‘Inspirational Wisconsin’ shows off bounty

Hundreds of people in Wisconsin have recommended more than 600 nominees as “Wonders of Wisconsin,” and now the voting begins at www.wondersofwisconsin.com.

You’ll likely have a tough time with this one: The terrific assortment of special places was hard for our committee to whittle down during our recent meeting with first lady Jessica Doyle at the Executive Residence in Madison.

What remains are 244 finalists in 21 categories. Sorry, we couldn’t make it skinnier than that. So now it’s up to you. The deadline is April 15, and prizes will be awarded at random to people who vote.

The project and website, both masterminded by travel publicist/journalist Gary Knowles of Madison, are a fun way to learn about little known gems in Wisconsin – and a way to get ideas about weekend road trips.

This exercise also is a strong reminder about the marquee businesses and natural phenomena that have long made our state attractive and distinctive.

Announcement of “Wonders of Wisconsin” generated a lot of mail to “Roads Traveled,” and the finest surprise was the gift of “Inspirational Wisconsin,” a new and 75-minute DVD produced by Joseph LaMartina of Racine.

“I guarantee that if you view this little bit of inspiration, you will come across many of the scenic areas that you shall receive as nominations for the ‘Wonders of Wisconsin’ ballot,” he wrote. “Possibly many more than you may even be aware of.”

This project was 10 years in the making, he says, and it is a graceful tribute to the state’s natural beauty. Joe calls it “a film of scenic choreography,” with video accompanied by original music that sets playful to plaintive moods, plus stunning nature photography by Richard LaMartina, who is Joe’s brother.

Most footage are what the video camera sees as it is walked through Wisconsin parks, coastlines and trails. There are hundreds of these film snippets, one smoothly morphing into the next. The scenes are organized by season, and introduced with quotes from Leopold, Steinbeck, Muir.

It all makes for a gentle and spiritual primer about the state of Wisconsin, the variety of its natural settings and how the moods change from one season to the next. Spots are identified, briefly, and the filming rarely shows people. It’s all about the scenery.

“There’s never been anything as beautiful about Wisconsin,” Joe believes. He does video production work for a living, but this project was one of passion and personal fulfillment.

Joe has no marketing budget, but you can find out more about “Inspirational Wisconsin” by sending an e-mail to joevideo@execpc.com. There are 2,500 copies of the DVD, selling at $24.95, plus $3.75 for tax and handling.

I agree with Joseph’s thinking that the DVD would work particularly well in hospitals, hospices and with people who love Wisconsin but are unable to hike to the places that “Inspirational Wisconsin” goes.

It’s also a good resource for any nature lover who needs a new idea about where to head next, and it makes an interesting but unobtrusive backdrop when having friends visit. It is a good icebreaker, and a good way to explain Wisconsin to out-of-state visitors.

Joe, who turns 50 this year, figures he has about 10 years of energy left to do this type of work, because it involves hiking to places that sometimes aren’t accessible to the average tourist. He also is pursuing similar projects about Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.

Colleague Gary Knowles of Madison, the brains behind “Wonders of Wisconsin,” has been rounding up prizes that are an excellent match for Wisconsinites. A few already have been distributed to people who made contest nominations.

These winners, selected at random, included two “Roads Traveled” readers: Deb Grams of Janesville and Joan Forsythe of Wisconsin Dells. Deb won a two-night romantic getaway for two to the Heidel House Resort, Green Lake. Joan received a signed copy of Gary Knowles’ auto touring guide, “The Great Wisconsin Touring Book – 30 Spectacular Auto Tours.”

Other prizes to be awarded will be announced at www.wondersofwisconsin.com.

We are suspicious about the timing of the “Seven Wonders of Illinois” exercise at www.enjoyillinois.com/sevenwonders, where the sifting and winnowing continues until April 30. Announcement of that effort was made after our Wisconsin discussions began.

“The field will be narrowed down weekly until only two contenders remain in each (geographical) region,” the Illinois Bueau of Tourism says online.

“I couldn’t resist,” a friend said, in an e-mail. “I went to the site today and nominated ‘The last toll booth before you get to Wisconsin’ (aka heaven to Illinois eyes!).