When people think of the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota, tourism is probably not their first association.
So last spring the Eveleth-based Iron Range Tourism Bureau helped convene the new Iron Range Attractions Council, with an eye toward drawing more visitors to 15 lesser-known sites in northern St. Louis County. The list includes the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame (Eveleth), Greyhound Bus Museum (Hibbing), Olcott Park Greenhouse & Metsa Gardens (Virginia), Minnesota Discovery Center (Chisholm) and Embarrass Homestead Tours and Nelimark Museum (Embarrass).
“A lot of these places that are nonprofits don’t have large budgets,” says Beth Pierce, director of the Iron Range Tourism Bureau. Pierce says that the goal is to draw more visitors to the sites by bolstering networking and doing cross-promotion. Hibbing High School, one of the most popular Range sites based on the volume of inquiries, is also on the list.
“Of course, Bob Dylan went to high school there,” notes Pierce. “There are Dylan fans who want to go there just for that reason,”
The core metro area of Hennepin and Ramsey counties drew $6.25 billion in tourism spend in 2013, nearly half of the state’s $13 billion total, according to Explore Minnesota. St. Louis County, which includes Duluth, drew $488.5 million in 2013, less than 4 percent of state tourism dollars.
The Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park (photo, right) was dubbed “Number One Nerd Road Trip in America” by Popular Science magazine in 2013. James Pointer, interpretive supervisor for the park, says that it draws 30,000 to 33,000 visitors annually, which would not crack the top 10 in most regions of the state, but makes it among the Iron Range’s most popular attractions.
“We would love to have more visitors here. A lot of people just haven’t heard about us,” says Pointer. “A lot of people, if they come up north, they go to the North Shore.”
The former state-run Iron World in Chisholm is now the Minnesota Discovery Center, a private nonprofit operation focused on education and genealogical research. “We’re not a party place; we’re not a Disneyland,” says Lisa Vesel, CEO of the Minnesota Discovery Center. “We’re a museum that educates people on the Iron Range.” —Burl Gilyard