets and poles.
“If you don’t give up on yourself,” said Storm, “we will be able to teach you to ski,” Storm said of teaching children with learning disabilities to ski. He said for some people learning to ski has been a “game changer.”
“All of a sudden, kids are getting ahead at school,” Storm said of the self-confidence learning to ski brings to children. “Winter’s not so bad when you’re having fun.”
“The ski hill has never turned anyone away,” said Ann Meyers, president of the Chester Bowl Improvement Club. This philosophy surfaces repeatedly as she describes the day-to-day operations of the park. She stresses the sense of community and camaraderie developed by the employees,
volunteers and participants. “Everybody knows your name,” she adds, commenting on the safe environment the ski hill promotes. “Parents can drop their fifth-grader off and know they’re in good hands.”
They intend for the annual scholarship to enhance that feeling shared by local skiers. Last year, 97 people new to skiing
became regular visitors. Those who receive the scholarship volunteer their time more often. In addition, other nearby parks benefit from Chester Bowl, which rents out equipment by the season for their skiers to use at any location they like.
Meyers, who lives near the park, visits frequently with her husband and two daughters. “You can come and ski ten rounds, and you leave feeling great.” The expense of skiing can be prohibitive, especially for families with growing children who need new equipment each year. However, through the funds raised at the Fall Festival, people gain full access to the sport without having to worry about the cost. Many families receive a full scholarship, which covers a seasonal ski pass and equipment rental, but others are satisfied with partial subsidization. This allows wider access to the funds, further increasing traffic through the hill. Meyers sees this as a benefit not only to Chester Bowl, but to all the parks in Duluth. Increased use of the parks rouses interest in maintaining them, which makes more people want to volunteer.
Still, she stresses that the purpose of the scholarship isn’t the benefit to the parks, the ski hill, or the Chester Bowl Improvement Club. “It’s about being a direct benefit to humankind. We’re not here for the hill. We’re here for the people.” The process of applying for the scholarship reflects this intent. The group doesn’t delve into financial details, and it doesn’t ask for tax forms or proof of debts. Putting their faith into the honesty of the community, the group offers a portion of the scholarship to anyone who feels they need it and asks them for help. While it may not bring in as much money as it gives away, the group never feels like it loses out on anything.
The Fall Festival makes full use of its resources. Local vendors set up shop to sell their art, which includes watercolors, recycled wool, floral arrangements and more. Two musical artists will share the stage, performing throughout the day, but often times, according to Meyers, the informal setting invites audience members to jam with the musicians. The kids can get their faces painted, and community organizations will also pay a small fee for the chance to spread their messages.
All of the proceeds that come from the vendors’ fees will go toward the scholarship, and the musicians have offered their services pro bono to help keep costs down. The Chester Bowl Improvement Club also suggests making a $2 donation to help further their cause.
Meyers can’t remember when the annual scholarship began but said, “It’s easy to envision this has been happening forever.” It began with the ski hill’s philosophy of not turning anyone away, and has succeeded for many years, even drawing in the out-of-town students from UMD and CSS, who don’t receive the scholarship, by word-of-mouth.
The Chester Bowl Improvement Club sponsors a number of activities throughout the year, including the Chester Bowl Adventure Camp for kids, which takes place during the summer, and Martin Luther King Day commemorative events.
Meyers says Chester Bowl is about “tons of fun and laughter and camaraderie among community members.”
The Fall Festival takes place on Saturday, September 21st at the Chester Park Ski Hill, and runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, but a $2 donation is suggested. A shuttle bus will run between the site and the fire hall on Junction Ave by UMD during that time.
Looking forward to the festival, Meyers added, “I hope to see you there.”