Talking Tourism: Superior Trail Races – How an event extends beyond the weekend

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: April 2019

Talking Tourism: Superior Trail Races – How an event extends beyond the weekend | by John Storkamp,  Race Director for the Superior Trail Races

In 1991 an ambitious group of volunteers created the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race on the North Shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota.  The concept was pretty simple, yet would prove to be forward thinking and well ahead of its time.  The idea was this; runners would run continuously, day and night, through Lake and Cook counties, through several Minnesota state parks, on the newly minted Superior Hiking Trail and would cover 100 miles in the process.  As a result, the North Shore lays claim to the 10th oldest 100 mile trail running race in the country.  Today, there are nearly 200 trail races of this distance in the United States and their rise in popularity over the last decade can only be described as meteoric. Look at what the marketing-types now call “adventure tourism” and the boon that it can bring to the economies of small outstate communities and the creation of the Superior 100 Mile Trail Race by those volunteers all the way back in 1991 looks downright prophetic.

The first year that the race was held, there were 27 finishers, today we have more people volunteering at a single aid station (aid station; think water-stop like at a half or full road marathon but with a lot of good grub for famished runners and perhaps an impromptu dance party breaking out from time to time). But for all of the growth and changes over the years, the motivation of our runners remains the same.  People want to get out and challenge themselves in one of the most breathtakingly rugged and beautiful places in the country; The North Shore, Lake Superior, Cook and Lake Counties, Minnesota state parks and the Superior Hiking Trail.

Today, the Superior Trail Races consist of both Spring and Fall editions with Caribou Highlands Lodge on Lutsen Mountain acting as race headquarters – all races finishing in the shadow of the unmistakable Moose Mountain.  The Spring edition of the race is always held the weekend before Memorial weekend and features 12.5KM, 25KM and 50KM races while the Fall edition is always held the weekend after Labor Day weekend and features a 26.2 Mile, 50 Mile and 100 Mile race.  The field limit for both the Spring and Fall editions of the race is just shy of 1000 participants and due to the popularity of each event, not everyone that wants to race can get in, so registration is held via a lottery.  It takes about 200 volunteers to pull off the Spring race and nearly 400 to pull off the Fall race and volunteering in many ways has become an equal draw on event weekend.  While we do have many great volunteers from the North Shore, the lion’s share come from Duluth, the Twin Cities and many other Minnesota communities – some folks even traveling from out of state just to volunteer!  In a given season we will host runners from nearly all 50 states and multiple countries.  Runners more often than not travel with friends and family and plan a vacation around their race.  Add up the runners, the volunteers and the spectators and we get to introduce, or share again, our beloved North Shore with a lot of really great, like-minded people.

Trail and ultra runners are pretty low key individuals and often times like to fly under the radar, likely a function of how tough the sport is – they put themselves out there with their actions and often times not their words.  For many years the races themselves flew under the radar as well but with increased interest and popularity things have evolved over the past decade.  Hotels and motels reach capacity, restaurants and cafe’s along Highway 61 bustle… today, people know when the races are happening.  Given the increased size, scope and overall footprint of the races we rely on more volunteers, more sponsors and a core group of local partners – significant among them Visit Cook County.  These relationships and the contributions of our partners help us keep the Superior Trail Races operationally and reputationally strong not only in Minnesota but nationally and internationally.

While it may sound ambitious, through the grace of our runners, volunteers and partners we have been quietly achieving our mission for quite some time: To provide fun, challenging and life-changing experiences for our runners, their friends, families and our volunteers alike. To deliver maximum benefit to the area and communities therein. To drive interest, members, volunteers, donations and funding to the Superior Hiking Trail – the conduit that runs throughout and ultimately makes all of these good works possible.

/// John Storkamp is the Race Director for the Superior Trail Races.  He and his wife Cheri spearhead the events which are only made possible through the efforts of an extremely committed group of their friends, referred to in the above story as “volunteers”. John took his first backpacking trip on the Superior Hiking Trail in 1996 and has been on the trail ever since. John and Cheri split their time between Hastings, MN and Silver Bay, MN.

Superior Trail Races

Talking Tourism: What do you want to be?

