Year-Round Family Fun
Duluth’s Chester Bowl Belongs to Everyone
Chester Bowl, a 117-acre park, is an oasis of fun, entertainment, sports, and play in the middle of the city of Duluth. Their vision statement is “To promote sustainable, quality programs for all Chester Bowl Park users in a healthy and safe environment.”
Executive Director Dave Schaeffer is responsible for fundraising, grant writing, partnerships with similar organizations and PR/Marketing. Before starting with Chester Bowl in 2014, he worked for the Great Lakes Aquarium and Mentor Duluth.
“My wife, daughter and I live just at the edge of the park. I feel lucky to be able to walk to work. No matter the time of the year, the park is always busy,” said Schaeffer. “Chester Bowl belongs to all of us.”
Sam Luoma, Chester Bowl’s Program Director, born and raised in Duluth, recalls coming to Chester Bowl to snowboard when he was in high school. He started at Chester Bowl as a volunteer, joined the Board of Directors in 2008, and came on as Program Director in 2014.
“The Park can be enjoyed on so many different levels—for its beautiful waterfalls, trails, playground, ski hills, year-round activities and so much more,” Luoma said.
With their three full-time employees and over 60 part-time employees over the year for various programs, they seek to promote healthy living through a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities. Providing year-round programming and events for people of all ages, they are “creating a true community of park users in a peaceful, respectful environment.”
According to their website, “The Chester Bowl Improvement Club (Chester Bowl) began in 1980 and established as a State of Minnesota non-profit 501(c)(3) in 1982 to support programming for the thousands of users of the park.”
Approximately 10,000 people take advantage of Chester Park every year to play softball and soccer, hike or ski its cross-country trails, walk their dogs, enjoy a picnic by its creek, use its playground equipment, or dry land train (for skiing, but without snow).
Best known for its alpine hill and its youth downhill ski program, with a double chair lift and a 175-foot drop, Chester Bowl is able to handle up to 960 skiers and snowboarders per hour.
“I love seeing parents learning to ski themselves and to see them enjoying time together at Chester Bowl with their kids,” said Schaeffer.
Other fun winter activities include free small group lessons, Freestyle Fridays and an Alpine Race Series. With a season or day pass, children and adults receive a chair-lift pass, and take part in lessons or other ski programs.
Pass options include day passes for children and adults, Minnesota 4th grader passes, and partner organization passes from Spirit Mountain, Mont du Lac, Giants Ridge, Lutsen, Mount Ashwabay, or Mount Ski Gull that give participants lift tickets at Chester Bowl.
Season passes for this current season were: Individual Season Pass- $80 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax); Family of 2 Season Pass- $160 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax); Family 3+ Season Pass- $200 (plus $100 volunteer deposit & tax)
Each family paying a volunteer deposit of $100 are then responsible to complete 6 or 12 volunteer hours (depending on the amount of equipment rented). By completing their volunteer hours and returning their rental gear, individuals or families get their deposit back and are eligible to be among the first to get signed up for equipment fittings before the next year’s season.
Chester Bowl’s equipment rental model is to rent gear out for the entire season, with renters able to use the equipment at Chester Bowl, as well as at any other hills.
For those families who cannot afford season passes and rentals, partial or full scholarships are available. Every request is approved. Chester Bowl’s goal is never to let a family’s financial situation interfere with their ability to ski or snowboard.
Over 100 families each year are able to participate because of the scholarships, and about 15 percent of the program fees are covered by those scholarships. Scholarship funds are raised through Fall Fest gate donations, other events, fundraisers, personal and business donations, and grants.
Last winter, Chester Bowl awarded $32,500 in winter scholarships to over 100 different families, and they awarded $18,550 in summer camp scholarships.
Volunteers Make the Difference
“We are so lucky to have so many volunteers who give thousands of hours all year to help us to run our programs and to maintain the park. Whether it is selling concessions, doing hill cleanup, or helping to run one of our programs, our volunteers, including our Board members, are here to help,” said Schaeffer.
Summer Days at Chester
Things at Chester Bowl are hopping year-round, not just in the busy winter season. During the summer months, they operate the Chester Bowl Day Camp. Their unofficial motto is that “we promise to return your child tired, happy and dirty.”
With a daily capacity of 84 campers, nearly 200 different children ages 6-12 attended at least one of their programming days last summer.
Camp runs Mondays through Thursdays for 10 weeks of summer. Families can sign up for whatever number of weeks works for them and can choose from campsites of Lower Chester, Middle Chester, and Upper Chester.
The day camp takes advantage of the park’s natural environment, while also sponsoring field trips to locations such as other City and State Parks and the Duluth Public Library.
Another summer favorite is the Chester Creek Concert Series, in partnership with the City of Duluth. Offering free Tuesday night concerts with a lineup of popular musicians and a food truck onsite at Chester Bowl, people can enjoy seeing friends and neighbors and sharing beautiful summer evenings.
The Fall Festival organized by Chester Bowl is tremendously popular, with over 130 vendor booths. Festival goers enjoy the live music, food, fresh produce and locally-made crafts.
In 2022, with their 37th annual Fall Festival, they raised almost $9,000 for their scholarship fund.
Chester Bowl is offering Fall Camp over MEA break again in 2023. Following the same model as summer camp, Fall Camp is based on a philosophy of nature play, positive social interaction with peers, teen mentors, and adult staff, and immersion in nature.
Camp is open to children who are at least 6 years old OR are currently enrolled in kindergarten, up to 7th grade. Full and partial scholarships are also available for the Fall Camp.
Party at the Chalet
The Thom Storm Chalet at Chester Bowl Park is a great location for birthday parties, graduation parties, small weddings and other group activities. The basic rental rate is $75 for the first hour and $25 per additional hour. Non-profits looking for a space for meetings or retreats can also use the Chalet for $15 per hour.
The main Chalet space seats up to about 50 comfortably, with the most common seating configuration using the three long folding picnic tables The space also includes a small kitchen prep area (fridge, freezer, sink, microwave, and counters, but no stove or oven).
“Peace in the Park”
Chester Bowl is founded on their “Peace in the Park” guidelines based on the guiding principle “that everyone has the right to participate in our programs in a safe, peaceful, caring environment where each person is respected. We believe in resolving conflicts without yelling or fighting and being a place where everyone can feel comfortable and safe . . . We expect the people in our programs to welcome each other, watch out for each other and demonstrate caring towards each other.”
One Chester Bowl parent said, “There are so many wonderful stories to share about Chester Bowl, but they all boil down to one thing: community. Everybody is friends at Chester Bowl, everyone’s a winner at Chester Bowl, and everyone looks out for each other at Chester Bowl. Chester Bowl, and programs like it, strengthen our community and our relationships with one another.”
Aaron R., another parent, stated, “I love so much about Chester, and I'm so grateful for the place, the staff, the people, and the work of the CBIC. I don't know how else to say it, but it is so huge in my heart. If you ever want to watch me get teary, get me started on the kind of community I see there and feel a part of whenever I'm there. I've never seen anything like it, and wish every kid in the world had the chance to grow up in a place like this.”
For more information, call (218) 724-9832 or visit their website at chesterbowl.org