Karen Steckbauer McCabe and her husband, Pat, stand on a walking bridge crossing the Wolf River at Gardner Dam Boy Scout Camp in eastern Langlade County, headquarters for the Wolfman Triathlon. The Business News photo by Lisa Haefs

Karen Steckbauer McCabe and Pat McCabe are builders, not just of houses, but of communities.

The owners of Chequamegon Construction Company in St. Germain have spend more than two dozen years plowing money back into the Northwoods through their sponsorships of nonprofits and community events that reflect their love of outdoor activities, nature and more than a bit of plain old fun.

"It's all about supporting our communities," Karen said. "We want to make the communities where we and our friends live, work and play successful."

Their cornerstone event — The Wolfman Triathlon — returns to the Wolf River and its surrounding trails on Sept. 11. A three-mile whitewater kayak, 13-mile mountain bike and three-mile rugged trail run, it draws a mix of “wolfies” plus their entourages to eastern Langlade County for a weekend festival celebrating silent sports, live music, good food and craft beer.

“We say this is our 26-1/2 year,” Karen said, alluding to the 2020 event that was forced to go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angie Close, executive director of the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation, said the benefits of events such as the Wolfman are wide-ranging.

“It has a significant effect on Langlade County’s image as it helps promote who we are and our recreational assets we have here in the County of Trails,” Close said. “Events contribute to bringing more tourists to our area and influence how people think about our community as a place to live, work, buy a vacation home or retire. It creates a huge economic impact.”

Staying nimble is key, the McCabes said, and not just on the trail. Recognizing that the whitewater of the Wolf River was limiting numbers of competitors with little or no kayak skills, the Wolfman now has a “dryathlon” alternative, allowing competitors to replace the challenging kayaking portion with an equally challenging, but dry, additional three-mile run.

Pat’s support of outdoor pursuits dates back 40 years, when he became involved in the development of the Moccasin Lake Ski Trail that included purchasing or building the original grooming equipment.

Pat also was race director for an event in Elcho called Tag Alder Challenge, a two-day event that included a 10K run, 50-mile road bike race and a mountain bike challenge.

“I’ve always been involved in things within the outdoors and in the community,” Pat said. “At the time, there were not a lot of resources available for activities such as mountain biking and cross-country skiing.”

That led to more events, often focused in the Wolf River area and involvement with the timing companies that are key to pulling off any successful event.

“We had a business organization known as Wolf River Territories, and I got to be the president of it,” Pat said. “We got to thinking about an event that would focus in and around the Wolf River and the triathlon came out of that. I really poured my company’s resources into making that happen.”

The McCabes eventually relocated to St. Germain, where their construction company specializes in crafting high-end homes using environmentally responsible practices and energy conscious building techniques.

That opened a new range of volunteer opportunities, leading to their involvement in the Lakeland Area Mountain Bike Organization (LAMBO).

The groups are incorporated nonprofits, allowing the McCabes and a cadre of likeminded volunteers the ability to sponsor and finance events and raise funds for continual trail improvements.

There is no lack of creativity in what those volunteers dream up and pull off. LAMBO’s events include the Rip, Zip & Sip, a wintertime fat-tire bike race that sends riders “ripping” through a course, “zipping” on one of the Northwoods Zip Lines, and “sipping” an adult beverage afterwards.

There is also the cleverly named InSayner, created by Dan Trapp of Trapp Electric and Mike Olkowski, former Eagle River police officer.

It is a springtime mountain bike race that follows a 23-mile course through snowmobile trails, logging roads and even an old ski hill run. The publicity poster shows a giant mosquito on the verge of carrying off a cyclist.

“Our goal is to help make this a destination for mountain biking, whether in Minocqua or at Langlade,” Pat said. “Organizations such as LAMBO and LAMBA are helping to make that happen. Through events, we are making the trail sustainable and keeping the interest level high.”

“It is working,” Karen said. “It’s all about getting outside. We have an absolutely beautiful area, and it is important to take advantage of what we have.”

It’s not just silent sports enthusiasts who benefit from the enhanced trails and events. The Wolfman recruits its army of volunteers from area nonprofit organizations such as the Antigo Bike and Ski Club, White Lake Historical Society, Elcho Cross-Country Ski Club and others. All receive a donation in return for directing traffic, pulling kayaks, parking cars and dozens of other chores. They are also treated royally at the post-race festivities.

“Our volunteers are key, and we know we need to keep them happy,” Pat said. “Plus, it’s a lot of fun.”

The McCabes hope to continue to sponsor LAMBO AND LAMBRA events, support the trails, and keep the Wolfman one of the Northwood’s premiere triathlons.

At a time when many successful business owners may be content with what they have accomplished, they have many more plans, including, this year, sponsoring a stage at Minocqua’s Beef-A-Rama that includes Lakeland Rotary’s Rump Roast Run.

“It’s a legacy,” Karen said. “If someone doesn’t do it, all the things we enjoy doing would be gone. That’s not going to happen.”