Talking Tourism Monthly Column in the Cook County News Herald.
Originally published: January 15, 2021
Talking Tourism – A New Year
By Linda Jurek, Executive Director of Visit Cook County MN
It takes a distinctive person to call northeastern Minnesota home. It also takes business resiliency that is understood but sometimes not recognized. That is, until faced with a pandemic that set all of us reeling. In March we closed. And I mean truly closed. This decision was difficult and scrutinized by leaders from every sector (healthcare, government, tourism). After heartfelt and respectful conversations, it was agreed that this would be best for our community. When your economy is vastly dependent on tourism, closing takes on a whole new meaning.
As a person who leads an organization that promotes our area, this has always seemed like a no brainer. Why wouldn’t a person want to visit here? For those of us that are fortunate enough to call this area home, we understand the allure; the inland lakes, THE LAKE, the BWCAW, the highest falls, the miles and miles of hiking trails; the list is extensive. Early during the closure and as I participated in industry calls from across the nation, I learned that the tourism persona would change. Our visitors would likely travel from a home base radius 250-300 miles from their homes, they would load the family in the car and drive and they would check items off their personal travel and “back yard” bucket lists . That is precisely what happened.
The shift began. Working together, we established protocols that would keep our community safe while allowing our businesses to operate. In May, as lodging worked diligently to implement new COVID protocols, it became a question of not how to open but rather when. We are a vocal community and there was a certain amount of fear regarding public scrutiny and opening your business during a pandemic.
However, we figured it out. We opened. And the people came. And COVID remained at bay. Over and over again, when engaged in tourism industry calls, I heard how many areas in Minnesota, surrounding states and across the nation struggled mightily with decreased visitors. Areas that were reliant on conferences and major sporting events were ghost towns and were operating at 20-30% over last year. Cook County is fortunate. We have the vast outdoors and many lodging opportunities that are either remote or spacious. We continued to be vocal about our expectations for behavior. A united community voice was heard stating we expect social distancing – One Moose Apart. We expect masks on in our stores. There was a spirit of cooperation that I believe will continue long after we emerge from the restrictions imposed by COVID.
While many businesses continue to struggle and have questions about future workforce, there is a glimmer of hope. The occupancy rates of our lodging facilities outpaced most of Minnesota. Bringing your own linens and not “turning stayovers” helped set a new and accepted hospitality protocol. The determination displayed during the past 10 months will continue. Our people are the heart of hospitality day in and day out and we thank you.
Although festivals and events may look different in 2021, they will return and we will recover. We will continue to welcome tens of thousands of visitors to our area. The determination and strength displayed by our business owners will prevail. The pandemic helped us truly understand the ups and downs and ins and outs of a tourism based economy, and I believe we all have a deeper appreciation one another.
I look forward to greeting you all again in the near future. Happy New Year.
Socially Distant and Amazing Cross-Country Ski Trails in Cook County, Minnesota
January 1, 2021 – Cook County, Minn. Visit Cook County invites all levels of cross-country skiers to kickstart a
much-anticipated new year by enjoying over 400km of trails throughout Cook County, Minnesota. With an
average of 120 inches of annual snowfall in the stunning Superior National Forest, the opportunities for
adventure are endless.
“Fresh air and exercise are essential to mental and physical wellness, as we’ve all learned this past year,” said
Linda Jurek, Visit Cook County Executive Director. She continued, “A cross-country ski adventure in Cook County
is the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the season.”
Five Great Reasons to Try Cross-Country Skiing This Year
1. It’s affordable and fun!
2. View wildlife and nature up close
3. Endless adventure opportunities
4. Full body workout
5. Aprés ski
Read our blog post to learn more.
Whether you’re an expert looking to stretch your legs and skills, a family hungry to get outside safely, or a
couple looking for a romantic ski through the trees, the perfect cross-country ski adventure awaits in Cook
County. The best part? With so much open space on the trails and ample lodging, you can remain as isolated as
you need to be to feel safe.
Three Lesser-Traveled/COVID-Friendly Cross-Country Ski Trails in Cook County
- Norpine System, Lutsen Area – This stunning 58 +km network of trails surrounding Cascade River State
Park has some of the state’s best views.
- Central Gunflint Ski Trail System – Located in the heart of the snowbelt of the North Shore, it doesn’t get
more peaceful than 70 km of trails along the Gunflint Trail and BWCA.
- Banadad Trail System, Gunflint Trail – Ski to your heart’s content on 43 beautiful kilometers in the
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
View the Cook County Ski Trail Map and plan a trip north today.
Visit Cook County, Minnesota
Visit Cook County encompasses the northeastern Minnesota communities of Lutsen, Tofte, Schroeder, Grand
Marais, the Gunflint Trail and Grand Portage, commonly referred to as “the Arrowhead” and the “North Shore of
Lake Superior”. Grand Marais, Minn., has earned several national accolades — most recently it was named USA
Today’s Best Midwestern Small Town, Outside Magazine’s The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S. 2016, and
Budget Travel’s 2015 Coolest Small Town in America. Rekindle your sense of adventure by exploring the Superior
National Forest or paddling through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Discover what makes the
communities of Cook County, Minn. “Naturally Unforgettable.” Connect on social media using #donorthmn,
Twitter @CookCoVisitors, Facebook, or Instagram @donorthmn. Learn more at www.visitcookcounty.com.