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Our View: Still time to be a tourist in your own city

The complaint is oft heard among us Duluthians: The city only invests in Canal Park or the Lakewalk or other attractions for tourists; everything around here is for tourism.

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

The complaint is oft heard among us Duluthians: The city only invests in Canal Park or the Lakewalk or other attractions for tourists; everything around here is for tourism.

Frankly, with more than 6½ million visitors a year who spend nearly $350 million and generate about $11.5 million in "tourism tax" revenues from their stays in hotels and motels, their meals in restaurants, and their drinks at bars, there's a lot of truth to the claims. And a lot of wisdom in it: We in Duluth would be foolish not to take advantage of our gorgeous summers, spectacular vistas, and breathtaking lake by marketing them to free-spending outsiders. We'd be missing out big-time if we didn't encourage what has become a steady, robust, economy-stabilizing tourism industry.

Nonetheless, it's only natural for us locals to feel a little left out and a bit overlooked now and again.

Recognizing that, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and her administration - in a welcome nod to residents that deserves to become an annual occurrence - announced on the second-to-last day of March a series of "Community Day" events, the idea to "highlight the wonders and experiences offered in Duluth," as the mayor's office said in a statement.

And for free. Already, the Great Lakes Aquarium, Duluth Depot, and Lake Superior Zoo were opened, no tickets necessary. In addition, the Greater Downtown Council did free face painting and balloon animals. More than 6,000 Duluthians and visitors have taken advantage.

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"The program is off to a fantastic start," Visit Duluth Vice President of Marketing Sue Mageau told the News Tribune Opinion page Friday. "Feedback from the entities that have held their community day event has been overwhelmingly positive. Attendees appreciated the opportunity to experience these attractions for free. This is a wonderful way for our industry to give back."

The fun is far from over.

On Thursday, Glensheen Mansion, the Midwest's No. 1 house museum, will have free classic tours on a first-come, first-in basis between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.; mansion officials suggest getting there early for timed-entry tickets that are sure to go fast.

Also Thursday, from 4-8 p.m., the Adventure Park at Spirit Mountain will have free rides on the Timber Twister Alpine coaster and Timber Flyer zipline; its Jumping Pillow and mini golf course also will be open for complimentary use.

On Aug. 3, beginning at 5:30 p.m., the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad will offer free train rides along the St. Louis River.

And on Sept. 21, Duluth Sister Cities International will host a community gathering from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the Japanese Peace Bell Garden at Enger Park; there'll be free ice cream and a ceremony in honor of the International Day of Peace.

Watch communityday.visitduluth.com for more free-admission opportunities still being planned, all with local residents in mind.

"Tourism is a strong industry for us," Mayor Larson said to the Opinion page Friday. "Ensuring free community access - even for one day - helps our residents feel a stronger connection to this important economic engine."

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The "Community Day" events are "something a little different" this year, Larson acknowledged in March. They can become annual norms so residents can continue to be encouraged to get in on the fun, too - and maybe not complain so much about all the attention on tourism.

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