From my desk

Bob Williams

I’ve often referred to Maplelag Resort and all the trails out there as a little slice of heaven. Watching the main lodge burn to the ground last week and seeing the effect that experience had on the Richards’ family was grim, to say the least.

I have a lot of connections to the resort.

I went to high school with Jay Richards and seeing how distraught he was at the sight of the fire was painful. Since we were kids, he’s always been a great guy full of positive energy. You’ve never seen someone so happy about snow, below zero temperatures and kilometers of trails to groom in those conditions. Even happier when he got out on them on skis or a fat bike.

Through Jay and his wife Jonell, I got to be involved in the lives of their kids.

Working as a sports editor in Detroit Lakes had me covering the Richards’ children from high school through college.

Maplelag itself presented many opportunities in that job to get out and enjoy the trails covering Nordic Skiing, section championships, and other big events like the Laddies Loppet bike races during Labor Day weekend. The Loppet has been around since 1990, making it one of the oldest mountain bike races in the Midwest. It’s nonstop action and attracts big names in the sport every race, but it’s also a great event for kids.

The event calendar at Maplelag is full of variety from the annual language camps to weddings. It’s more than just sports. However, that was my forte. 

Over the years, I went from just hanging around the finish line to exploring all aspects of the different courses on the trails and that presented me with opportunities to take some of the best sports photos I ever shot. That was as much about Maplelag and its natural beauty that the Richards’ have harnessed as it was about the specific event I was covering.

There’s another secret, and the Richards’ know this, the place I loved the most out there was the kitchen and the talented staff of cooks. 

Former Tribune photographer Brian Basham raved about the potato soup on the first of our many work trips together to the resort.

I was somewhat baffled. Soup?

Then I had the soup. 

The food at Maplelag is unmatched. They serve it family-style for a reason. It’s literally a home-cooked meal for hundreds. They made a vegetable soup that I still brag about. Doesn’t sound like much and maybe there is some sense of appreciation for a good soup after shooting skiing in below zero temperatures. That being said, I’ve never tasted soup like that.

And the cookies. The main lodge was always stacked with all-you-can-eat cookies to go with coffee and hot cocoa. Thousands of cookies and they were all uniformly perfect. I know I’ve eaten hundreds of those cookies.

Everyone who has spent time out there has their own stories about how great it is and that all comes back to the generosity and hospitality of the Richards’ family.

It can be seen on a GoFundMe account set up by a group of long-time Maplelag guests after the fire.

On the account, those guests said, “Maplelag is so much more than a resort and destination to many of us. Maplelag is the heart and soul of our time together as family and friends. So many of us know the magic that this place holds.”

That’s very true and was swiftly proven as incoming donations bumped the initial goal for fundraising of $10,000, to 15, then 20 and now $25,000.

Upon finding out, the Richards family responded, “We are deeply touched by all the donations and words cannot express our appreciation. We have decided to use a portion of the funds to disperse among our employees who have lost their jobs and part of their livelihoods. We will also use the funds to host a dinner for all of the firefighters and emergency personnel that assisted during the disaster.”

From the people making donations to the entire staff at Maplelag, that exchange is just what the family resort is about.

The world needs more people like the Richards family and our area needs beautiful and incredible places like Maplelag to be here for generations to come. 

I look forward to the triumphant return of the main lodge and the cookies.