About American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation
The American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated, as reflected in the Birkie Mission Statement, to hosting one of the world’s best cross-country ski events, the American Birkebeiner, maintaining one of the nation’s premier recreation trails, and promoting healthy lifestyles for people of all ages. The American Birkebeiner is made up of several events in addition to the 51-kilometer and 55-kilometer Birkie marathon races and the 24-kilometer Kortelopet race (the second largest ski race in North America).
A native of Phillips, Wisconsin, Popp has served as the Executive Director of the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) since 2013. Before his work at the Birke, Popp moved to Minnesota to attend St. Thomas University. After earning his Master of Arts in 2003, Popp co-founded the SISU Nordic Ski Foundation in 2008. He now lives in Hayward, Wisconsin with his wife Megan and their twin boys, Grant and Luke.
TALK BRIEFLY ABOUT YOUR WISCONSIN JOURNEY. HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED HERE AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK AFTER LIVING IN MINNESOTA? HOW DID YOU END UP WORKING FOR THE ABSF?
Growing up in northern Wisconsin, being outdoors was always part of my upbringing. Skiing, biking and endless picnics with friends and family was always a central part of life. After completing Phillips HS, I attended St. Olaf college in Northfield. After graduation I began working at Carleton College in Northfield MN and then St. Mary’s in Winona. I competed my master’s in education at St. Thomas University and after a short teaching career dove into the world of nonprofit work in St. Paul. As our children began to grow up, we decided that there is no better place to raise children than in Northern Wisconsin – so I began looking for opportunities to move back to the Northwoods. In the summer of 2013, the opportunity arose to work for the American Berkiebeiner Ski Foundation ABSF and the rest is history. I not only have a passion for creating opportunities for people to have amazing outdoor experiences, but also to ensure that the business of silent sport recreation continues to evolve and remains sustainable. The ABSF has proven to be a perfect medium to work on both of my passions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT BEING A WISCONSIN RESIDENT?
I love that we have a state where I can pursue my professional career, as well as live a lifestyle with endless outdoor opportunities.
WHAT ABOUT WISCONSIN HAS KEPT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY IN THE STATE?
Primarily, the state’s education system and it being such an amazing place to raise kids. The fact that we live in a place with great communities and great outdoor activities that are accessible to so many, along with great job opportunities makes it a no brainer. Additionally, the fact that we can live in a rural community that provides the tools for professional development, while still having easy access to urban areas makes it and easy decision.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE BIRKIE TO THE ECONOMY IN NORTHERN WISCONSIN?
Outdoor recreation is the backbone of the economy in Northern Wisconsin – and the Birkie, with an economic impact of over $20 million annually, leads the way. In addition to infusing dollars into our local economy, the events in the region introduce people to our amazing area and create lifelong visitors. Our data shows that over 80% of people who come to our events will visit again.
TALK ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE WITH WEDC.
When we wanted to develop an idle site in northern Wisconsin, we turned to WEDC as a resource. Their experience and support allowed us to deliver a strong project that has taken an idle site to one that is now leading economic development in our small community.
WHAT EXCITES YOU THE MOST ABOUT THE WISCONSIN BUSINESS CLIMATE GOING FORWARD?
Opportunity coupled with our natural resources make it the ideal place to attract the best possible people in the workforce. They are our greatest asset and I believe this will help us deliver the best products and services creating an even more attractive place – it really is an exciting time.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE IMPROVE IN THE WISCONSIN BUSINESS CLIMATE GOING FORWARD?
I think we need to invest more in the things that attract people here – outdoor recreation. Like any good business that invests in its business, we need to do the same so that we remain ahead of the competition.