Visitors from Wisconsin's Department of Tourism and Department of Natural Resources toured Douglas County's state parks Wednesday as part of Gov. Scott Walker's "Cabinet on the Road" tour of Northern Wisconsin. At Amnicon Falls State Park, they caught a glimpse of a property in transition.
The park is in the midst of a remodeling project of sorts. A new parking lot, landscaping and, soon, an electronic kiosk will greet visitors at the park entrance. A new public visitor station, four times the size of the current cedar-shake structure, has been built further into the campground, complete with a heated garage, display area and flush toilets.
In total, the state is pouring around $575,000 into this hidden gem.
"It's long been needed," said Kevin Feind, superintendent of Amnicon Falls and Pattison state parks.
Shelly Harkins got her first glimpse Wednesday of Amnicon Falls.
"It's absolutely stunning," said Harkins, industry and agency services director with the Department of Tourism. "The color of the water gives it such depth."
She found the sound of water rushing over the falls to be very tranquil.
"I want this to be my office," said Harkins, as she snapped pictures with her cell phone.
Tourism Deputy Secretary Sarah Klavas is no stranger to Douglas County's state park gems. At Amnicon, she said, the falls are the star.
"When I go over there and see that, you don't have to go any farther," she said, pointing to the root beer-colored water pouring over the upper falls.
The park has been bustling with visitors this autumn, Feind said, even last weekend.
"Thanks to a lot of our recent publicity this year, there's been a lot of first-time people from quite a ways away," he said. "I've spoken to people from Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi ..."
Even longtime Superior residents have been discovering Amnicon Falls for the first time this year, Feind said.
"Sometimes the locals have to be reminded about the gems in their backyard," said Julie Fox, regional tourism specialist with the Tourism Department.
Wisconsin has been investing in its natural treasures, from selfie stands and YouTube videos to Discover Wisconsin segments.
"Our state parks are one of the reasons why people come here," Klavas said. "Natural resources are our calling card."
The visitors ended their tour by the falls, taking group pictures with the help of a Travel Wisconsin selfie stand. The cedar structure is one of 10 that the Department of Tourism and DNR rolled out this fall. Another can be found at the Big Manitou Falls south overlook in Pattison State Park.
If the prototypes are successful, Klavas said, they will be replicated.
"Who knows, we might have selfie stands in each park," she said.
After touring Amnicon Falls State Park, the tourism officials headed to the Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce.
"The entire day was very productive and allowed us to show off some of the best assets we have in the region," said interim chamber President Taylor Pedersen.
They swung through the farmer's market, ate lunch at Spirit Room and toured the welcome center, Fairlawn Mansion and the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center.
"This was not their first time to Douglas County, but was a great reminder of how special the area is," Pedersen said.
Chamber members also took the opportunity to discuss the challenges the tourism industry faces, from workforce needs and economic challenges to weather and road construction.
The government officials capped off their Douglas County trip with a visit to Pattison Park to view the state's highest waterfall, Big Manitou Falls.
Such visits are incredibly important in building better connections with Madison, Pedersen said.
"In many respects, these types of visits are equally as important as legislative days at the Capitol and advocacy activities we participate in," he said. "They allow us to show state departments first-hand what our challenges are as well as what we are proud of and why we call this place 'home.'"