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Construction hums in preparation for November opener of DL Mountain

By Kristin Miller

While basking in the summer sun and enjoying the long Fourth of July weekend, it might be hard to think about anything to do with winter.

However, at the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, construction has been in full swing, with crews working to get the park ready for its November opening.

Downhill and cross-country ski runs, a terrain park for snowboarders, a tubing hill, mountain bike trails and a ski lodge are all coming along on schedule, according to DMRA General Manager Jeff Staley.

“Our target is to be open the Friday after Thanksgiving,” he said. The opening date has been planned to take full advantage of the holiday weekend’s potential to bring in guests.

Mountain taking shape

Construction staff has been working hard over the last few months and all around the mountain projects are coming together.

Ski lifts will be soon be put in place. The materials have been delivered, and plans are set to have the lifts begin to go up on Monday.

Workers have also been making progress on the runs themselves. Ski terrain from the mountain’s previous operation is being used, but given a face-lift.

“They’re all the same ski-runs, but they’ve been improved,” Staley said. These improvements include changes to the pitch and angle of the runs, along with general touch-ups on the terrain. All the work on the runs aims to give skiers a better ride.

Nordic and cross-country ski trails already on the property were found to be in pretty good shape, Staley said, and will also be ready for the park’s opening.

Another of DMRA’s feature projects, the ski lodge, is nearing completion. Much of the primary work on the building is done, and Staley said the next step is to begin adding internal features such as the kitchen. They will also be working on landscaping around the building.

Other structural projects include a maintenance building, which will be used to house the large equipment needed to keep the mountain running. A ski patrol building is going up with the help of ski patrol volunteers, and the Detroit Lakes Jaycees are pitching in on the construction of a warming hut for the tubing hill.

One feature that the old incarnation of Detroit Mountain didn’t offer was year-round recreation. However, beginning in the spring of 2015, visitors will be able to enjoy Minnesota’s beautiful summers to the fullest with a mountain bike course and hiking trails.

DMRA has hired Arkansas-based trail engineers Progressive Trail Design, which is currently completing a similar project in Duluth.

“They’ll relocate here in August,” he said about the company’s force of trail designers and builders. After their relocation, they will begin working on the course, which is set to include gravity feed trails as well as a skills park.

One area connection to be featured in the mountain bike park is reclaimed wood taken from recent renovations inside the Bison Sports Arena in Fargo.

Catwalks which once hung high above the arena’s floor were set to be replaced during the renovation. ICSS Design & Supply in Fargo, which purchased the old walks, donated sections of the wood to DMRA.

“I’m an avid mountain biker,” said Seth Carlson, owner of ICSS, adding it was that passion which influenced his decision to donate. Those sections will be used as a part of the skills course, challenging riders’ balance and agility.

Anticipation grows

The buzz around the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area has been building steadily, and Staley said there’s a lot of “pent-up energy” in Detroit Lakes and surrounding communities regarding the November opening.

“Different groups are beginning to contact us,” he said. Schools and church groups have already been inquiring about possible field trips to the recreation area. Staley also said they’ve had interest from people wanting to book weddings and other events in the lodge.

They’ve even had interest from Fargo-based sporting goods store Scheels All Sport for potential bus service from Fargo to DMRA on weekends during the winter.

Staley anticipates that DMRA will offer a unique experience for visitors. Not just for those who come to the mountain to ski or bike, but for the community as a whole to utilize for relaxation and socialization.

He expects that people will “come back to the lodge and sit on the deck” after a day on the bike trails, or come during the winter months to enjoy a cup of coffee and take in all the activity on the mountain.

Employment, funding fall into place

DMRA has only hired a few staff people, but in coming months it will begin adding jobs to the Detroit Lakes community.

“Currently there’s just three of us on staff,” Staley said. He, along with Dave Sontag as the mountain manager and Shelly Stowman as the marketing, events and snowsports director, are the only employees so far, but that will soon be changing.

Staley said they plan to hire other year-round employees in the next few months, and he expects a job fair will be held in October for seasonal full- and part-time workers. He projects that DMRA will employ as many as 75 people during its busy winter season.

They will also be bringing in ski-instructors to educate new staff, with the goal of eventually being able to offer lessons to area skiers.

As a nonprofit, DMRA has relied on donations to fund its construction projects. It has raised nearly $7 million, and Staley said they’re just $350,000 short of their ultimate goal. He said they’ve seen strong support from the city and surrounding community.

DMRA well worth the wait

Above all, Staley said that DMRA will function as a way to get people in the area up, moving and enjoying the outdoors.

He said that their goal as a nonprofit organization is to “improve the overall health and wellness of our community” and “provide access and opportunity” for outdoor recreation to residents and visitors.

DMRA plans to host a public open house and ribbon cutting ceremony over the Labor Day weekend to showcase the progress they’ve made on the mountain. More details on the scheduling of the event will be set in upcoming weeks.

Staley shares the community’s anticipation for the park’s opening. In the meantime, he encourages people to get out and take advantage of the many other recreation opportunities the Detroit Lakes area has to offer.

With strong community interest in outdoor sports and recreation, Staley expects that the mountain will appeal to a wide range of guests.

“I think it’s going to be hugely successful based on the interest so far,” he said.

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