The Trailhead lodge at Theodore Wirth Regional Park in north Minneapolis promises to be the hub for a four-season outdoor playground for all ages when it’s completed next spring. And it’s largely because of the Loppet Foundation, a nonprofit partnering with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to improve Wirth Park.

A year-round, 14,000-square-foot lodge with vaulted ceilings that’s now under construction, the Trailhead will house a restaurant, locker rooms, a lounge area and a variety of classes and clubs offered by staffers. It will be stocked with equipment rentals ranging from snowshoes in the winter to mountain bikes in the summer, and enable Wirth Park to host everything from national events for Olympic-caliber athletes to skiing and biking for families and schoolchildren just learning how.

“We want to knock down all the barriers to people participating, with a particular emphasis on underserved populations in north Minneapolis,” said John Munger, executive director and a founder of the Loppet Foundation.

Munger said the Trailhead will offer visitors and locals a chance to revel in one of Minnesota’s most celebrated draws — its natural settings — less than three miles from downtown Minneapolis.

“This is going to be a unique opportunity in the country,” he said Friday, while giving a tour of the park’s amenities.

Said Park Board Superintendent Jayne Miller: “Wirth Park benefits from the dedication and passion of many volunteers, friends, groups and partners, including the Loppet. Our partnership with the Loppet Foundation ensures quality winter recreation, exciting new programs and a new Trailhead building that will serve park visitors year-round.”

Already getting a taste

With construction crews framing walls inside the Trailhead lodge, Loppet Foundation leaders can finally see the finish line.

Munger said they had to persuade the Minneapolis Park Board to OK the building and reconfigure Wirth Park Golf Course, and then agree to the deal’s structure.

The lodge, built on parkland, will be given by the foundation to the Park Board. The foundation then will pay $6,500 a year plus 17 percent of any profits to rent the building from the Park Board, maintain some of the trails and manage equipment rentals and classes.

The Loppet Foundation is taking much of the risk, making it a good deal for the public, Munger said.

The foundation has secured $8.8 million in funding and aims to raise another $1.2 million. Money in hand includes $1.5 million in state bonding, $1.5 million from the Minneapolis Park Board and $1 million from the Pohlad Family Foundation.

In addition, 2,100 individuals have donated to the project — a testament to the community’s excitement for the project and pride in one of Minneapolis’ legacy parks, Munger said.

Winter sports enthusiasts at Wirth are getting an early taste of what’s to come. Trails are open and cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals are available seven days a week at a temporary shop in the golf chalet.

On Friday, dozens of cross-country skiers were out on the trails taking advantage of the fresh snow.

High-stepping through deep pockets of snow, Munger pointed out park attractions already in use or still in the works.

There will be a tubing hill with a rope lift, miles of groomed cross-country trails along with snowshoe and mountain bike paths, and a snowboarding hill.

Eleven snow-making machines will ensure good powder throughout the season even if Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, and lights will allow for nighttime use. In the spring, summer and fall, there will be trails for mountain biking, trail running, hiking and a par-3 golf course.

‘The magic of the place’

Munger, a Minneapolis native and South High School graduate, said he first started cross-country skiing through Wirth Park as a teen in the 1980s. He said he always recognized the natural beauty and untapped potential of the 759-acre park, nearly as big as Central Park in New York City and close to downtown.

He grew up, became a lawyer and with others started the Loppet Foundation in 2002 to host the City of Lakes Loppet Festival. But the foundation quickly expanded its reach and now hosts nearly a dozen events a year, with 18,000 people participating annually in activities ranging from cross-country skiing to public art displays.

This month, the Loppet Foundation will host about 1,000 cross-country skiers from around the globe for the Masters World Cup. It has started offering year-round programs serving 1,200 North Side schoolchildren each year, with activities ranging from cross-country skiing in the winter to paddling during the summer. It also offers programming and coaching for competitive cross-country skiers.

“We lay a foundation for a lifelong passion for the outdoors,” said Marin Byrne, the foundation’s development director.

It’s about helping kids develop some grit, she said: “The idea is that stick-to-it-tiveness is a skill you can develop and is a predictor of future success.”

Munger said he believes the Trailhead and improved park amenities will become a regional attraction.

“At night you can see downtown. It’s just gleaming as you ski along,” he said. “It’s part of the magic of this place.”