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: March 2019

Talking Tourism: What do you want to be? | by Anna Klobuchar

As an adult with life experience, what do you wish you had been told about careers?  Or, as a teenager contemplating a future vocation, what information would be beneficial? Visit Cook County will attend the College and Opportunities Fair on April 3 at ISD #166 to let the students know how their various interests and potential post-secondary plans can directly align with the industry of tourism, entrepreneurial endeavors in our county or employment in our organization.  We thrive on new ideas, positivity, fresh perspectives, and that “fire in the belly” drive that young people can bring to us.

Yes, tourism drives 85% of Cook County’s economy.  But I am writing to you from the perspective that not only are lodges, restaurants and retail businesses important employers in our area, Visit Cook County is a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and is also an employer to a team of 11 people who blend their various strengths, educational backgrounds, and talents to attract and provide assistance to visitors.  It works because we work. Hard. And, the team also drops their paychecks into our local economy every two weeks.  According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2016, those employed in the hospitality and leisure industry contributed to a workforce of 15 million jobs nationwide.

Growing up on the Iron Range, I had a hardworking friend who at the age of 12, much like Hermey the misfit elf in Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, stated that she wanted to become at dentist. And she did! The rest of us don’t make such emphatic career choices so early. In today’s lightning speed, ever changing world, perhaps the message to the dewy-eyed 16 to 18 year olds is that it’s okay if they don’t know at such a young age what they want to the do for the rest of their lives.

At Visit Cook County, we have a Psychology major as our Finance Administrator, working with complex budgets and databases.  You’re reading an article from a Journalism/Political Science major who is now the Information Center Coordinator. Our Executive Director started as a Theater major, detoured into motherhood, and has a passion for people and organizational management.  She has worked in medical transcription, insurance coding, owned multiple businesses, was a kick box instructor, and later became Director of Retention and worked on major events with the Duluth Chamber and Greater Duluth Downtown Council.  Lastly, our Events Resource Coordinator discovered a huge university didn’t work for her, returned home for a breather, and is now carrying a full load of on-line classes pursuing her Accounting and Organizational Management degrees. Our Marketing Manager and our Communications Manager are the two who are currently practicing their majors in their current occupations. They both spent many years in other fields of art and hospitality.

Our advice to the young, upcoming work force? Study what interests you, and the important skills to learn are to problem solve and communicate your ideas. Explore the jobs available through a DMO such as ours.  What occupations fall under that umbrella?  The list is endless!  Our area is rich in artistry and creativity. We work with photographers, graphic designers, videographers, and layout artists.  We rely on and employ those who are website builders, coders, techie data chasers, analytical programmers,receptionists, writers, file managers, historians, researchers, sales managers, customer service representatives, skilled communicators, social network strategists, and foreign language translators.  And that truly is the tip of the iceberg.

The ethereal “find your bliss”, or “do what you love” counsel may apply to few right away, but sometimes it takes a while to make that happen or get discovered.  In today’s economy, useful guidance is more along the lines of “figure out what you are good at and what you find satisfying and work in that field.”  Then, roll up your sleeves and have at it. Discipline, motivation, compromise, humility, flexibility and honesty will carry you through your chosen profession or vocation.  Career satisfaction often comes from the people you work with and who surround you, and not particularly what you do.  And lastly, don’t fear change.   The best life lessons are the ones you learn by trial and error, and these job fairs are a great opportunity to open the students’ eyes to all the choices they have.

So, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: February 2019

Talking Tourism: Secret Sauce | by Kjersti Vick

Last week at the annual Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference in the Twin Cities, Visit Cook County was brought up by our peers as a model that is working. Being industry leaders, Linda was asked to present on a panel of experts discussing “Creating Impactful Events” to a standing room only room. The secret is out, what we are doing is working to drive tourism and awareness to our region.

Visit Cook County was founded in 2010 when the three tourism associations decided to stop competing against each other and combine forces to achieve a greater market share.  In our relatively short history, our region has seen unprecedented growth in lodging tax. While the peak summer months still see the largest influx of lodging tax dollars, the months that have seen the most significant growth from 2011, until 2017 are:

  1. April + 60%
  2. June + 59%
  3. May +58%
  4. October +48%
  5. November +43%

We were tasked with driving traffic during the “shoulder seasons” or times of the year when businesses felt an increase in traffic would be beneficial to sustaining their ability to remain open and therefor sustain their workforce. Our team of marketing experts and the board strategized on what we could do to either convert current guests from peak season to shoulder season visitors and/or attract new market segments.

