BELTRAMI ISLAND STATE FOREST, Minn. – There were times, Penny Turgeon-Kimble admits, when she wondered whether they’d be able to hold the ATV fun ride and fundraiser she organizes every year because of everything going on with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead, this year’s “Femme Fatale” – as the event is called – was the most successful ever, she said, raising $45,000 for charities in Roseau and Lake of the Woods counties with a focus on suicide awareness and prevention.
This year’s Femme Fatale was the 15th annual, and 170 riders turned out for good times to support good causes; like the money raised, the turnout also was a record.
Clear River Campground south of Warroad, Minn., was the event headquarters, and this year’s Femme Fatale was dubbed “Project S.O.S.,” short for “Stamp Out Suicide.”
“We were fully prepared at all times to call the ride off,” said Turgeon-Kimble, of Warroad, who organizes the Femme Fatale with Rick Corneliuson of Warroad. “I had a full Plan B going, and we would have done something virtual.”
Femme Fatale is the fundraising arm of HELPP – short for Helping Ease Local People’s Pain – a Warroad-based nonprofit organization.
From women's ride to fundraiser
The seeds for Femme Fatale were planted 15 years ago, Turgeon-Kimble said, when she was just getting into ATV riding.
“I was understandably intimidated,” she said. “I was afraid to go through mud puddles, I was afraid to go on inclines, and I was afraid of speed.
“And I knew I wasn’t the only one, so I started this ride.”
The original format was a women's ride; the guys would be there in case anyone broke down or got stuck.
“But we were the leaders,” Turgeon-Kimble said. “That way, we could go slower, we could avoid the big mud puddles -- the kind of thing that guys inherently enjoy."
The event soon grew into the fundraiser it is today. And while Femme Fatale is no longer a women's ride, safety and rules of the trail remain a focus, Turgeon-Kimble said.
It’s all about being good ambassadors for the sport, she said.
Organizing the Femme Fatale is a big effort, Turgeon-Kimble says, and starts in January with contacting businesses for sponsorship dollars and prize donations. There are different levels of sponsorships, with “Superstar” being the top level, for donations of $1,000 or more.
This year, 12 companies donated $1,000, she said.
Suicide prevention and awareness was this year’s fundraising focus, and the Hunter James Nordlof “BE KIND” Foundation of Baudette, Minn., and the MAX Foundation of Warroad both will receive $18,000 grants from this year’s Femme Fatale proceedings.
Both organizations aim to raise awareness of mental wellness and suicide prevention.
For this year’s Femme Fatale, complying with Minnesota’s Covid-19 prevention guidelines, which include limiting gatherings to 25 people or less, required developing a special event plan and changing the format up a bit, but that was an easy adjustment, Turgeon-Kimble said.
“It was very practical,” she said. “No congregating in any way – it’s pretty simple.”
To comply with the governor’s crowd guidelines, riders were divided into groups of 25 instead of hitting the trail en masse. Departure times were staggered so groups didn’t come in contact with each other during the five-hour ride, which covered about 50 miles with five or six stops.
Each group was assigned a guide and trail boss to keep things rolling smoothly or in case of breakdowns.
Lunch also followed social distance protocol. Instead of a mass gathering, a bag lunch catered by Bec’s Drive-In in Warroad was served at the Carp Pit Recreation Area, a stop along the route. Riders grabbed a bag and headed back to their machines.
Unlike previous years, there were no big gatherings before or after the event; participants picked up their door prizes and left.
That was the hardest part, Turgeon-Kimble said.
“I might only see these people this one weekend of the year,” she said. “So that’s kind of a bummer.”
A youth ATV ride traditionally held the night before also was canceled this year, she said.
“We normally do a small route and have snackies and prizes and safety training and it’s a good introduction for them,” Turgeon-Kimble said. “I’m looking forward to setting that part back up again.”
One thing that didn’t change was the costume theme, which this year was “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy drama series that ran for eight seasons on HBO.
For the uninitiated, think Knights of the Round Table, and you’ll be close.
“They dress up in costumes, they decorate their wheelers, and so it’s a nice little dimension every year,” Turgeon-Kimble said. “They can win additional prizes, so it adds a bit of fun.”
The weather last Saturday, Aug. 1, was perfect, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s. A quarter-inch of rain that fell the previous evening helped settle the dust for the riders.
The event couldn’t have gone much better, Turgeon-Kimble said, especially considering everything that continues to happen with the global pandemic and the fear and uncertainty it creates.
A day in Beltrami Forest riding the trails and supporting good causes helped add a sense of normalcy to some very abnormal times.
“I think it’s very important for everyone’s mental health to be able to be in the great outdoors, and we’re so blessed that it’s so close,” Turgeon-Kimble said. “And there’s no reason we can’t social distance in a forest that big; there’s no reason whatsoever.”
Many of the format changes required for this year’s Femme Fatale could become permanent, she said.
“I think the Covid plan actually did us a favor,” she said. “We liked the format of the smaller groups going out like they did. And all of the riders seemed to really like it better, as well.”
Looking back on the history of Femme Fatale, Turgeon-Kimble said she’s not sure how much money the event has raised for charities.
“I'm not a numbers girl -- I wish I would have kept track,” she said. “We've made a lot of difference in a lot of lives.”
Next year’s Femme Fatale will be dubbed “Happy Trails: Beltrami Up North,” she said, with a focus on raising money for trail improvement projects to provide connections between various communities bordering the forest.
“Camouflage will be prominent,” Turgeon-Kimble said. “We are working on grants that need significant matching funds for a couple of very large, very important improvements that will be critical to joining up all surrounding towns.”
Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to email@example.com.
FEMME FATALE FUNDRAISING RECIPIENTS
This year’s 15th annual “Femme Fatale” ATV fun ride and fundraising event, was held Saturday, Aug. 1, in Beltrami Island State Forest and was dubbed “Project S.O.S.,” short for Stamp Out Suicide. The fundraiser raised a record of more than $44,000 for causes in Lake of the Woods and Roseau counties, according to Rick Corneliuson, one of the event’s organizers.
Organizations receiving funding are as follows:
$18,000 Hunter James Nordlof “Be Kind” Foundation.
$18,000 MAX Foundation.
$1,000 Lake of the Woods County Veterans Relief Fund.
$1,000 Roseau County Veterans Relief Fund.
$1,000 Lake of the Woods Veterans Memorial.
$1,000 Disabled American Veterans – Roseau Chapter.
$1,000 Lake of the Woods School Backpack program.
$1,000 Warroad School Backpack program.
$1,000 Roseau School Backpack program.
$1,000 Greenbush School Backpack program.
In addition, the Roseau-Lake of the Woods Sportsmans Club will receive a $3,500 donation for fixing the Lund Trail in Beltrami Island State Forest. The club has been a “big factor in the success of our fundraisers for the last few years,” Femme Fatale organizers said on their Facebook page. “That organization is an awesome steward of the forest access trails and deserves all of our support.”