Take 12: Pandemic Pivots


The best place to take a quick pulse of tourism news and health in Wisconsin is the annual state conference for people who work in the industry.

This year, the event happens digitally, two hours at a time, over months. Lost is the opportunity to learn through casual interactions at a meal or workshop break.

The next best thing: conference examples, gathered online, of how destinations are creatively dealing with the pandemic. A dozen weighed in, many with news of virtual tours, exhibits and field trips. Here are a few additional things that I find notable.

American Birkebeiner, Hayward: The continent’s largest cross-country ski race, pre-pandemic, drew roughly 13,500 skiers and 25,000 spectators from across the nation and 30-plus countries. The show went on this year because of modifications to loop the course, limit the number of skiers per wave and day, add more event days and virtual race events. birkie.com

Door County Maritime Museum, Sturgeon Bay: The museum’s online store is stocking goods for stay-at-home activities. That includes jigsaw puzzles of Door County scenes and, for the truly patient, a Great Lakes nautical chart. dcmm.org

Eagle River Historical Society: A summer lecture series moved outside. Topics shifted to focus on history and the outdoors. “How Wisconsin Became a Great Biking State” was one subject. Heritage garden development was another. Rec trails got a lot of love. eagleriverhistory.org

Hudson Hot Air Affair: Instead of meandering among balloons during the popular Moon Glow or Field of Fire, the gathering turned into a drive-thru event. Other public events were canceled. Balloon launch points were not advertised, to prevent crowds, but launches were live-streamed. hudsonhotairaffair.com

IRONBULL, Wausau: The nonprofit promotes outdoor adventure sports in Central Wisconsin and put together seven free, marked courses (running/walking, biking, paddling) in 2020. They are in Nine Mile County Forest, Scotch Creek Preserve in Edgar, Erbach Park in Athens and downtown Wausau. One carefully organized event included private property, to spread out participants. The free Essential Gravel (biking up to 44 miles) is among those to be repeated this year. ironbull.org

Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee: Outdoor igloos for cold-weather dining are not unusual during these pandemic times, but the brewery’s five heated Hop Houses have a dual purpose. They are greenhouses that will be used to grow fresh produce after the need subsides for private, outdoor dining shelters. lakefrontbrewery.com

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau: Kits for art making were developed, assembled and shared in spring. By autumn, a Stop-By Studio was designed, created and installed outside the museum, which means art kits are available 24/7. lywam.org

Main Street Monroe: The nonprofit videoed and posted shopping sessions that allowed 18 retail outlets to sell merchandise. Stores kept 100 percent of sales. Main Street Monroe handled advertising, online sales processing and invoicing, in addition to videography. mainstreetmonroe.org

Milwaukee Food Tours: Founder Theresa Nemetz turned the pandemic into a time to thrive by launching Quarantine Care Kits and Shelter-in-Style Kits. Each contains treats from small local businesses, many of which had been a part of her tours, and kit often included a link to a virtual food tour. What else? An Easter Treasures box contains chocolates from century-old businesses, as far away as Pennsylvania, and Nemetz just sealed the deal to buy Chicago Food Planet/Chicago Food Tours. milwaukeefoodtours.com

The Mining and Rollo Jamison Museums, Platteville: A 1931 mine train was refinished for the first time since 1978, and a pollinator garden was inaugurated. mining. jamison.museum

Old World Wisconsin, Eagle: The state historical site arranged a Fall Family Fun Drive during two weekends in October. The 2,500 participants followed a 45-minute route, not usually open to visitors, in their vehicles while enjoying fall colors and the re-created 1870s village, 10 farmsteads (representing various cultures) and Kettle Moraine State Forest. Optional treat baskets were available. oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org

Platteville Chamber of Commerce: The city’s giant “M” – billed as the world’s largest – is a reminder of mining heritage. Distribution of commemorative can coolers and bottled water encouraged a climb to the top of Platte Mound in July. An annual Fall Harvest Dinner, to support local agriculture, morphed from one-group dining to a drive-thru format. platteville.com