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No time to hibernate: Cold Northland welcomes everyone at anytime

Courtesy of Craig and Nadine Blacklock
Cross country skiers in Door County' Newport State Park

My wife, Francelle, and I have traveled a good deal, visiting each of the seven continents — and about six dozen countries — over the last two decades. Yes, that would include a 2011 fly-in trip to Antarctica, where six of us stayed overnight at a Russian Base Camp. 

Chuck Slocum

Sometimes this kind of international travel becomes seductive and we do not fully appreciate what we have in and around our own home ground. As Super Bowl LII visitors learned last week, there are many ways to enjoy even the very coldest winter days.

The states of North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan make up what is known as the Northland of America.

One example: Door County

One such trip in the Northland comes to mind in a small, unlikely place located about a five-hour drive east of the Twin Cities along Wisconsin Highway 29. Our experience is that most domestic travelers do not know areas by county. Door County, however, is an exception that makes the rule. Several million people have found their way to explore it at least for a weekend; many stay much longer and return regularly.

It is difficult to pigeonhole Door County; it has been described as a “conundrum” because it is known for so many things. The area is rural, with natural aesthetics that include parks, farmland, hills, waterways, wildlife and landscapes. We found what is best enjoyed within the region can be found in and around the communities of Egg Harbor, Ephraim and Sister Bay.

Re-introduced to Door County in the 1990s, turkeys are now a common sight. Other animals to be found, including fox, coyotes, skunks, porcupines, opossum, grouse, chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits.

With 300 miles of shoreline and 19 small communities to explore, one can watch a sunrise, tour all day, and view the sunset over the same water without leaving the county. Numerous one-of-a-kind art galleries pop up if one is in such a mood.

A visitor can easily find a delicious piece of Door County’s popular cherry pie, sip on local wines and brews — and in winter, snowshoe and cross country ski. All year long, one can stroll through five state parks — and, get this — tour 11 historic lighthouses! We admit that one was enough for us.

Door County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has a total population of 28,000; nearly one is three is over the age of 65. Over half are women. One in 10 is a veteran. Nine in 10 have graduated from high school and one-third from college. Sixty percent of the over age 16 residents are in the workforce — tourism and health care the major employers — with a median income of $54K per household. The ethnicity is described as 97 percent white and 3 percent Latino or Hispanic. These demographics are not unlike the many nonurban areas in the five-state Northland region.

The economic impact of tourism

Of course Minnesota, the Dakotas and Michigan also have wonderful experiences to offer a tourist. 

While specific economic numbers are not readily available for the Northland states, we do know that travel and tourism’s overall contributions to Minnesota — from the most recent data available — provide almost 260,000 jobs amounting to $5.1 billion in wages paid; $930 million or 17 percent of the state sales tax revenue reaches the state coffers because of the tourism trade.

The U.S. Travel Association, in annually studying both domestic and international travel, reported last year on impressive contributions to U.S. economic growth and job creation. Important for all of the 50 states, such travel generated a total of $67 billion in state and local tax revenue.

Domestic travelers took almost 2.5 billion trips, and there were nearly 80 million international visitors who traveled to the U.S. Combined, these tourists generated over $2 trillion for the nation’s economy and provided jobs for 15.1 million Americans, or one in nine full- and part-time private sector jobs.

For curious Minnesotans who have pretty much exhausted visiting sites like the Mall of America, Rochester’s Mayowood, the refurbished State Capitol, the vast Mill City Museum, the first-in-the-state (1891) Itasca State Park, St. Cloud’s Clemmons Garden, Brainerd’s “Lakeland” region, Voyageurs National Park, the Minnesota River Valley or eagle watching in Wabasha, it may be time to plan your trip to Door County.

Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm; he can be reached by e-mail Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com


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