New adventure center opens for year-round activities at Wirth Park

The Park Board and the Loppet Foundation celebrated the historic opening of The Trailhead building in Theodore Wirth Park on July 17. Photos courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Loppet Foundation recently celebrated the opening of a new year-round outdoor recreation center at Theodore Wirth Regional Park, a facility nearly a decade in the making.

Known as The Trailhead, the 14,000-square-foot building will serve as a permanent home for the Loppet’s skiing, mountain biking and outdoor recreational programs, camps and competitions. It’s a step toward further formalizing the relationship between the Park Board and the Loppet, which hosted its first event in Wirth Park 16 years ago and opened its office in the chalet there more than a decade ago.

“For us, it makes life much, much easier, but hopefully it also (helps with) the big picture to accomplish our mission and make it easier for the people of Minneapolis to get outside and be active,” said John Munger, the nonprofit’s executive director.

The Trailhead, located at 1221 Theodore Wirth Parkway near the park’s par 3 building, is already up and running with a bike, ski and snowboard rental and retail store in partnership with Venture North Bike shop, locker rooms and offices for the Loppet’s coaching and facility staff. It is open 7 a.m.–9 p.m. daily.

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The building has a multi-purpose great hall capable of seating 250 people, a 300-square-foot meeting room and an outdoor terrace, spaces that are available for parties, catered events or weddings. Parkgoers will get their tickets for the Theodore Wirth Par 3 Golf Club and snow tubing at an indoor-outdoor ticket counter. The park’s mountain bikers can wash their bikes for free at a washing and repair station.

While most of The Trailhead is accessible to the public, the Loppet will offer memberships for use of the Club Trailhead Studio, a fitness studio with showers, secured lockers and towel service. Memberships will run health club members $20 per day, $50 per month or $400 per year, according to the foundation’s website. Dual and family memberships cost $80 and $100 per month or $100 and $750 per year, respectively.

What’s not yet open is Cajun Twist, a park restaurant that is subletting its space in the center from the Loppet. The concessionaire from caterer Teóna Washington is expected to open around the end of the summer or early this fall. Cajun Twist will serve New Orleans cuisine like seafood or vegan gumbo, red beans and rice, burgers, seafood and rice bowls. It will carry desserts like beignets and some beer and wine.

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Munger said their total project cost ended up being $10.5 million, including approximately $3.25 million in public funds, approximately $5.3 million from a Loppet’s fundraising effort and $2 million that the foundation financed. The opening, originally anticipated before the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival held earlier this year, was delayed several months after soil tests showed the project would require some unexpected work.

Under a 2016 agreement with the Park Board, the Loppet built the facility and will now formally donate it to the board. The organization will have a 20-year lease and an operating agreement for its use of the building. Revenue from the restaurant and events at The Trailhead will go to the Loppet.

By collaborating on the project, the two parties hope to untangle Wirth’s maintenance responsibilities. The Loppet oversees snowmaking and mountain bike trail maintenance at the park, and the Park Board continues to be responsible for golf operations and programming. The foundation’s lease will build up funds to maintain the new facility.

Assistant Superintendent of Planning Services Michael Schroeder said these collaborations are relatively new for the Park Board.

“This may be the way major projects happen in the future, where we have to form partnerships with the philanthropic community,” he said.

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Park Board President Brad Bourn (District 6) called collaborations like these “crucial” to maintaining the city’s park system.

“We’re proud to partner with an organization like the Loppet Foundation, which has a phenomenal reputation and proven track record of making outdoor recreation experiences available to kids and people of color who have been traditionally excluded from the outdoors,” he said in a statement.

Munger said the group has big dreams for The Trailhead. The foundation hopes to host a world cup cross-country skiing event, something that he said could happen in early 2020 at the earliest.

In the meantime, the Loppet is in talks with the 612 Sauna Society to bring its mobile sauna to the site. Munger said they’re working with members of the local log-rolling community to bring what is likely the city’s first dedicated facility to The Trailhead.

“I think you’ll see (the center) be a real hub of activity in general,” he said.

Anthony Taylor, an adventures director with the Loppet, said The Trailhead is an “amazing on-ramp” for people getting outside.

“Over the years, Loppet programming has been happening in parking lots, out of the backs of trucks and trailers, and we now have this safe space for adventure to live and flourish in North Minneapolis — and realize our ultimate goal of connecting everyone with an active, outdoor lifestyle,” he said.

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board