Notes from the Director's Desk
Using What You’ve Got.
I grew up in a small city in rural Iowa , chiefly notable for a large demolition derby and a few Star Trek fans. About twenty years ago, one of my old schoolmates was reading a Star Trek novel and noticed that Captain Kirk was born in a small Iowa town. The discussion at the local gathering spot led to the question, “why couldn’t he be born here in Riverside, Iowa?” A couple of hog feeder lids, some pipe, and a little paint resulted in a model of the Starship Enterprise, which was to be featured in Riverside’s Fourth of July parade. Being close to the University of Iowa, the word got out and the parade grew into a “small celebration” which in its first year brought in roughly four times the entire population of the city of Riverside. Each year the event grew, a plaque was placed designating the “Future Birth Place of Captain James T Kirk”, a Star Trek Museum was established, and in a relatively few years the event was drawing visitors from Europe and Asia, as well as the entire US. Because of the notoriety, a casino was built, and the city’s population grew. Riverside, Ia figures prominently in at least one Star Trek movie, but just for the record the canyon in Riverside, as shown in that movie, does not exist.
The point of this story is simply to point out that every place has something; past, present, or future that can be used to attract people. Even a community’s name can be a tourism draw. At the risk of beating the Star Trek theme to death, what small community in Dickinson County has the same name as Science Officer Spock’s home planet? Osseo, Wisconsin has, or had, a restaurant that won a pie contest and used pies as a claim to fame for three decades.
When I worked in Davis County, Iowa, I would get a call about once a year concerning Blackhawk’s gold. The legend was that Chief Blackhawk was given 600 gold coins, which he supposedly buried on the banks of the Des Moines River. Don’t bother looking. Blackhawk was given a uniform, a sword, and a medallion but no gold. Still the legend attracts people to the area to search for the mythical fortune. The same area is justly famous as the point where the Mormon Trek split on its way to Salt Lake City and for the three northern-most Confederate guerilla raids of the Civil War. Other attractions include a substantial Amish community, and the battle ground where the Sac and the Osage Indians fought annually for hunting rights.
While I had a vague idea of what a pasty was, I had never heard of, let alone tasted, cudighi until I moved to the Upper Peninsula. This, to my palate, is one of the hidden food treasures of the Upper Peninsula and is well worth making a tour of Marquette County just for that delight. Food tourism is a growing trend, with more and more food programs on television. A friend of mine is planning a visit next year, supposedly to see me, but actually because she wants to search for Lake Superior agates. When she sees the vast array of minerals available in the UP, I may end up with a long term house guest.
The point is that food, minerals, churches, cemeteries, wine tours, ghosts, lighthouses, battles, migrations, Native American Cultural sites, unique houses, gangsters, murders, bank robberies, aircraft, and old movies are only a partial list of what people will travel to see. Virtually every community has something it can use to promote tourists to visit. When one considers that heritage tourism sites result in an average drive of 100 miles and expenditures of between $50 and $75 per visitor it doesn’t take much to recognize that tourism can be a big factor in the local economy.
Where do you start? Start in your own back yard! Do some research and a little brainstorming about what you have; past, present, or future to determine how you can best take advantage of what is unique about your community that will bring in tourist dollars. When it comes to tapping the tourist industry one secret is to simply make use of the unique things you have in your own back yard.
As always, CUPPAD is ready to help local units of government and local businesses develop local resources, including tourism, to the optimum level.
Lloyd R. Matthes
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