Enter “Waterfall Season.” Utilizing our natural assets, we changed the perspective of mud season by creating a new season embracing what occurs naturally – the melting of snow and ice on the inland lakes rushing down to Lake Superior. In addition to seeing an increase in visitation, we’ve seen more social media posts about waterfalls and received some significant press in major publications like the Star Tribune. On our website, our waterfall map is one of our most sought after downloads.

Beyond our natural assets, we are unique in another way thanks to our locally collected 1% Events Tax. The events tax has allowed us to be a strategic partner with event producers to both enhance the visitor experience and develop events that will attract new visitors to the region. Major events like the Lutsen99er, is one of the biggest successes. Prior to the Lutsen99er, the month of June was a hit or miss and its success was incredibly weather dependent. Since 2011, in the Lutsen-Tofte-Schroeder lodging tax district, June has seen a 64% increase in lodging tax collections. This can be directly attributed to the success of this great event which has also caused a ripple effect of an increased awareness of biking in our community. The result? New single-track mountain bike trails being built as well as new biking events throughout the year.

Because of the foresight of the leadership from our three tourism associations, Visit Cook County has become a premiere Destination Marketing Organization in Minnesota. Our success is one part location and tradition mixed with two parts creative marketing.

2019 Visit Cook County at Explore Mn

Pictured from left to right: Lynn Nelson of LINPR, Kjersti Vick of Visit Cook County MN, Lily Nelson-Pedersen of Visit Cook County, Barb Darland of Giant Voices, and Linda Jurek of Visit Cook County MN

Talking Tourism: What Shoulder Season?

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: December 2018

Talking Tourism: What Shoulder Season? | by Amanda Plummer, Guest Services Director & Marketing Assistant at Lutsen Mountains (Guest Author)

Even though our slopes have been open for a few weekends now, this time of year our community takes a collective deep breath as the pace slows down and the seasons change, this is known to most as a shoulder season. A shoulder season is a travel season between peak and off-peak times, a season that many in travel and tourism have come to greatly appreciate and anticipate. At Lutsen Mountains however, our shoulder season lasts exactly three weeks, and even during that time while we may not have guests onsite the action behind the scenes outpaces even summer.

While thoughts of winter are in the back of our minds year-round, the moment the temperature drops we hit high gear as we prepare our slopes for our winter enthusiasts. First up is our snowmaking and maintenance crews, working around the clock to combine the powers of man and machine to create the core of our business, SNOW. We often post through social media to #thankasnowmaker and I know I don’t do it enough myself. What they create is magic and without it we wouldn’t be able to operate from mid-November through May which is an amazing season in the Snowsports industry! But a larger than life pile of snow isn’t all it takes, first we need to get people to start thinking about winter which can be hard to do when they are thinking of turkey and stuffing which is where marketing comes into play. This time of year, we work to increase our digital reach and our share of the winter market through social media, email and our website. The more eyes we have on Lutsen and our snowmaking now, the more skiers and riders we have as we get into the full swing of operations.

Once they are ready to book, they head online for their ski & stay package. We partner with fifteen area resorts from Schroeder to Grand Marais to offer discounted rates when lift tickets and lodging are bundled together. These partnerships are crucial to winters in Cook County as we all work together to fill our lodging spaces as well as secure the commitment from customers for their time spent on the slopes, in our shops, and in our restaurants. With nearly 100,000 skier visits each season, the ripple effect of these guests and the jobs and families they support become a key economic driver in the community.

As the shoulder season fades, peak season is just around the corner (daily operations resume Friday, December 14th) and our team of 50 core employees has grown to 150 including our seasonal staff to meet the added demands of peak winter. While there is a ton of work behind the scenes, in the end, we are sharing an active winter lifestyle, creating memories and building family traditions. See you on the slopes!

