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MAY 1, 2017 - VOL. 52 No. 8

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COVER STORY

Outdoor recreation drives tourism in the Heart of America

By Jennie Doyen
Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce

Across the country, May marks the start of the peak tourism season. Travel and tourism is one of America's largest industries - a $2.1 trillion economic driver. In fact, one out of every nine jobs in the U.S. depends on the travel and tourism industry. It is no different in South Dakota where travel related spending hit $2.8 billion in 2015.


In South Dakota, outdoor activities are a driving force in the tourism industry. According to a recent report from the Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP), outdoor and wildlife associated recreation contributes $1.3 billion annually to the South Dakota economy. GFP department secretary Kelly Hepler said, "Those who participate in these activities create a significant economic engine, supporting thousands of jobs and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in labor income and growth within our state's economy."

While there are many great cooler-season opportunities available, in South Dakota and in Sioux Falls travel and tourism activity tends to increase with the temperatures. As the weather warms up, residents and visitors alike head outdoors to enjoy recreational activities in the beauty of nature.

Sioux Falls Convention & Visitor's Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Teri Schmidt said that her team uses behavioral marketing strategies to target prospective visitors identified as "outdoor enthusiasts."

"We segment our audiences. So when we show marketing messages to a person who really enjoys outdoor activities, we show them content that relates to hiking, biking, or golfing for example," said Schmidt.

This emphasis on behavioral marketing - targeting ads based on an individual's unique behaviors and interests - has yielded results in the form of increased engagements and a rise in the number of visitors traveling to Sioux Falls.


Increased funding through the Business Improvement District (BID) tax has allowed the CVB to market Sioux Falls on a whole new level said Schmidt. Technology has enhanced the way that people learn about a community and plan their getaways. The CVB uses social media, mobile responsive websites and strategic digital marketing to share information about Sioux Falls and make it easy for visitor to plan their trip here.

Located in the "heart" of America, Sioux Falls is a gateway to the natural beauty of the region. Whether you prefer open prairie or covered woods, rugged trails or paved pathways, there is easy access to all from Sioux Falls. In addition to its system of city parks, the city is close to several great state parks and recreation areas. Visitors and residents alike appreciate the ability to lose themselves in nature without leaving the city.

Sioux Falls boasts 82 city parks, including historic Falls Park. According to the CVB, last year 216,263 visitors signed the guestbook at the Visitor Information Center at Falls Park. This represents a 9 percent increase over the previous year and the largest number of visitors recorded in a single year since the center opened in 2000. The visitors came from all 50 states and 68 foreign countries.

The city's extensive bike trail system is another point of pride. Recently, the City of Sioux Falls debuted an interactive online and mobile-friendly bike trail map at siouxfalls.org/bike. It includes comprehensive information on the trail, including areas of detours, access points and public facilities. This resource will be an especially valuable tool for visitors who wish to experience the trails.


Good Earth State Park Visitor Center Grand Opening Friday, May 19, 2017 Free weekend admission to all state parks in South Dakota

For those that prefer a more untouched outdoor experience, there are plenty of opportunities for fishing, hiking, observing wildlife and more both in Sioux Falls and within a 30 minute drive of the city. The addition of a new state park in 2013 - the first in South Dakota in 40 years - has only added to the appeal of Sioux Falls as a vacation destination.

Located along the Big Sioux River just southeast of Sioux Falls, Good Earth State Park at Blood Run boasts rolling, wooded hills rich in wildlife and natural diversity. The park covers 588 acres of land and features a variety of trees, stands of native prairie grasses, a floodplain and the Big Sioux River forming the border between South Dakota and Iowa. Good Earth adds to the outdoor recreation opportunities in the area, while preserving valuable open space in an increasingly urban region.

The area was first designated as Blood Run National Historic Landmark in 1970. Land for a future state park was purchased in the mid-1990s. Decades in the making, the creation of the new state park was the result of a public/private partnership and a core group of committed citizens working together to preserve an area of national historic significance.

Good Earth will mark a major milestone in its development when it opens a new Visitor Center on May 19. The center will include a focus on Native American history and culture in the region, specifically from the time period of 1400-1700 A.D.


"With the opening of the visitor center, we are increasing the amount of programming taking place in the park. There will be programs about the cultural and natural history of the area," said Park Manager James Henning.

Since its designation as a state park four years ago, Good Earth has had approximately 124,000 visitors. Henning expects that number to increase significantly with the opening of the Visitor Center.

Plans are in place to continue improving the visitor experience at Good Earth. Staff is in the process of adding interpretive signage along the trail system and an outdoor amphitheater, to be used for naturalist programming and special events, is planned for the future. Over time, Henning predicts that Good Earth State Park will grow into a global tourism attraction.

"The future is bright for the visitor industry in Sioux Falls," said Schmidt. "It is our privilege to share Sioux Falls, the Heart of America, with residents of our community and state and with visitors from around the world."


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