By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — Colfax was well represented at a meeting of the Dunn County Board’s community resources and tourism committee meeting May 11.
But what’s in Colfax that would draw tourists to the village?
Well, there’s the Colfax Railroad Museum. And the events planned by the Colfax Commercial Club (Battle of the Bands August 15). And the Colfax Free Fair in June. And the Colfax Firefighters’ Ball in September.
James Tripp, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the committee, said he had called the meeting to discuss what role the county should have in promoting tourism.
Tripp said one of the reasons he had called the meeting was the Colfax Sesquicentennial last year and the fact that it had not even been on tourism committee’s radar.
Those who were representing Colfax included Herb Sakalaucks (Colfax Railroad Museum and the Colfax Commercial Club); Lynn Niggemann (Colfax administrator-clerk-treasurer); and Lisa Ludwig (director of the Colfax Public Library).
There were also representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Menomonie Tourism Commission.
Andrew Nussbaum, regional tourism specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, noted that tourism has a six-to-one return statewide — that for every $1 spent on tourism, $6 comes back to the community.
“Tourism plays a significant role in the economy,” he said.
“Nothing brings people like multiple-day events,” Nussbaum said.
An event that brings visitors to Dunn County results in an average of $58 spent per day per person, and if the event results in an overnight stay, the average amount spent is $180, he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism is working on signs with the state Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Nussbaum said.
Sakalaucks noted that he has tried to get a sign for the Colfax Railroad Museum near state Highway 29 and I-94, but that state rules require the attraction to be within five miles of the highway (Colfax is eight miles away), or else the attraction must have more 100,000 visitors per year.
And while Sakalaucks — and the other retail businesses and restaurants in Colfax — would love to have 100,000 visitors per year, that has not happened yet.
A five-mile distance in an urban area is entirely different than a five-mile distance in a rural area, Sakalaucks said.
Nussbaum agreed. “One size does not fit all,” he said, adding that legislators in Madison often fail to acknowledge that there is more to Wisconsin than Madison and Milwaukee.
Ag tourism (breweries, wineries and farms, for example) also are important for Dunn County, along with biking, hiking, camping, and skiing, Nussbaum said.
The trail system in Dunn County is a major aspect of tourism growth because people will come from Minnesota and Illinois for the biking and hiking trails, he said.
Hiking and biking trails, parks, lakes, rivers, streams, events, ATV and snowmobile trails all make economic development easier, Nussbaum said.
Joe Holland, chair of the Menomonie Tourism Commission, noted that tourism includes people coming from 40 miles away as well as local people discovering what is in their own communities.
Holland, who taught at UW-Stout for 26 years, also has done presentations for municipalities on how to develop tourism.
Menomonie has a 7 percent room tax, and some of that money is used to help the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce promote events that are likely to have overnight stays associated with them, he said.
Trails, parks, events, attractions, ag tourism and fishing opportunities are all activities that draw people to Dunn County, and “people need to know about them,” Holland said.
Holland also spoke about the six-to-one multiplier effect for tourism dollars.
As for helping Colfax, the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce has a grant funded by the room tax to help promote tourism, and attractions do not need to be a member of the Chamber to take advantage of the grant, Holland said.
Joan Friedenfels, the tourism director for the Greater Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, said she works with state-wide distribution of brochures and would be happy to put brochures for the Colfax Railroad Museum and Colfax Commercial Club events in the Welcome Center.
The Menomonie Travel Wisconsin Welcome Center on Interstate-94 receives about 2,000 visitors a day during the peak travel season, noted Friedenfels.
The Chamber also has a publication that lists events and attractions for Dunn County, she said.
“We do a lot of publications, and we can’t keep up (because of the number of visitors to the Welcome Center),” Friedenfels said.
The Chamber will have a new website at the end of the month that will have a community calendar for events throughout the area, she said.
Wisconsin, Friedenfels noted, is third in the nation for bicycle tourism.
Eric Turner, the director of the Dunn County Economic Development Corporation, said tourism goes hand in hand with economic development.
Tourism helps draw people to an area and then shows them why it is worthwhile to live here, he said, adding that events, attractions, parks, entertainment, and rivers and streams and lakes are all important components.
The real payoff is “when they like it so much, they want to live here, and they bring their talents and their businesses here,” Turner said.
Ludwig, the director of the Colfax Public Library, pointed out that for Colfax, the library acts something like a mini Chamber of Commerce.
People stop at the library to find out about the area, she said.
Any efforts to promote tourism in Dunn County must also focus on applications for cellular telephones, Ludwig said.
Younger people are going to find out about what is going on in Dunn County through their cell phones, she said.
Ludwig noted that she was representing all of the small libraries in Dunn County and asked everyone to remember that libraries are important sources of information for tourists coming to the area.
Bob Walter, chair of the Dunn County planning, resources and development committee and also a member of the community resources and tourism committee, pointed out that the PR&D committee would be holding a public hearing the following week pertaining to adding ag tourism to the county’s zoning code.
It may be time to discuss a county-wide tourism chamber of commerce, Tripp said.
Holland suggested a Dunn County Tourism and Convention Bureau.
Nussbaum suggested starting by creating an “inventory” of what is available in Dunn County for tourists, to decide on the demographic to attract and to figure out where and how to market tourism.
Local government, such as the county, could provide seed money to start the county-wide tourism effort, but businesses that would benefit would also have to help fund the effort, he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism has a package to help start such an endeavor, Nussbaum said.
“The committee has a lot to think about,” Tripp said.
Promoting tourism in Dunn County will be a future agenda item for the committee, he said.