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Mt. Campaign picks up speed

Mark Fritz, who is in charge of fundraising for the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area project, speaks Thursday with the slopes of the former Detroit Mountain ski hill behind him. The public phase of fundraising has now started. BRIAN BASHAM/RECORD

With birds and dragonflies darting in the sunlight, and the long green of Detroit Mountain sloping down behind them, organizers with the Detroit Mountain Recreational Area laid out their plans Thursday for a first-class snow sport and mountain biking facility.

The media briefing attracting Fargo TV news crews as well as local media, and launched the public phase of a fundraising effort that so far has been very successful.

The entire project will cost about $7 million, and organizers have gone a long way towards meeting that goal: Some $4.8 million has been raised from businesses and individuals, and about $1 million in New Market Tax Credits has been committed to the project by the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation (MMCDC).

The City of Detroit Lakes has kicked in another $300,000.

Now organizers are hoping to raise the final $1 million from the public to clinch the deal and make the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area a reality.

To sweeten the pot, the Otto Bremer Foundation is providing $200,000 in 1-to-1 matching funds.

“So the next $200,000 in contributions will count double,” said Mark Fritz, a DMRA board member who leads the fundraising effort.

Detroit Lakes will own the land and provide oversight and management of the facility, said Mayor Matt Brenk.

“Much like Detroit Lakes is a regional summer hub, the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area will expand Detroit Lakes as a four-season destination,” he said at the news conference.

“The economic impact to the city and surrounding area will be tremendous, increasing tourism, bolstering our retail and service industries and providing potential new industry and manufacturing with another reason to locate in Detroit Lakes.”

Jeff Staley, president of the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Board, welcomed about two dozen people to the event, held next to the former Detroit Mountain ski lodge.

“For some of you, welcome back,” he said with a smile. “It’s been far too long, hasn’t it?”

The group later convoyed to the top of the 190-foot hill for a spectacular view of the city, the lakes and beyond.

An informational event was held later that evening for the public at Zorbaz.

“The vision of DMRA is to build a first-class four-season recreational destination on this, the old Detroit Mountain site,” Fritz told the media.

“We envision great purpose-built mountain bike trails and ride park,” he added, “with hiking trails and an awesome scenic overlook for summer visitors. In the winter, Detroit Mountain will be open for skiing and snowboarding, with terrain parks, cross country skiing and a super tubing hill.”

The ultimate goal, he said, is to make the community “an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The results of a “quiet” fundraising campaign that started last winter took even organizers by surprise.

About 200 businesses and individuals were asked to contribute.

“We’ve not been turned down a single time,” said Tom Hanson, owner of Zorbaz.

Well, not quite. “We were turned down twice,” said Fritz. “But they re-thought it and came back and contributed.”

The reality is, the fundraising work is far from finished, Fritz added.

“While we have climbed pretty high on the mountain, we still really need to raise this last $1 million,” he said.

It won’t be a cake-walk, he added.

“This is no slam dunk. Even though we are encouraged with the success we’ve had, we can’t proceed with part of a project. We need the financial support of the entire community to begin construction and see this dream of so many become a reality,” Fritz stated.

If the funding comes together as hoped, the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area will be open for skiing in the winter of 2014-2015 and biking in the summer of 2015, he said.

“When we first began this journey, to me this project was just about re-opening the ski hill,” Fritz said. “Like so many others, this is where I learned to ski, and as a result, skiing is one of my life’s passions.”

Detroit Mountain is where he taught his two oldest children to ski, he added. “Our dream is to be able to offer the same experience to everyone in our extended community once again.”

But as organizers looked into expanding the park into a four-seasons facility, they realized how many people a good mountain bike park could draw.

“We’ve seen the impact these types of ride centers have meant to both Crosby, Minn., and Copper Harbor, Mich.,” Fritz said, “both of which have opened purpose-built mountain bike trails in the last few years and have seen more than 25,000 biker visit days annually as a result.

“With what we are planning to build, along with the eventual completion of the Heartland Trail and nearby Mountain View Trails, Detroit Lakes can and will be a real biking destination.”

Asked by a reporter why the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area will succeed when the old ski operation didn’t survive, Fritz  said the new facility will have four to five times the snowmaking capability, and new technology allows snow to be made at warmer temperatures.

As a non-profit park, the new recreation area will also benefit from tax-free status, city support, and new infrastructure.

For example, the construction of a first-class mountain lodge, he said, that will be an inviting place for parents to enjoy while they watch their children on the slopes.

An independent feasibility study conducted by the MMCDC showed the new recreation area will succeed, as long as it’s managed well.

“You don’t need elevation,” Fritz said. “You need a comfortable lodge, great snow and you’ve got to take care of the customer — it’s all about customer experience.”

Donations to the project are tax deductible and can be made through the website,, or the Bring Back Detroit Mountain page on Facebook.

Links can also be found through Detroit Lakes Newspapers at and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce at