CHISHOLM — Rampage at the Ridge participants had five years of fun getting muddy and tackling challenges during the extreme 5K obstacle course that raised money each August for United for Veterans.
It was a good run for the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, which created the annual event to support its program that assists local veterans and their families.
During those five years, Rampagers raised $218,000 for the United for Veterans initiative.
But — like all good things — says Erin Shay, UWNEMN community impact and engagement director, Rampage at the Ridge must also come to an end.
What many people didn’t realize was how labor-intensive and time-consuming it was to build and tear down the course, plus the many other factors that has made the event too difficult to continue, Shay said.
The UWNEMN is currently exploring other fundraising options for United for Veterans.
“It’s a bittersweet announcement for our organization. The event has become popular with people in the region — we’ve even had a few repeat families plan their summer vacations around it,” she said.
“Unfortunately, we’ve come to terms with the fact that because the return on investment isn’t high enough and the staff time involved is too intensive, we need to discontinue the event.”
The UWNEMN posted the announcement on Facebook earlier this week, and comments have been “encouraging and positive,” Shay said. “We have not received any negative feedback.”
“Thank you all for your hard work and efforts on such a wonderful event of five years,” one person wrote. “Please take pride in all you do and the positive impact to our area that results.”
“I’m sure this is bittersweet for you. You put your heart and soul into it and turned it into something great,” wrote another. “I can’t wait to see what’s up your sleeve for the future.”
“It’s absolutely bittersweet,” Shay said. Rampage at the Ridge, which incorporated many obstacles along the course at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, “took on a life of its own.”
When the UWNEMN held the first event in 2014, “we didn’t know what we were getting into,” she said.
And, that’s just it. There was nothing like it being held on the Iron Range, and organizers didn’t know how much work it would be for staff and volunteers.
UWNEMN staff worked year-round on Rampage. Sponsors had to be secured six to eight months ahead of time, marketing was ongoing, and two of UWNEMN’s employees were dedicated full-time to Rampage operations eight weeks prior and another two weeks after the 5K.
More than 150 volunteers helped construct the course and tear it down throughout July and August; another 100 volunteers and staff were there on the day of the event, which is similar to a Tough Mudder or Warrior Dash.
“What many people don’t realize is that we don’t contract-out the obstacles and course set-up,” Shay said. The agency looked into that, but it would have cost more than was raised each year to hire a company. “We do all of the work, purchasing of materials, course design, set-up and tear-down ourselves. It is incredibly labor-intensive for our staff and volunteers.”
Not to mention, it was an 80-mile round trip for staff who traveled to Biwabik from the UWNEMN’s office in Chisholm during those weeks before and after Rampage, Shay added.
UWNEMN holds several events each year to raise funds for its various initiatives.
“We used our Flavor of the North as one comparison,” Shay said. “It is the second-largest event we plan each year. We begin sending sponsorship and auction requests out three months in advance, and our marketing traditionally begins about two months prior. The event sells out each year, and we raise around $42,000, with minimal expenses. Set up and tear down is done the day prior and day after the event.”
That differs greatly from the effort put into Rampage, which raised about the same amount of funds.
Rampage at the Ridge had a down year in 2017, when it brought in $26,000. Last year, the event collected $48,000, thanks in part to a major $10,000 sponsor. But that sponsor was not able to give this year, Shay said.
Also, last year a raffle was held in conjunction with Rampage. But “we don’t have to have an event to hold a raffle,” Shay said.
In fact, that is one of the plans for supporting United for Veterans this year. The UWNEMN will hold a live cash raffle on May 16 at Tom & Jerry’s Bar in Chisholm. The 300 $100 tickets will go on sale at the end of this month.
If all the tickets are sold, the raffle will raise $15,000 for United for Veterans — roughly “a third” of what Rampage garnered. The top prize is $6,000, followed by $3,500, $1,600 and smaller cash prizes.
Some funding from last year’s Rampage was set aside for the program this year. But “to operate at the capacity we are at now,” more will donations are needed.
The second annual Women’s Veterans Retreat is set for May 3 to 5 at Giants Ridge. The annual veterans family retreat held at Veterans on the Lake Resort in Ely is scheduled for the fall.
Additionally, United for Veterans manages a crisis fund, provides mental health services to veterans, and pays for operations of the Structured Independent Living House for homeless veterans in Hibbing, maintained by the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. Two residents are currently living at the transitional house.
The UWNEMN is “thinking out-of-the-box” about creating an event to replace Rampage by 2020. “We have a couple event ideas we are exploring, and hopefully by spring we will have a better idea,” Shay said.
Events being considered are different than others held in the area, she said.
The organization is also writing grants for funding.
“We are so thankful for the great partnership we had with our host Giants Ridge and their staff,” Shay added. “We appreciate the dedication of our volunteers, sponsors and event participants.
“We will miss Rampage at the Ridge. However, we look forward to new opportunities for our organization to connect with our local community members and raise money for the worthy cause of supporting our local veterans.”