Talking Tourism - guest author- Amanda Plummer of Lutsen Mountains

Talking Tourism – guest author- Amanda Plummer of Lutsen Mountains

Talking Tourism: Knitting Together Education and Tourism

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: November 2018

Talking Tourism: Knitting Together Education and Tourism | by Lily Nelson-Pedersen

As the daughter of an educator, I was taught young to ask questions and derive joy from learning and interacting with the world around me. Growing up in a tourist community like Cook County (and specifically in the lobby of the East Bay–the hotel my family owned) enriching experiences often came from interacting with the guests and visitors who were traveling to our area. It always felt to me that our community was improved by tourism, bringing with each car traveling up Highway 61 new fashions, new ideas, and new interests from what felt like a very distant place.

One problem in our small community can be a lack of resources to bring that far outside world in. Whether those resources are a lack of people, funds, or knowledge, tourism can be an excellent vehicle for bringing opportunities to Cook County. At Visit Cook County, weaving together chances to enhance the lives of our year-round residents and create memorable experiences for our visitors is a win-win.

One way in which we try to do this is with educational programs and events. We provide scholarships to students as a part of the Lutsen 99er bike race, host presentations on Lake Superior storms, and are newly partnering with the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium and Astronomer Joel Halvorson of UMD, all to both create a lasting impression for our visitors and also to use the industry and resources of tourism to enrich the lives of locals. Halvorson is bringing up a traveling planetarium, the GeoDome, and making stops at area schools in Tofte, Grand Portage, and in Grand Marais over the week of December 10th – 14th.  Halvorson owns a cabin on the Gunflint Trail, which he visits often, and has big visions for future Dark Sky events and education in Cook County.

My job as Event Resource Coordinator brings with it the privilege of getting to knit together these two worlds of education and tourism, to share with guests to our area and the locals a love for learning and joy from new discovery–just as I did as a child. I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in the position of helping to create and facilitate more of these experiences for all who call Cook County home, even if it’s only “home” for a few days.

Talking Tourism: The Power of Networking | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: October 2018

Talking Tourism: The Power of Networking | by Linda Jurek

Whether you choose to network at Java Moose over coffee or at one of your favorite watering holes, sharing your business ideas or common interests has been part of our communication processes for what seemingly could be forever. In fact, it is proven that prehistoric man returned to the same location to draw in order to seek comfort, share their stories with a deep desire to connect with others.  The same drawings of the cave walls were also transposed onto earthenware. Was this early social media?

I happen to be of the age where I remember my first Grand Marais home phone number, the rotary phone as well “party lines” and let’s not forget the introduction of the long phone line which allowed a person to venture at least 20 feet from the phone mounted on the kitchen wall. With the surge of social media allowing us to connect via Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., the value of a good old face to face may have slipped into the shadows.  But I disagree.

Networking is an experience that might be overstated but is truly a necessity.  If you describe yourself as an introvert, you may also hear yourself saying “I hate networking”.  I like to think of networking with some clear goals in mind. Ask yourself what is it that I want to learn from that person? Make a point of listening and identifying common interests. If you find that common interests aren’t jumping to the surface, think about what you can add to conversation. During my time at the Duluth Chamber, we actually hosted Networking 101 which allowed new and seasoned professionals to connect, meet and share their stories. Being a major extrovert, I often found myself running around and introducing attendees to each other; finding the common link for continued conversation and learning.

And now, while we might not host many formal networking opportunities in our communities, they do exist. Visit Cook County and the Cook County Chamber are happy to host the Fall Gala each year. We have been told time and time again how much people enjoy the opportunity to visit (network) with community members. The Gala includes a social hour, dinner, and music and also allows the opportunity for you to network with local business stakeholders as well as state legislators. We’re excited to host John Edman, Executive Director of Explore MN, as our featured speaker for the event. He will provide us with impactful tourism highlights from around the state.

You won’t want to miss this annual networking opportunity scheduled for Tuesday, October 23rd at 5:30pm at the newly renovated Grand Portage Lodge and Casino. There is still time to register and you can find registration information, lodging and shuttle details on our website at


Talking Tourism: For the love of Autumn

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: September 2018

Talking Tourism: For the love of Autumn | by Kjersti Vick

As we roll from the crazy days of summer into the peak weekends for fall colors, we notice a shift in the air and it’s not just the temperature. Time slows down and so do our visitors. While the kids are back in school, the adults will play. From gallery hopping and romantic dinners to wine tasting and leaf looking – autumn is the most anticipated season of the year.

