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Club saves Chester Bowl summer program

The Chester Bowl Improvement Club has come to the rescue again. First, it saved Chester Bowl's popular winter ski program after it was lost to city cutbacks last year. Now the club is taking over the summer youth program that was also eliminated....

Thom Storm
Thom Storm is back at Chester Bowl to run the summer youth program. But instead of doing it for the city of Duluth, he'll be working for the Chester Bowl Improvement Club. Preparing for the June 15 program start, he'll soon be taking the summer equipment out of storage. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com

The Chester Bowl Improvement Club has come to the rescue again.

First, it saved Chester Bowl's popular winter ski program after it was lost to city cutbacks last year. Now the club is taking over the summer youth program that was also eliminated.

"We're trying to provide a safe, healthy and friendly environment for the kids of Duluth," said Mark Berns, the club's board chairman. "Somebody needs to step up and do it."

But instead of the free summer program long enjoyed in the past, the club will have to charge participants this summer to cover operating costs.

"That's the wild card," said Thom Storm, the park's longtime manager who has been brought back to run the summer program.

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"Are people going to be willing to pay for something they've had free for 30 years?" he said. "So the whole thing is an experiment."

Thom, the architect behind the park's popular ski and summer programs, retired in 2007 after more than 30 years as the park's recreation specialist. He was back working there part time last year when staff was laid off.

Storm said he offered to help with this summer's program.

"I knew they were in a pinch," he said. "I'm willing to do this short-term to help stabilize things. Then they can look at what their options are for the long-term."

The program will run for nine weeks beginning June 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Similar to the previous program for children ages 5 to 12, children can go kayaking, canoeing and hiking as well as do arts and crafts, games, cooking and field trips.

"At Chester Bowl, it's different from other areas of the city where houses are across the street," explained Storm, describing the program as a day camp.

The club will charge a $25 registration fee, plus a $10 donation per child per day or $15 per day for families. Optional out-of-town field trips using a rented bus will carry extra charges.

The program will accommodate up to 40 children a day. That compares to an average daily attendance of 44 children last year.

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The club will offer scholarships to those who can't afford the fees and donations.

The city's negotiations with the YMCA and some other nonprofits to provide youth programming at other city recreational centers have hit snags. So the partnership with Chester Bowl Improvement Club was good news for city leaders who want the community to fill the void left by budget cuts.

"We want our parks to be well used," Mayor Don Ness said. "The grass-roots efforts by the Chester Park neighborhood is a great model."

Registration will be done in two-week intervals. But if there are openings, children can come for a day or two at a time. More information about the program will be posted at www.chesterbowl.org by Memorial Day or call Chester Bowl Community Recreation Center at (218) 724-9832.

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