TWIN VALLEY, Minn. — Christopher Haverkamp would like to be the first person to invite you to take a trip to “The Valley of No Hope."
It’s not the typical name of a postcard-perfect destination, but visitors are invited to kayak along the nearby Wild Rice River, dock along the banks and brace for a rush of adrenaline, Haverkamp said.
Haverkamp’s “Valley of No Hope,” at 1925 State Highway 32 in Twin Valley, is home to Northern Minnesota Extreme Sports, a two-and-a-half acre forested paintball course he opened in 2020. Twin Valley is about 50 miles northeast of the Fargo-Moorhead metro area.
Haverkamp, who’s been an avid paintball player for decades, opened the course when his children began to develop their own interest in paintball. “Last summer the kids were asking me, so I dug up some paintball guns I had and we went out and played,” he said.
After doing some research, Haverkamp found the Red River Valley was in short supply when it came to paintball courses. Beyond Goose River Paintball, north of Hillsboro, N.D., and Valley Paintball, about 30 miles west of Fargo in Wheatland, N.D., courses are few and far between, Haverkamp recalled.
By all indications, the paintball trend of the 1990s had faded in the area. “There used to be a lot of courses,” Haverkamp explained. “It seemed like there were a lot everywhere in the late 90s, but around the early 2000s they just kind of fizzled off.”
Haverkamp could count on one hand the number of courses within a reasonable drive. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those courses were closed, spurring him to create his own. “I started looking around and I know there’s only a couple of courses within a 100 miles and they weren’t open,” he said. “I was like, ‘You know, maybe we should just start a paintball thing.’”
Painting the town
Haverkamp’s “woodsball” course features buildings, bunkers, trenches, a tunnel and even some abandoned cars behind which combatants can take cover. The course is unique and more natural than other “speedball” courses, which feature man-made hiding spots and bunkers, he said. “It’s a fun course. Not a lot of people play woodsball.”
Daring players even have the option to take the aforementioned 20-minute, placid kayak ride into the course, dock and immediately face paintballs whizzing by. “People kayak from up river and kayak down to a corner of the course, land and then fight their way through the course,” Haverkamp said, adding that it’s a grueling test and no player has ever successfully navigated the course from the kayak dock.
Despite his distinct course, Haverkamp still struggled to attract visitors as the pandemic spread throughout the region. Beyond his usual “crew” of players he trained throughout the year, the pandemic held back the business. “Last year was a tough year with the pandemic,” he said. “There really wasn’t any customer base.”
With the pandemic waning, however, Haverkamp is optimistic more thrill-seeking or curious outdoor recreationists will pay a visit. “Now I think this year it’s going to become something people are seeking out,” he said.
'Walk in there and have fun'
For the uninitiated, a round of paintball may seem a scary proposition. Haverkamp said the pain of getting hit is one of the most frequently asked questions he receives.
Getting splattered with a paintball can indeed hurt, Haverkamp said. “I get a lot of people who ask, ‘Doesn’t it hurt?’' If you’re not paying attention, you get a little sting.” He recommends wearing loose, baggy clothing or even a layer of body armor to reduce the sting.
Paintball can also pack a punch to the wallet, Haverkamp said, which is why his goal is to make Northern Minnesota Extreme Sports an affordable destination for people across the Red River Valley. “I don’t charge a lot to play,” he said. “If you don’t have your own gear, it’s only about $30 to come play. If you have your own gear it’s even less.”
A hobbyist at heart, Haverkamp doesn't want to nickel and dime players. “A lot of places will charge for every little thing you need. I don’t do it that way,” he said. “I want you to walk in there and have fun and it be affordable.”
For safety reasons, only paintballs on-site can be used in combat. 500 rounds are sold for $14 and Haverkamp offers colorful paintball grenades as well.
When setting up the course, he’s also been inclined to place a paint landmine or two. “If you step on those, you get soaked in paint,” he said.
Thus far, players both new and experienced have enjoyed the course, he said. He’s even attracted interest from as far as Alexandria, Minn.
When COVID-19 was more prevalent, Haverkamp said the outdoor course provided the perfect setting for a virus-friendly activity. “It’s social distancing at its finest because they have to be 6 feet apart when they’re playing and they have masks on,” he said.
All about sportsmanship
Haverkamp also strives to foster a family-friendly environment for the community, one which teaches children the value of sportsmanship.
It’s why he doesn’t mince words when laying down the No. 1 rule of the course. “We don’t allow swearing and we don’t allow any derogatory comments to other people,” he commented. “Our rules are written right there and say that everyone here is equal and if you can’t respect that, you’re not welcome.”
It’s also the reasoning behind Haverkamp’s marquee “Fight the Law” event, which offered local residents the opportunity to play a round of paintball and meet officers from the Norman County Sheriff’s Office as well as other local agencies. “It was just an interaction so that way we could put names behind the officers,” he said.
He’s optimistic that the course can be a place for area children to form bonds with one another as well. “A lot of it has brought a lot of community development among kids that normally wouldn’t hang out together,” Haverkamp said. “I think that’s going to have a positive impact.”
Haverkamp said the community outreach work is gratifying and something he wishes he could offer more. “I wish I had millions of endless dollars to do it because the outreach benefits are really just amazing to sportsmanship,” he said.
'Good exercise and good fun'
For now, Haverkamp is happy to maintain and open up the course as a hobby as opposed to a full-fledged business enterprise. “It pretty much boils down to, ‘Does it make any money?’,” he asked. “I don’t know. Last year it was all donations pretty much, donating it back in for a hobby.”
The course is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Haverkamp’s squad of eight or nine play every weekend and offer a stiff challenge for those interested, he said.
No doubt Northern Minnesota Extreme Sports also provides one of the best adrenaline rushes in the Red River Valley. “If you want to really see what adrenaline feels like, when those balls are flying all around you like there’s no tomorrow and your only goal is not to get hit, your adrenaline kicks in,” Haverkamp said.
In lake-dominated western Minnesota, Haverkamp is happy to offer another option to the area’s long list of recreational opportunities. “I’m just adding to it. It’s something different,” he said. “It’s good exercise and good fun.”