Along with the more relaxed visitor, we see an increase in cultural tourists and we market events to match their interests. The Art Along The Lake Fall Studio Tour, which kicks off September 28 and runs for 10-days, features over 20 different artists who open up their home studios to the public. It is truly inspiring to see the space in which they create. What could be better than local art inspired by a place you love and viewing the fall colors?!

Cook County lives in the hearts of many. As the marketing manager for Visit Cook County, I spend a lot of time engaging with our social media audience. Reading the comments from our followers is both very informative and fun. The stories really start pouring in when I post a photo from one of Cook County’s many iconic landmarks. Everything from “I remember going there with my parents” to “I proposed to my girlfriend here!” A common thread we see is couples posting about how they had their first vacation together as a couple here. I’m going out on a limb here but Cook County might be the best relationship test there is; if you love it here as much as I do, then we are meant to be together.

This August we hosted a contest “Weddings of the North” to find those who dared to take their love of Cook County to the next level by getting married in their favorite destination. We had dozens of submissions and the Top 9 images will be printed in our upcoming 2019 Visitor Guide, due out in mid-October. What was most interesting was seeing the different venues people chose. Some opted for lavish resort based weddings, while others had intimate dock side ceremonies. No matter the size of the wedding party, all emphasized the beauty of the area and the warm memories are what made them choose Cook County to be their third partner.

Whether you’re celebrating your anniversary, traveling with your family, embarking on a solo adventure – you are not alone in your love of fall travel. If you need ideas on how to make the most of fall, visit our website for fall color maps, must-see sites, and complete list of events at

Talking Tourism: Walk with me, talk with me

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: August 2018

Talking Tourism: Walk with me, talk with me | by Anna Klobuchar

Most often than not, a visitor comes through the door, and you can easily strike up interesting and engaging conversations with them.  Ralph Engel came into the Grand Marais visitor center on a deep cold winter’s day two years ago, and we chatted about all there is to see and do in Cook County.  Over an hour later, he left with a stack of printed materials in his hands, and three days later, he called and explained he is owner of RJ Tours and Travel, and asked if I would join the bus tour he would be bringing to our area that summer.  I did. And it was a blast.

This year, a group is again coming to visit, and we will spend one day on the Gunflint Trail, and one day in Grand Portage and also visit High Falls.  As the bus travels, we chat about the area, and I have the privilege of answering any questions they may have as we visit various locations.  One important skill I learned is to have the ability to change things up on the fly, and play off the energy of the group.  Conversely, your attendees will likely feed off your energy as well. And what’s great about accompanying a group is being able to share your own knowledge, experience, and personal anecdotes to the tour.  If you really love what you do, you easily pass that passion onto the guest and they feel it too.  Anyone can memorize and recite facts.  But when you hop on the bus with them, and you share your enthusiasm, that tour will feel particularly special for the guest who is looking for a genuine experience outside those of the typical tourist attractions. Drive by sightseeing is not standard with this group, as they want the time to experience the destination – the flavors, the cultures, and the sights.  And we cover the terrain! From Chik Wauk Museum, in our beautiful borderland, to hopping on the sunset gondola ride at Lutsen Mountains, they want to experience the history and beauty of the area.    On the last day, the group has the time to relax on their own, and enjoy Grand Marais at their leisure.

The tour directors have an entirely different level of responsibility. I gained respect for the level of planning that must go on behind the scenes. Directors would not be able to function if they were not extremely punctual, exceedingly detail oriented, and very, very organized.  From menus to mileage, secured reservations to site restrictions, contract obligations to head counts, the director is meticulous with the itinerary and mother hen to their guests.

Travel is an adventurous education that enriches our lives.  It is an honor – and a whole lot of fun – being able to enhance a visitor’s travel experience by joining them.  Last year, as we were leaving the Grand Portage National Monument, one of the park service employees, dressed in character, spontaneously serenaded us with her fiddle as she walked us to where we were gathering at the bus.  Special touches like that make this place unforgettable, and keep them coming back for more!

