Soo Pass Ranch hosts chamber breakfast, annual meeting on Thursday

The Soo Pass Ranch — home of WE Fest — was the setting for the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting and breakfast on Thursday, May 11.

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The Soo Pass Ranch Saloon played host to about 50 Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce members on Thursday, May 11, 2023, for the chamber's annual meeting. They also served breakfast to the group.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — The Soo Pass Ranch, also known as the home of WE Fest, is gearing up for the country music festival's 40th-anniversary birthday bash in August.

But that doesn't mean the staff isn't willing to play host to a group of about 50 chamber members and guests. The Soo Pass was the site for the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting on Thursday, May 11.

The festivities began with a breakfast of eggs, hashbrowns, sausage and yogurt, as well as a choice of coffee, milk or orange juice, then continued with updates on not just WE Fest, but also other upcoming chamber events, and an introduction to some of the chamber's "new faces."

Chamber President Carrie Johnston noted that while the chamber hosts several events throughout the year, it is not in charge of all 3,000 events listed on its calendar for 2023.

She specifically mentioned three upcoming chamber events: Detroit Lakes' 26th Annual Festival of Birds, which runs from May 18-21; the launch of its popular monthly Cruise DL Night on Wednesday, June 14 (with additional dates on July 12, Aug. 9 and Sept. 13), and its annual Women's EDGE speaker series, which also launches on June 14 with special guest Renee Rongen, who will speak at 3 p.m. in the City Park Bandshell. For more information on any of these events, call the chamber at 218-847-9202.


Jackie Buboltz, the chamber's current board chair, gave an update on its three-year strategic plan, as well as its accomplishments over the past year. Some of the strategic plan's goals are to recruit new chamber members and retain existing ones; collaborate for business development and retention; and partner/collaborate with stakeholders to support regional tourism and tourism businesses.

Mark Bjerke, general manager of WE Fest, spoke about the festival's upcoming 40th anniversary (there was no WE Fest in 2020, which makes the 2023 show its 40th annual) and their plans for celebrating it.

"We are less than 100 days from WE Fest!" he exclaimed. "We have a big lineup ... we're sold out of all our VIP and reserved seating ... most of the camping is filled.

"Our biggest challenge this year is going to be (getting more) workers and volunteers," he added.

Blake Olson, the new owner and managing broker of Jack Chivers Realty, said in his brief remarks that his goal was to maintain the company's well-earned reputation in the community. With 14 agents on staff at its Detroit Lakes and Perham offices, Olson said, "It's a big business, but it doesn't feel like it."

Dale Story, the president of the Becker County Food Pantry's board of directors, talked about the food pantry's plans to move into its new building on Terry Street, hopefully in the fall, and about how fortunate the nonprofit has been to have the city of Detroit Lakes as its biggest sponsor over the past 40 years (like WE Fest, the food pantry is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year).

"We're hopefully going to have a new building this year," he said, adding that a groundbreaking ceremony has been set for May 24 at 1 p.m.

"Our (usage) numbers are increasing," Story added. "It's a good time for us to get into a new building."


He noted that, on average, there are 60-70 people visiting the pantry every day it's open, but they've gone as high as 90.

Devlyn Brooks, the new publisher of the Detroit Lakes Tribune, Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal, talked about how Minnesota has been losing its community newspapers — 25% of them have shuttered in the past 20 years — and the importance of people buying and subscribing to their local paper.

"We truly believe that it is your community newspaper," he said, adding that the staff has been working hard to bring local news to its readers.

Amy Stoller Stearns, the executive director of Detroit Lakes' newest nonprofit, Project 412, talked about some of the public art projects that they are working on in the community, from decorating seven of the city's public utility boxes (in conjunction with Detroit Lakes Public Utilities and the city's Arts and Culture Commission), to another joint project with the Historic Holmes Theatre that will bring multiple murals and other public art projects to the city.

"We received a Blandin Foundation grant to really infuse Detroit Lakes with color this summer," Stearns said of the mural project.

"Think of Project 412 as a community connector," she added, noting that they "are trying to do some really cool things."

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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