Image courtesy of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation
Image courtesy of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation

Telemark Forest Preserve will continue to serve as a race backdrop and provide “low-impact” recreation opportunities while protecting the Namekagon watershed and nearby habitat.

Every February, thousands of skiers from across the world descend on northwest Wisconsin for the famed American Birkebeiner ski race, an arduous competition that takes place against the picturesque backdrop of the Northwoods. 

Over the past few years, the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) has faced some financial hurdles while trying to ensure the race’s future and rejuvenate the property that hosts it. At the same time, concern about overdevelopment in the region has grown and conservationists and environmentalists have fought to protect the region. 

On Monday, those groups got some welcome news when Landmark Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust in western and northwestern Wisconsin, announced their effort to purchase 218 acres from the ABSF has been fully funded.

Landmark, which signed a contract to purchase the property from ABSF last July, successfully raised $678,000 for the deal, funded in part by a $203,000 grant from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, a state-based grant program to preserve important natural resources and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation. 

Landmark now plans to turn the land into the Telemark Forest Preserve. The new Preserve will continue to serve as a backdrop for the Birkie race, but will also be open to the public and provide “low-impact” opportunities such as backcountry hiking, cross-country skiing, and bird watching. Importantly, Landmark and ABSF say the deal will also protect the Namekagon River watershed and the St. Croix River and conserve the forested habitat of the Northwoods.

“We are thrilled to advance healthy outdoor activities for individuals and our community through being good stewards of the land in partnership with Landmark,” Andrew Wall, ABSF Development Director, said in a press release.

Landmark began its quest to purchase the property last year, after hearing from community members who wanted to protect the land from development and conserve its ecological features. The property, owned and leased out by Mount Telemark Partners until the ABSF purchased it in 2020, has experienced issues in recent years, including the dilapidated Telemark lodge, overgrown trails, and aging infrastructure. 

The lodge has since been demolished as part of ABSF’s efforts to rejuvenate Mt. Telemark Village, the portion of land which hosts the birkie. The funds from the deal with Landmark will help ABSF pay for that demolition, as well as other costs affiliated with ABSF’s purchase of Mt. Telemark Village.

Landmark’s Advancement Director Kristin Thompson praised the role of local residents for their efforts to protect the Northwoods. 

“We are so grateful for the individuals who approached Landmark about protecting this special land just one year ago,” Thompson said in a press release. “Their leadership and steadfast support of our organization were essential to this project taking shape and garnering the funds for permanent protection.”