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Tourist season promises lots to do

Visitors to Austin this summer will continue to enjoy the fruits of labors planted years ago, said Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Nancy Schnable.

“We have events that have really flourished,” she said. “Our events calendar is very, very full.”

Schnable said Austin’s summer attractions reflect a diversity of events and happenings made up of its outdoor activities, its arts culture, Freedom Fest, Mower County Fair and, of course, Spam.

A growing number of visitors have attended events, but figures have strengthened since the Spam Museum moved to its new quarters.

“What we were finding was that with the old museum, bus tours might come to town, go to the museum — and then turn around and leave town,” she said. “In the new location, we’re finding people looking for places to eat, or taking in the ArtWorks Center, the Paramount [Theatre], our businesses, Rydjor Bike Shop, the Hormel house — generally, prompting them to explore more,” she said. “Some of our shops even have extended their hours.”

There will be even more to see at the museum this summer, as that famous luncheon meat celebrates its 80th anniversary in July.

Summer will bring a lot of activities, many that were born of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, from the restored Paramount Theatre, home to the Matchbox Children’s Theatre and a full slate of live entertainment; to a sixth “super spectacular” ArtWorks Festival, to be held in August and, for the first time, in a new outside location, north of the Mower County Jail and Justice Center.

“That has really grown; more artists, more visitors. It also shows a lot of people that Austin is an arts community all year round,” she said.

The ArtWorks Center has also grown in its offerings, and will provide a Family Studio this summer, where children and parents join together to create artworks.

Schnable praised the the Mower County Historical Society and Hormel Historic Home for their summer series of offerings. The society provides History Happy Hours at the Hormel Historic Home all year round, including summer; the Hormel Historic Home is also popular for a number of summer events, including its Peace Garden Concerts.

She said Freedom Fest (“We have amazing fireworks,” she said) and the Mower County Fair are traditional favorites that draw large crowds to the city.

Outdoor enthusiasts can also line up for canoeing and kayaking, after groups worked together to help improve water quality, establish better access and add signage to the Cedar River at Austin. Those who enjoy sports can take in golf, fishing and bike trails, along with other events like the Twister Softball Tournament and baseball’s SPAMtown Challenge.

Schnable said more areas of the state are recognizing Austin as a destination.

“We had the Minnesota Twins contact us to use images of Buffy the Cow in some promotions; the Golden Gophers requested an Austin getaway package for one of their promotions — and the package got 270,000 views. Sir Can-a-Lot was in a Super Bowl promotion this year.”

Recognizing that Austin is part of a larger tourism picture, Schnable makes a point to be active in the Southern Minnesota Tourism Association, a 38-county group that networks and works together on attracting visitors. In fact, Austin is hosting a meeting of the group here this week.

“We are not just working for the Austin experience … it’s about the Minnesota experience,” she said.

CVB members across southern Minnesota work on ways to cooperate on tours and events. In the end, she said, Austin capitalizes.

But that doesn’t happen without a lot of work and vision right here at home.

“We have such a supportive community that encourages new ideas — and works together to make our events spectacular,” she said.

May is Tourism Month — Take the Quiz

The Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is offering up some fun and prizes in its celebration of May is Tourism Month.

A 20-question trivia challenge can be found on the CVB’s web site, at: http://www.austinmn.com/ (click on Tourism Trivia).

Once completed, return to the CVB by May 31 and enter the drawing whose grand prize is an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn and a $50 gift certificate to Torge’s LIVE.