Last week I attended the "Beer with the Birkie" fundraiser event at Eau Claire Wisconsin. There were a lot of familiar faces whom I've seen annually at Hayward, or only read about in magazines and on various web pages. Let me be the first to tell you that this was a unique and wonderful event, and those of you who are on the fence should absolutely plan on attending the event in Iola on Wednesday the 17th.
Essentially what's going on is that the Birkie Board and Ben Popp are being very pro-active in taking steps to ensure the future of the American Birkebeiner. It's easy to sit back and think "well, that's a huge race...of course it's going to endure," but the reality is that the Birke has major challenges to overcome every year in order to be the greatest ski race in North America. Getting to the top is hard, but I'd say that staying at the top is even harder.
We all know of the various problems that Telemark has had over the years. Just imagine how stressful it must be to plan a major event like the American Birkebeiner and have there be some doubt over the availability or viability of your starting area. This isn't the type of event that allows you to make changes at the last minute, things need to be in place and ready to roll months in advance. Also, the logistics not just for the racers, but for emergency and first response vehicles is a huge concern for an event like this. Add in the fact that the Birkie takes place in winter (with the additional complications of cold weather and storms) and you maybe start to get a picture of how much planning goes into this event. Having helped to organize some smaller events myself, I can't even imagine what Ben Popp and the Birkie Board of directors have to deal with.
Essentially what's going on right now is that the Birkie is generating some funds to stabilize some of the factors which have been a concern over the last few years. They're strengthening the foundation of the race and setting up the future so that the Birkie might continue with the fewest complications possible. As a participant and fan of the Birkie, I absolutely love to see this happening. This is one of those rare cases where the people involved are going above and beyond the call of duty and are putting forth a ton of effort into an intelligent and well-conceived plan.
The "Beer with the Birkie" night in Eau Claire was a celebration at the Northwoods Brew Pub in Eau Claire Wisconsin. Drinks and food were served, and we had plenty of time to mingle with other skiers and Birkie fans. After that, Ben Popp and John Garret walked us through some of the Birkie's immediate objectives. The fun stuff happened at the end when various prizes were auctioned off (including a special, lifetime annual entry package to all Birkie events). According to Amy Rowley's recap, the Birkie office raised $16,670 just for that evening!
The current fundraiser has a goal of $650,000, and they're already 37% of the way there! The Birkie office is very transparent about what this money is for (just go to the web page, or attend the event at Iola for more details). If you want to participate and donate something to the Birkie, the best thing to do is go to the event at Iola (tickets are $50). However, if you simply want to make a cash donation, feel free to contact Amy Rowley and ask how you might help out (email@example.com). They also have a charitable contribution form you can fill out here.
At the Eau Claire event, they mentioned that a recent study concluded that the economic impact of the American Birkebeiner resulted in an influx of 32 million dollars annually to our region. That is a staggering figure, and this race is truly a cultural and economic treasure. I know that CyclovaXC likely wouldn't be in operation were it not for the American Birkebeiner. But the financial impact of this race is such a small part of it. I'm very grateful for the friends I've made through the Birkie and the good times we've shared together. The Birkie is the event that I circle on the calendar every year. It is gratifying to see that the people in charge of the event are working so hard to preserve it. They are doing excellent work.
If you would like more details as to what this campaign is all about, read this excellent article titled "Honoring the Legacy: Ensuring the Future" on the Birkie web page.