Talking Tourism: Keeping Cool Up North

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: July 2018

Talking Tourism: Keeping Cool Up North | by Linda Jurek

The seagulls are making noise outside my window and the fan is blowing trying to cool the office. I’m a firm believer that we northern Minnesotans do not need air conditioning. Along with the warmth of late July, you will notice the leaves are turning from the spring filled luster of green to their mid-summer hue; a little less brilliant. We are celebrating harvest season and the biggest blueberry contest has become a local and visitor competition like no other. I’ve been told the berry season is one of the most abundant in decades. The contest runs until August 11th with multiple weigh stations along the Gunflint Trail and you don’t have to have the biggest berry to win a prize.

With the buzz of summer is at high throttle in Cook County, your marketing team at Visit Cook County is always looking for new opportunities. Many of our visitors travel here to enjoy the dark skies and a chance to view the auroras. In fact, it is one of the most visited pages on our website. We are looking forward to partnering with the University of Minnesota and welcoming the Dark Sky Caravan and their traveling planetarium. The planetarium is a mobile digital display. Imagine yourself traveling to the universe from the dome of an indoor planetarium. Telescopes will be available to experience the night skies. There are seven locations, five of which are in Cook County. Check out the details by visiting our website at

The Dark Sky Caravan has opened doorways for Visit Cook County to begin planning our first Dark Sky Festival to occur in December 2018. And although the summer celebrations continue, we have just completed our stakeholder winter marketing survey and are thinking “winter” in the middle of July. Mind over matter, and feet in a lake, is how we stay cool and comfortable in the middle of summer.

Talking Tourism: Visit Cook County Welcomes New Members to the Team! | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: June 2018

Talking Tourism: Visit Cook County Welcomes New Members to the Team! | by Linda Jurek

The information center and administrative offices of Visit Cook County have welcomed two new members to their team.

Joining the administrative office team is Lily Nelson-Pedersen who has replaced Katie Krantz as the event resource coordinator. During the summer of 2015, the board of directors encouraged the creation of this position. Although you might think the event resource role was designed to coordinate events, the responsibilities are much greater. Lily is responsible for the content of the monthly event newsletter and all website listing for the events in Cook County. The events are those welcoming all visitors. The county 1% lodging tax supports our marketing and/or production of events and programming. This is no small task. Twenty-two events were added during fiscal year 2017-18. Lily is no stranger to Cook County. She is a 5th generation family member to our area and a 2009 CCHS graduate.

Carah Thomas-Maskell is a familiar face and a welcomed member to the information center team. Visit Cook County maintains information centers in Tofte and Grand Marais. And although there is certainly and ebb and flow to the county’s tourism traffic, the busy team of the information centers welcomed 22,000 visitors in 2017. Carah not only brings a vast knowledge of Cook County to her position, she is a seasoned writer and photographer.  Carah has traveled extensively and is a 1978 CCHS graduate.

Both Lily and Carah work in the Visit Cook County location in Grand Marais. Please stop by and welcome them to the team.

Photo: 2018 new hires at VCC, Lily Nelson-Pedersen and Carah Thomas Maskell

2018 new hires at VCC, Lily Nelson-Pedersen and Carah Thomas Maskell

Talking Tourism: Talking Tourism, Eh? | by Anna Klobuchar

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: May 2018

Talking Tourism: Talking Tourism, Eh? | by Anna Klobuchar

The world’s second largest country is a hop, skip, and a jump away, and contains our good neighbours to the north. (Don’t hit your spellcheck! We have temporarily adopted the Canadian spelling of ‘neighbour’ for the next couple of weeks). Canada’s southern border with the US is the world’s largest bi-national land border, and our Canadian visitors regularly travel to Cook County and Minnesota. In the community, they let us know how they enjoy all we have to offer, whether for the just the day or for extended vacation. We love our good neighbours to the north, and they love to visit us!

Yes, Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy, and still a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II being head of state. And until just recently, with Elizabeth now on the throne for almost 65 years, the second longest reigning monarch was Queen Victoria, who held the crown for 63 years.   Hence, Victoria Day, and the 3 day weekend the Canadians celebrate on the weekend before the U.S. Memorial Day. Queen Victoria’s birthday actually fell on May 24, 1819, and has been celebrated in Canada on the third Monday in May since 1845! It is also their unofficial kick off to the summer season, and their weekend is packed with activities to celebrate the return of the warm sun and longer days.

