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Word on tourism: Investment yields healthy return

People living in River Falls and Pierce County probably don't often think about tourism.

Many of them did though, as the River Falls Chamber of Commerce hosted speakers over breakfast at The West Wind Supper Club two Thursdays ago.

Three people shared their insights into area tourism: Sheryl Williams with Pierce County Partners in Tourism (PCPT); Paige Lackey-Olson with Kinni Creek Lodge & Outfitters; and Russ Korpela, former Pierce County economic development director who recently moved to the New Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

Korpela said, "Tourism doesn't get the recognition it should because it's spread over so many smaller businesses."

He said since the PCPT formed, tourism in the county has doubled.

"If you give greater inputs, you'll get greater outputs," he explained. "Tourism's not like business. It's easier to attract tourism."

Korpela said tourism is a guaranteed-growth industry. He quoted a line from the movie "Field of Dreams," talking about recreation infrastructure and saying it's true that "If you build it, they will come."

He mused, "Why shouldn't we capitalize on what we know will be successful?"

He also had a bit of a caveat for local hosts: Be ready for people when they come, because it's essential that they have a good trip.

"A bad experience will drive them away," Korpela said.

He recognizes a phenomenon he called "retail flight" - people going to Woodbury, Minn., or further to buy goods - and said tourism could be the equalizer.

It could balance things out and create new opportunities for economic development.

Williams said PCPT strives to increase the impact tourism has on the local economy.

Her organization produced 20,000 copies of the Pierce County Travel Planner and maintains brochure racks offering information on all there is to see and do in Pierce County.

The organization's Web site - - provides a county map and history, events calendar, pictorial tour, list of historic sites and information about things to do and places to stay.

During 2005 Pierce County had $32 million worth of tourism. St. Croix County had $100 million, according to Williams.

She said the difference results from "heads in beds," meaning more people spend the night in St. Croix County.

Most guests who decide to stay overnight in Pierce County tend to find lodging in River Falls.

Research shows that people come to Pierce County for day trips. Urbanites come from the city to see nature, agriculture and rural open spaces. People drive around in fall to go leaf peeping or visit an apple orchard.

"Pierce County's known for its back roads," Williams said. "People come out to take a nice drive. Motorcycles like the back roads and often do runs."

Families explore Crystal Cave in Spring Valley or Nugget Lake on Pierce County's eastern side. And all that brings dollars into the county and pockets of local businesses.

Williams pointed out that 35% of the county's tourism happens in summertime. She reminded everyone that tourism is one part of the local economy that won't and can't be outsourced. All the dollars that people spend on tourism here, stay here.

PCPT now offers a county geological tour on compact disk for $14.95 that comes with a detailed map. The county offers an interesting mix of soils, rock formations, bluffs and caves. Some tourism materials bring little-known facts to the forefront.

Who knew that a meteor once impacted Pierce County? The mysterious bow and arrow on a bluff between Bay City and Hager City intrigues people into coming for a look.

The Pierce County travel planner tells potential visitors about Elmwood's UFO Days, which stems from alleged sightings there during the 1970s.

Williams cites snowmobile trails and tours, new bike trails and plans for more, horseback riding trails and clubs, skiing, fishing and ice fishing and many other activities as draws for people.

"We have a lot of nice waterways, too," Williams said as she talked about boats and launches.

PCPT continues work on a map for agri-tourism that shows attractions like a pumpkin farm, a buffalo ranch, dairy farms and a cheese factory.

The organization also wants to produce a map that shows good routes for seeing fall colors.

Williams named quite a few other attractions that draw people to Pierce County, including historic sites, the rodeo and fair, golf clubs, Beldenville's Old Car Club show, plenty for "barn buffs" to see and lots of wildlife.

And River Falls already knows that the Kansas City Chiefs football team comes to practice every summer and generates quite a bit of economic activity.

Kinni Creek Lodge & Outfitters' Lackey-Olson came to River Falls in the 1970s. She knows well the treasure that the city and area have in the Kinni River.

Lackey-Olson sees lots of day visitors and lots of Minnesota license plates coming to enjoy the river.

She figures the Kinni gives people a place to get away from the city for a while. Her lodge gets bookings for families and friends who want to unplug and get away to share fun, food and time together.

"To get things going, we have to think big like Donald Trump," she said. "Every business that deals with visitors can help promote the river."

She speculates that River Falls could become the state's or region's fly-fishing capital.

Korpela said he'd like to see more dollars invested in tourism.

"You will get that money back," he said.