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Legacy funding will showcase Willmar, Minn., lakes area tourism in 2012

Tribune photo In this Aug. 2010 photo, Davina and the Vagabonds perform on the main stage at the annual New London Music Festival in Neer Park. Kandiyohi County was recently named a Minnesota Legacy Weekend Destination for 2012. The outdoor music festival will be one of the highlights of a weekend of festivities that will showcase the New London, Spicer and Willmar lake communities.

Kandiyohi County has scored a major tourism coup by recently being named a Minnesota Legacy Weekend Destination for 2012.

Beth Fischer, Executive Director of the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau, confirmed news that the lake communities of New London, Spicer and Willmar have been selected for the program for the weekend of Aug. 17-19.

"It's very exciting," said Fischer. She and community partners had sought the designation through a state grant application.

"I'm excited for all of us. We'll all benefit."

In its second year, the Legacy Weekend Destination program is funded with money from the Legacy Foundation that's generated from a voter-approved sales tax intended to enhance the state's arts, historical and outdoors programs.

Several other communities will be named destination sites for various weekends stretching from May through September, Fischer said.

As part of the prize each community's target weekend will receive extensive publicity through publications and websites sponsored by Explore Minnesota, Conservation Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

There will be local promotions as well with opportunities for area businesses and event organizers to piggy-back onto the statewide campaign.

"We hope it brings people to our area for that weekend," said Fischer. "And we believe it will."

To be eligible for the destination program communities had to display aspects of the outdoors, art and history.

One of the challenges was selecting the best community weekends to put forward in the application, said Fischer, adding that Kandiyohi County is rich in activities that feature all three components.

Although there will be more events added to the list as plans are finalized, the weekend of Aug. 17-19 will feature many arts events in New London, including outdoor music festival, the cc, featured artists at the Kaleidoscope artists' coop and Little Crow Ski Show.

Outdoors events on the docket include a bike ride from Willmar to New London on the Glacial Lakes bike trail and activities at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

The historical aspect of the package includes a timely tie-in with the 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict, which started Aug. 17, 1862.

A bus tour is planned Aug. 18 to various landmarks in the county associated with that event, including the Guri Endresen cabin and Monson Lake State Park, where settlers were victims of the uprising. Also on the tour is the Lundborg-Broberg State Monument in the Lebanon Swedish Cemetery in New London. It marks the mass grave of 13 members of two families killed during the Dakota Uprising.

The tour will also include stops at the county's new historical markers that were installed with the help of a 2010 Legacy grant, according to Jill Wohnoutka, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.

The Norway Lake Lutheran Historical Society is also holding its annual celebration that weekend at the Old Log Church in rural Sunburg. Besides honoring the early Norwegian Lutheran immigrants that settled in the Norway Lake area, organizers are intending to host a special speaker Aug. 19 to discuss the Dakota Conflict from the Native Americans' perspective.

Wohnoutka said the Legacy Weekend Destination will help educate people about the 150th anniversary of the Dakota Conflict and the significance it had on the county.

"We want to just get it out there so people learn about it," she said.

Fischer said the Legacy Weekend Destination will help boost the county's steadily growing tourism industry.

Citing the latest statistics from 2010, Fischer said Kandiyohi County tourism generated $72.7 million in gross annual sales with $4.5 million in sales tax tied to tourism.

Those figures reflect an increase from $65 million in gross revenues and $3.7 million in sales tax from the previous report that was issued in 2007.

Fischer said there were 1,584 private sector jobs associated with the leisure and hospitality business reported in Kandiyohi County in 2010.

Falling within industry trends, Fischer said people are vacationing closer to home and staying fewer days - like a long weekend rather than a whole week.

"But people still want to take a vacation," she said, which is helping to keep tourism strong in Kandiyohi County.

Volunteers, businesses or organizations that want to participate in the Willmar Lakes Area Legacy Weekend Destination should contact Fischer at 320-235-3552.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750