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Viewpoint: Tourism is a growing industry

Tourism. It's a concept that is increasingly the subject of discussion and action as businesses and municipalities become aware of the importance of attracting visitors to Pierce County's attractions.

The Highway 10 bridge at Prescott is the official northwestern entrance to the Mississippi Great River Road extending from Lake Itasca in Minnesota for 3,000 miles through 11 states, and ending at the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the northwest rivers, the Mississippi and St. Croix, meet at Prescott, forming the western edge of Pierce County.

The first stop to the right after coming off the highway bridge are the 1884-1885 bricking buildings housing the Prescott Chamber of Commerce and Heritage Center. Both are accessible through connecting doors. As an indication of Prescott history, the 1937 Seth Thomas Clock has been fully restored and functional and placed in a sturdy brick tower. A 4-ton bell cast in 1878 at the Shane Bell Factory in Baltimore, Maryland for the Prescott Methodist Church is also in the welcoming area. A walkway down to the river area begins here.

Inside the Chamber building is an extensive information rack with pamphlets from all around the area, and free Wisconsin road maps. The history center is accessible from the Chamber area, and has continuing historical displays, currently featuring stoves (ranges) from long ago.

As an indication of tourism coming into Wisconsin, there is a sign-up sheet at the Chamber office. Chamber Director Trish Huber estimates 1 in 5 visitors sign. But signatures from 2018 give a good indication of the interest in the area. In February, visitors came from Devils Lake, N.D. and Lake Villa, Ill. In May visitors were from Portland, Tenn.; Augusta, Ga.; Calgary, Canada; and Montpelier, Vt.

Tourist season began last June with registrants from St. Petersburg, Fla; a family from California; Seattle, Wash.; Marco Island, Fla.; Augusta, Ga. again; and two from Merecombe, United Kingdom. July started off with visitors from Paris, France. There were 48 signers including from Alexandria, Minn.; Prescott, Ariz.; various people from surrounding Minnesota and Wisconsin; the Cox family from Texas; North Carolina, Washington, Kansas, New York State and Illinois were represented. Visitors continued from Winnipeg, Canada; Australia and into November with Montana, Maine and Indiana signing the register.

The Great River Road is an attraction.

The widely advertised Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center at Freedom Park is another "first" destination after entering Wisconsin from Prescott. An accurate count in 2018 showed 15,000 in the building, with two times that in the outside park area. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. From Feb. 1 to Memorial Day, the center is open six days a week, Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Shorter hours are on winter weekends.

Pierce County has many other attractions, namely Crystal Cave in Spring Valley, Kinnickinnic State Park, Nugget Lake County Park, and fishing including the St. Croix and Mississippi, Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers. A "Travel PIerce County" map is at the Chamber office.

Hours at the Prescott Chamber are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Phone is 715-262-3284.

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