Pembina Gorge Foundation gains needed funding from Legislature

The 66th North Dakota State Legislative session has come to a close, and bills that made it through to the end are now finding their way to Governor Doug Burgum’s desk. One such bill will be incredibly beneficial to the tourism and commerce industries in the Rendezvous Region as the North Dakota House and Senate approved the HB 1018 Commerce Bill, which included $750,000 for the Pembina Gorge.

Posted 5/9/19

By Melissa Anderson

This funding was approved late in the legislative process through an amendment that was added when the House and Senate met in conference committee and gave their recommendations to their fellow legislators on April 26, the very last day of the session. This was one of the final bills to be passed. The Pembina Gorge Foundation give credit to legislators as the addition of this amendment recognizes the commitment that the people of northeast North Dakota have made to this important asset.

“Legislators were willing to invest state dollars due to $3 million raised so far, including an anonymous donor match of $750,000, which was designed to get local business and individuals giving, as well leverage state investment, combined with an enormous volunteer effort and commitment,” Kristi Wilfahrt, Interim Foundation Director, said.

Funding for the Pembina Gorge was added to the Commerce Bill in the last month only because it had necessary and critical support from Majority Leader, Senator Rich Wardner (Dickinson) and Senate Appropriations Chair, Senator Ray Holmberg (Grand Forks). Another strong advocate was Senator Curt Kreun (Grand Forks) who played a key role in this funding being made available.  Special thanks to Senator Janne Myrdal and Representative David Monson. Myrdal explained that going through the commerce bill to provide the grant funding was the best option.

“I so firmly believe our corner of the state is prime for a long term plan with the beauty and opportunities the gorge can provide including outdoor school with DPI and more,” Myrdal said.

“You believe, so they believe in the future and the potential of the Pembina Gorge,” says Pat Hardy, President of the Pembina Gorge Foundation. “We are incredibly thankful and excited about the future of the Gorge and the Foundation’s recreation and educational programs”.

Representative Monson, on behalf of the Pembina Gorge, has led efforts during several sessions. Among Rep. Monson’s successes includes the securing of funding for the creation of the Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area master plan through North Dakota Parks & Recreation in 2014. This provided for future investments, from both the private and public sectors, including the establishment of the Pembina Gorge Foundation. Since the bill included an Emergency Clause, the matching funds are available as soon as the governor signs the bill. The Pembina Gorge Foundation has been in contact with the ND Department of Commerce to learn details regarding matching requirements and other rules for such grant funds.

“Pat Chaput (board member) and I were at a news media conference regarding the passing of this bill as it relates to the UAS. We met Michelle Klommer, Commerce Director, as well as visited with a few of the regions’ senators who helped get the funding in to the bill. The Commerce Department will be in contact with the Pembina Gorge Foundation about the appropriation and will share the parameters of the funds distribution and use. They have yet to do this as the session has just ended. I suspect we will be learning more shortly,” Wilfahrt shared.

With the help of this state appropriation, a current fundraising effort has been secured. Donors will have assurance it’s not going anywhere. There are several pieces of equipment that are needed yet, as well as work on the rest of the mountain bike trails. Minor repairs on the amphitheater need to get completed before the June 30th play starts. (By the way, Life Could be a Dream is the doo-wop musical this summer! You will love it!).

After all the above is done and complete, the board is committed to developing a master plan for the total property. This will be done with an architect and will help the board create a visual map/detail and a financial target for future phases. Funds raised through the 3 to 1 match after the equipment phase is completed will go to the lodge ADA compliance and renovations.

The board will leverage the state and anonymous donor matches, raising an additional $750,000, for a total of $2.25 million to be used for the purchase and maintenance of outdoor recreation equipment, the improvement and maintenance of real property, enhancing public access to natural resources and addressing public safety hazards.

“We have the $750k donor match and need to raise about $550k more to meet that match,” Wilfahrt stated.

The goals over the next year for the Foundation are as follows:

• Secure necessary equipment for a sustainable operation

• Mountain Bike Terrain Park trails completion

• Tubing hill re-vamping, to address safety concerns

• Amphitheater maintenance

• Creation of a master plan for 172.5 acres of property

• Lodge renovations and ADA compliance

Wilfahrt explained that the timing of when the Pembina Gorge Foundation receives those needed funds and all donor/pledges funds will dictate timing of the projects. The main hope is to get the chair running for the mountain bike park this summer. If for some reason it’s not possible for the summer – absolutely for the 2019/20 winter season as many locals in the area dearly missed hitting the slopes.

“As we saw this past year – when you are relying on capital funds that come only from grants and gifts, not financing, we are at the mercy of timing of those grants and gifts,” Wilfahrt said.

Often times in capital campaigns like the ones that the Pembina Gorge Foundation has implemented, gifts are made on a multi-year pledge. Those pledges are typically used to pay financing, whether through bonds or loans, through banks.  Frost Fire Park, as a start-up of the Pembina Gorge Foundation, did not have an operating history to support loan financing on its own. This announcement means a big lift for this project, as it gets a cash infusion much quicker than waiting over a period of years.

“Projects like this take patience and time. We appreciate all the support and belief in the vision so many have shown us. It’s good to be where we are,” Wilfahrt said.

The mission of the Pembina Gorge Foundation is to preserve and enhance the experience of the Pembina Gorge while connecting people to positive, life-changing experiences. The Foundation develops and supports historical, cultural, education, natural, interpretive and recreational opportunities in the Gorge. Pembina Gorge Foundation is a 501c3, North Dakota nonprofit corporation, that was established in January 2017. Other programs in development include “KANO”, which provides adult and youth education and interpretive activities/events relating to cultural, historical, and the natural geography of the Pembina Gorge.

To help by making a gift, please contact Frost Fire at 549-3600 or Kristi Wilfahrt at 701.317.6729. Gifts can be mailed to Frost Fire, PO Box 888, Walhalla, ND 58282. Ask us about our Naming & Dedication opportunities, including our “Sponsor a Chair” program. Gifts/pledges will be leveraged $2 to every $1 raised.