For this year’s Victoria Day Weekend, May 19 – 21, 2018, the Canadian maple leaf flags will be a-flying throughout Grand Marais. The Grand Marais Downtown Business Coalition, in conjunction with Visit Cook County, created the “Welcome Neighbour” campaign, and is encouraging businesses to festoon their buildings with maple leaf flags, posters, and banners, all to ensure our northern visitors feel welcome.

Many area lodging properties are offering room rates on par with the Canadian dollar. From vintage Triumph auto club members who are driving their classic models around Lake Superior and hail from Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa, to newlyweds from Thunder Bay who wish to hike the Pincushion trails for the afternoon, our Canadian patrons report that they feel embraced by the people and businesses in this area. They describe how they enjoy our picturesque harbor, or, should I say, harbour, and tell us about their visits to the Grand Portage casino, our area restaurants, shops, galleries, and hiking trails. As we are close, Cook County is popular with the year round day trippers, and even in the winters, they come to Lutsen Mountains to ski for the day. Those who stay overnight come for casino gaming, our area theater, concerts or to take classes at the Art Colony or North House Folk School. Lastly, on their extended trips to Duluth or the Mall of America, we are a friendly,  popular respite location.

We are about to start our high tourism season, and the economic impact from all our visitors is a major source of income and of vital importance to our area. Victoria Day Weekend is the soft launch into the about-to-become busy season, make sure you say hello to our polite neighbours from the Great White North.

Bon Jour and Good Day Canada!

Talking Tourism, Eh? Welcome Neighbours

Talking Tourism, Eh? Welcome Neighbours

Talking Tourism: New Directions – Visit Cook County hosts Board Retreat | by Linda Jurek

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: March 2018

Talking Tourism: New Directions – Visit Cook County hosts Board Retreat | by Linda Jurek

What’s the best way to advance an organization? Retreat.  A board retreat that is.  Many of us have heard of board retreats and in planning for the first ever Visit Cook County retreat, the work done in advance is equally as important as gathering a busy group of board members. Being a younger organization of eight years and having achieved incredible growth and increased tourism traffic were a couple of reasons a board retreat was necessary. Number one for me? I wanted to offer the Visit Cook County (VCC) team and board members the opportunity to step away from their day to day business and provide a chance to exhale and consider the work of our organization. Hosting a retreat in Cook County comes with its own mixed bag of consideration but one of the best is the ability to disconnect with a drive inland – up the Gunflint Trail. And let’s not forget gathering a group of very busy individuals that serve on the boards of our local not for profits in addition to running their own businesses. A retreat should not be burden, and to my delight the vast majority of our board was able to attend.


The retreat also served as an opportunity for the team at Visit Cook County to provide thoughtful reflection on their area of expertise including marketing, events, communications, finance and info center operation. The retreat was set up in a sharing circle format with the opportunity to provide verbal and written feedback. Each team member provided a report and was able to receive feedback from the our knowledgeable board leaders. The VCC team reviewed the feedback and provided a brief report prior to kick of the day two work session. Some of the suggested highlights and directives include:


  • A review of our mission and vision
  • To focus on sustainable tourism growth with a focus on our slower occupancy months
  • Better identifying the role that Visit Cook County has in supporting local events
  • Improving our metric analytics for our marketing efforts
  • Improved communications with Visit Cook County stakeholders on everything from vacancies to the most popular visitor information requests to promotional opportunities and news alerts
  • Share marketing campaigns and initiatives


On behalf of Visit Cook County, a big thanks to the board of directors for providing leadership to continue the growth of tourism in Cook County.


