/ Articles / Tourism officials: Future of Vilas County Fairgrounds ‘exciting’

Tourism officials: Future of Vilas County Fairgrounds ‘exciting’

December 10, 2019 by Abigail Bostwick

Efforts continue towards revitalizing the Vilas County Fairgrounds as more than just a one-trick pony. 

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Vilas County Economic Development and Tourism Committee heard from Bob Egan, soon-to-retire Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC) executive director, on the status of the longterm goal. 

Egan, under the committee’s directed task, has been focusing on the county fairgrounds in Eagle River for just over a year to enhance not just the fair, but the grounds on which it is held. 

The fairgrounds, owned by the county, are leased to the Vilas County Fair Board each year. That board hosts the annual fair, which has been reportedly declining in interest over recent years.

“I personally think promotion should be divided into four seasons,” Egan relayed. 

Each season could narrow in on a seasonally-appropriate theme and incorporate countywide organizations, businesses and events, Egan explained. With such vendor or booth-based events, visitors and residents from all over the area could be drawn in to see what the county has to offer, further advancing promotion of Vilas County as well as better utilizing the rarely used fairgrounds. 

“You make it so a huge demographic can be covered,” Egan said. “(And hopefully) bring enough action to maintain sustainability.” 

Egan also relayed the idea of rebranding and remanding the fairgrounds as more of an expo center or location.

“It would bring the whole county together,” committee chair Holly Tomlanovich said of the seasonal event proposition. 

The fairgrounds currently is in need of “curb appeal” and a boost in recognition, Egan said. 

“We are struggling with what to call it,” Tomlanovich added of the title “fairgrounds.” “It’s not just a fairground. It needs a better name. With a name like, ‘fair,’ people think that’s all that can happen there.”

Tourism department director Cindy Burzinski noted she would like to see more marketing ideas on part of the fair board before they commit to promoting any future events there. 

“At this point, it’s premature to say ‘Yes, we’ll market that,’” Burzinski said, adding a wide swath of people should be incorporated in the effort. “If we think it’s right for the people involved and it’s good for the county…only when you get local people involved, not just Eagle River, will you have a successful plan.”

Vilas County chamber director Penny Strom added another idea to draw people and usage to the grounds could be larger scale concerts. 

“I think what you’re talking about is seriously exciting,” Great Headwaters Trails spokesperson Jeff Currie said. “It seems like this is an input time … a chance to showcase the county. You want it to be something of a traditional link, but also with a freshness and youth to it.”

Egan also has been consulting with the fair board to improve that particular event. Members have partaken in business planning and actively pursued options to grow interest in their event, he stated.

“I need help from all of you people,” said Egan, who despite retirement, plans to join the VCEDC as a board member and continue to work on the fairground us renovation. “I’m excited about this project for the county and for the residents of this county. All we’ve got to do, is put this together.”

Other business

In more business items, the committee:

• Learned the revolving loan fund currently has no new applications, though it is not surprising given the quieter time of year, Egan noted. 

• Met new VCEDC executive director, Kathy Schmitz. 

• Heard about rural broadband updates, including from Egan that while many grants are available — many matching — some communities need to “step up” and pursue fundraising efforts to secure such dollars.

• Went over the latest report from Pilch and Barnet. Lyn Barnet relayed winter promotion efforts are underway with the early snowfall and 2020 plans are already underway for the entire year. 

• Learned from Burzinski the 2020 travel guide for the county will soon go to print.

• Heard from University of Wisconsin Extension’s Steve Nelson that the replacement for the health and well-being educator has a candidate and is soon to be offered the position with an estimated start date of Jan. 4. 

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