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Douglas County tops Wisconsin in tourism

Gathering to tout Douglas County’s tourism successes in 2013 were (from left, front row) Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen and Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn, (back row) Andrew Nussbaum of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County. The officials held a news conference at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center on Tuesday. (Maria Lockwood /

Douglas County saw more than a 10 percent increase in direct visitor spending in 2013 over the previous year, the largest increase of all 72 counties in Wisconsin.

A study by Tourism Economics, a travel- and tourism-focused organization, shows the impact of tourism on the state’s economy was $17.5 billion in 2013, an overall increase of just over 4 percent.

“Tourism is a major industry force up here in the Northland,” said Dave Minor, president and CEO of the Chamber of Superior-Douglas County. “It is something that we take very seriously, we’re very proud of because we have so many different attributes to promote.”

Visitor spending rose to $81.98 million in Douglas County last year and provided 1,238 jobs. Although tourism spending has gone up every year, the double-digit increase is the largest the county has seen for more than a dozen years.

What is luring visitors to Douglas County?

“Of course we have this little body of water behind us called Lake Superior that everybody wants to come see,” Minor said, adding that there are other activities the area has to offer as well.

Douglas County is home to Amnicon Falls State Park and Pattison State Park, which features the highest waterfall in Wisconsin. The 2013 increase wasn’t linked to any one activity.

Back-to-back snowy winters helped, said Andrew Nussbaum, regional tourism specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. So did the local economy.

“Tourism is hand-in-hand with economic growth,” Nussbaum said.

Strong industries bring in workers, and more jobs are required to take care of them.

The state’s investment in tourism also made a difference. Every $1 spent promoting the state nets a $6 return, said Superior Mayor Bruce Hagen.

Every county in Northwestern Wisconsin saw an increase in tourism impact in 2013, Nussbaum said.

“And that pre-dates the ice cave traffic,” he said.

The challenge is to keep those numbers rising.

Douglas County Board Chairman Doug Finn suggested adding more stop signs to give visitors a chance to notice Douglas County’s many attractions. He also encouraged people to share the area’s four-season secrets with others.

“It’s up to all of us to be promoters, to be positive, to speak well of Douglas County,” Finn said.