2018 Board Retreat Group Photo

Back row (Left to right):
• Roz Randorf, Dale Carnegie (facilitator)
• Anna Klobuchar, Visit Cook County
• Frank Vecchio, Grand Portage Lodge & Casino
• Jennifer Kennedy, East Bay Suites
• Jim Vick – Lutsen Mountains
• Charles Skinner, Lutsen Mountains
• Dave Tersteeg, Grand Marais Rec Park
• Dave Seaton, Hungry Jack Outfitters
• Dennis Rysdahl, Bluefin Bay Family of Resorts
• Nancy Burns, Lutsen Resort
• Scott Harrison, Lutsen Resort
• Beth Kennedy, Birchbark Books & Gifts
• Maggie Barnard, Visit Cook County MN 
• Lisa Bodine, Giant Voices (facilitator)
Front row (Left to right):
• Katie Krantz, Visit Cook County
• Emily Haussner, Caribou Highlands Lodge
• Molly O’Neill, Visit Cook County
• Pascha Apter, Giant Voices
• Linda Jurek, Visit Cook County
• Kjersti Vick, Visit Cook County
Visit Cook County Board Members absent from photo:
• Tom McAleer, Cascade Lodge
• Zach Baumann, Golden Eagle Lodge
• Mike Larson, Cascade Vacation Rentals





Cook County News Herald by Linda Jurek, executive director at Visit Cook County MN

Talking Tourism: Evaluating Success – How We Use Data To Direct Marketing Initiatives | By Kjersti Vick

Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.

Originally published: March 2018

Talking Tourism: Evaluating Success – How We Use Data To Direct Marketing Initiatives | By Kjersti Vick

Spring has arrived in Cook County! While our spring is less about beach vacations and more about spring skiing and maple syruping, it is equally as sweet. In the marketing world of Visit Cook County, we are always at least a season ahead preparing our ad buys and content creation. We’re thinking “summer” while the grass is buried under two feet of snow.

As the destination marketing organization for the region, we keep our ears to the ground listening for what trends or new opportunities lay ahead. In the depths of winter we send out a summer marketing survey to our stakeholders requesting feedback and ranking of various campaigns and vertical markets. Vertical markets are the broad topics we select to build a campaign around; often they are broken down into subcategories for content creation and receive budget allocations within seasonal marketing campaigns. With three years of results, we are now able to compare sentiment with measurable data. For example, we’ve seen biking as a vertical, previously in the lower third of the list, climb up to the top five most important verticals to focus on. This year, biking dipped slightly in ranking but that is nothing alarming. What that kind of data suggests is that our recent campaign on biking is working. Stakeholders are seeing our marketing efforts and there has been an influx of bike traffic and now other verticals are vying for the spotlight. Similarly, we have seen verticals that were at the top (ahem, Coolest Small Town) fall to the bottom of the list. Again, that viewpoint was palpable but without supporting data, it is difficult to assess if it is individual bias or truly what the majority wants. Being able to pair context with data is critical for evaluating a successful campaign.

Enough about what we think, what about our visitors? We all have our reasons for living here – but what makes someone visit here? Enter “Social Listening” my favorite buzzword phrase. Observing what people are saying on social media about their favorite attractions and digesting the feeling of posts help provide insights into why people come here again and again. While there are some constants, Lake Superior and the BWCAW, there are some surprises that are uncovered when you listen closely.

Case Study: Waterfall Season

If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, Cook County is the land of 10M gallons of water. An evaluation of visitor posts has shown substantial emphasis on water as a primary attraction to Cook County. The obvious being Lake Superior and inland lakes, however, upon deeper analysis waterfalls were nearly as prevalent. In 2014, we started a new campaign promoting Waterfall Season during the months of April and May, known locally as “mud season.” Since the campaign launched in the spring of 2014, lodging tax has increased by 31.9% in what are historically known as low occupancy months. Additionally, the waterfall page on our website has become one of the top ten content pages on In reviewing the survey feedback from our stakeholders, it is clear that waterfall season is a time of year in which there is room for growth. While the additional amenities might not be as bountiful as in the height of the summer, the visitors during that time do not mind. They are here to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy season, and let the stress of life wash away with the ice breakup over the falls.

Of course while we are always looking forward to the next thing, being present and enjoying the current season is also important. For myself, I am celebrating the arrival of spring by skiing 31 consecutive days – starting March 1. Rain, snow or sunshine I get out for at least an hour a day to ski: downhill, backcountry or cross-country skiing (on a good day, all three in one day.) One could say my winter fatigue index is pretty low, so while we’re strategizing our summer campaign – I’m simultaneously savoring winter.

See more “Talking Tourism” articles and more at

Cook County News Herald by Kjersti Vick, marketing manager at Visit Cook County MN