By Jim Wright, Correspondent
“We are trying to capture your stories, discover what is special about your place,” the man from National Geographic told the small audience in the Initiative Foundation meeting room in Little Falls, Wednesday.
National Geographic (Nat Geo) Director of Tourism Programs Jim Dion, traveled to Little Falls from Washington, D.C., to tell how anyone and everyone can help put the local stretch of the Mississippi River and Morrison County’s outlying attractions on the tourism map being developed on the website Mississippiriver.natgeotourism.com.
Towns and counties from Greenville, Miss. to Pickwick, Minn. are on the map already, building their pages with text, photos and videos about the places they most recommend to visitors. There have been 780 content contributions so far, Dion said, about the inaugural stages of the website’s development.
Pickwick is near Winona. Thanks to Nat Geo’s collaboration, a lot more people, maybe millions, are going to see where Pickwick is and what is popular with the locals there, and in the surrounding area. That can happen for Little Falls and Morrison County also, Dion said.
Dion said there were almost 2 billion tourists traveling the world in 2013. Along the way to better known attractions, Dion said, “They go local, patronizing local restaurants and other businesses, buying local crafts, seeking traditional music and dance.”
“Inspire travelers to experience your region,” he said.
National Geographic is providing, at no charge, a far-reaching opportunity for all the communities in Morrison County to showcase their attractions — the places local residents like the most.
“The best travel advice comes from the people who live there,” Dion said about Nat Geo’s reasons for inviting “local individuals, service providers, small businesses, organizations and others to share their recommendations for authentic experiences for travelers along the Mississippi River.”
Minnesota Mississippi River Parkway Commissioner Karl Samp said after the presentation, “The Mississippi River Parkway Commission, both at the state and national level, are delighted for the opportunity to partner with National Geographic to promote the Mississippi River, the Great River Road, and all the communities along it.”
“We encourage small, locally-owned businesses and public attractions that would provide the traveler with a unique experience to take advantage of this free opportunity,” he said.
Those groups, as well as travelers and local individuals can visit the website for the Great River Road in Minnesota at www.mnmississippiriver.com for more information.
“I want to put Little Falls on the map as a recognized city on the Mississippi River and this is another stepping stone to make that happen,” said Kristina VonBerge, executive director of the Little Falls Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
Jessica Woudsman, representing The Farm on St. Mathias in Crow Wing County, said, “I came because having any association with National Geographic is an honor, and having the opportunity to share something we’re proud of is an honor.”
She was at the Little Falls presentation, as neither she nor The Farm on St. Mathias owners would be able to attend the Geotourism website presentation in Brainerd later in the week, as Nat Geo’s Dion continues northward along the Mississippi.
Little Falls City Administrator Jon Radermacher also attended the workshop, hosted by the Initiative Foundation’s Dan Frank, as did Great River Arts Board Member Ron Bieganek and Great River Inn owner, Susan Andrews.
The Great River Inn, a bed and breakfast, opened for business in southeast Little Falls about a year ago.
Charles A. Lindbergh Historic Site Manager Melissa Peterson was also present. She said, “What was presented really seems like a robust way to make it easy for travelers to discover us, and include us in their plans. I often hear people, who do find us by chance, say, ‘I didn’t know this (the Lindbergh home) was here.’”
Those who were unable to attend the workshop, can still get on board by visiting the website or by contacting VonBerge at the Little Falls CVB. She can help orientate and inform people, from the private and public sectors, who are engaged in tourism, on how they can participate in contributing content to the website — even those who are not computer-savvy.
“We want to get as much in as we can by mid-November,” Dion said.
The contributions don’t have to be professional quality productions, he said. Nat Geo editors will work with each contributor whether they are an individual or an organization.