Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua has acquired a 70-acre parcel of property adjacent to its current tent location on Ski Hill Road in Bayfield.
The decision to acquire a new location for Big Top's tent coincides with the end of the useful life of their current canvas tent and Big Top's decision to begin planning for the construction of a new, permanent tent structure. Big Top will remain at its current Mt. Ashwabay location for the next few years as plans and fundraising develop.
After that, Big Top will be located a little further down the hill. The new parcel of land solves logistical challenges Big Top's Board of Directors has been addressing over the last three years, and provides a workable resolution to negotiations between the owners of Mt. Ashwabay (AOEF) and Big Top Chautauqua (BTC). AOEF and BTC have been partners on the ski hill property since 2005 when Mary Rice sold the property to AOEF with the stipulation that it remain a ski hill in the winter and serve as the summer home of BTC.
Over the years both AOEF and BTC have sought to revise the partnership for various reasons - most critical for BTC was to be able to own the land underneath their planned permanent tent structure. AOEF wants to expand the use of the property during the summer tourist season which has been largely prevented due to the security needs and sound issues for Big Top artists loading in and rehearsing during the day.
The property that is now being obtained by BTC is located directly adjacent to AOEF property, thus expanding the entire footprint of the two partner organizations, and freeing up the site for AOEF to grow in their outdoor education mission during the summer months. BTC Executive Director Terry Matier says that after the main concert structure is established down the hill, BTC and AOEF will explore new ways to partner together for increasing tourism and exposure for the area to the benefit of the entire region. "It is our hope that we can move forward together and ensure that both organizations continue to thrive and enrich our community."
As for the planning of a permanent tent structure, BTC Board President Kim Ogle remarked, "We are thoughtfully exploring possibilities for a structure that can recreate the best qualities of our canvas tents, while remedying some of the issues that we have had with them. We want to make sure that we have a tent-like look and feel to any structure we might create, and maintain the excellent sound quality that's a hallmark of Big Top performances. At the same time, it's crucial that we improve accessibility for our patrons and solve some of the weather-related challenges that we currently have."
BTC's acquisition of its new site is an example of what can happen when the stars align. Mary, the land seller, and her husband Bob, an avid woodworker, purchased the land in the early 2000s. (At this time the donors wish to withhold their last name.) Bob wanted a site on which to build a woodshop for creating furniture for his home and building toys for his grandkids. "My dad absolutely loved spending time at his shop and on his land whether it was hunting, four-wheeling, woodworking, or just enjoying the beautiful views," said Mary's son Mike. "He also loved music and was a card-carrying '50s rock superfan." So naturally, Bob and Mary attended lots of concerts together under the big tent and also helped BTC with fundraising efforts.
Sadly, Bob passed away in 2007. However, Mary and her family have maintained the family cabin in Bayfield and visit often. "We were up for a long weekend this past winter enjoying the very last day of the ski season at Mt. Ashwabay when we heard that Big Top was looking for a new site," Mary explained. A family friend suggested that maybe Bob's land might be the perfect future location for BTC. "Well, the idea just clicked with us immediately. What a great way to contribute to our community and honor Bob's love of his land at the same time." So Mary struck a deal with BTC for its acquisition of the property under very favorable terms with a closing scheduled for later this spring. "Big Top is part of the fabric of the Bayfield community and we are thrilled to support it," said Mary. "We know Bob would be thrilled too!"
More information about Big Top's permanent structure is forthcoming as its board and staff work to engage the community, patrons and artists about BTC's next chapter after 30 years in service to the Chequamegon Bay area and the entire region. For the near term, look for Big Top exactly where it has always been. In fact, the tent is set to go up Saturday, May 13, 2017 for the 32nd raising of the big canvas tent. For more Big Top information and season schedule, go to www.bigtop.org.