In Conversation with Loppet Foundation Executive Director Claire Wilson
The Loppet Foundation is a gay-led, year-round adventure-driven organization with a focus “on underserved youth and families,” as well as the intentional inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in their work. It all started when a group of volunteers organized a cross-country ski race to showcase the Twin Cities’ urban trail systems, as well as the beauty of Minnesota’s winters. Or, as Loppet Executive Director Claire Wilson puts it, “At this particular time, it’s more important than ever that we seek refuge and solace in outdoor spaces.” Hear hear!
What does the Loppet Foundation do?
The Loppet Foundation is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that fulfills its mission by working to create a shared passion for the outdoors, with a special focus on underserved youth. We have a unique partnership with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board and have operated the Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park and winter operations in the park for several years. We take our stewardship of this beautiful park very seriously. Everyone is welcome here to enjoy the outdoors, whether you are a skier, cyclist, hiker or general nature lover!
What types of programs and events do you organize throughout the year?
The Foundation runs paid and unpaid mountain biking, running, and cross-country skiing programs for all ages and abilities. We are also celebrating the 20th anniversary of the City of Lakes Loppet, the urban cross-country race. We organize trail races, canoe races and adventure camps! Our most popular event is the Luminary Loppet, where we transform Lake of the Islands for one night into the most magical place in town.
What kind of success have you had in connecting underserved youth and families with outside activities?
We have had great success partnering with elementary and middle schools in Northside to offer ski and mountain biking programs. Our biggest success has been the Junior Loppet program. This program, designed for middle schoolers, is a free, year-round program where youth experience all kinds of outdoor activities while building a critical community with coaches and teammates. The intensity and duration of the program gives it a great impact on the lives of young people. We are currently strengthening our high school programs by offering outdoor adventure internships to develop skills. We are proud to support a Nordic ski team at North High this year.
What are some of the biggest obstacles when connecting with the outside?
Minneapolis is an urban area with more green spaces and the ability to get out and enjoy all that this varied environment has to offer. Unfortunately, the retention of these spaces reflects the same racism and segregation that has plagued the city as a whole. Intentionally confronting racism in outdoor spaces and adventure sports, and dismantling the factors that make these spaces less welcoming or inaccessible, is the greatest obstacle to increasing the use of our parks and ensuring that all everyone feels welcome mountain biking, skiing and running in these spaces. the spaces.
What is Loppet Foundation membership and why should I join?
Membership in the Loppet Foundation is a great way to be part of this growing community of outdoor enthusiasts! Joining as a member gives you access to special offers with our partner organizations, a really cool and informative newsletter, and a chance to register early for events and programs. You also benefit from discounts on Foundation activities. We host some really fun member events throughout the year, but you don’t need to be a member to enjoy our activities or events – it’s just another way to be connected.
How can others get involved?
Come volunteer with us! Our greatest need right now is for coaches of all ages and abilities. The pandemic has sparked renewed interest in all of our programs and we need volunteers to help meet the demand. We are also always on the lookout for event volunteers, which is a great way to experience the events and build your own community. Come take a class, learn a new skill, or just visit us at the trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park. You can grab a great meal and a cup of coffee at Mill Valley Market, and you can ski, tubing, hike, or just play year-round in the park!