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Area tourism scores big win across state
September 11, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Photo by Brenda Leisy - Ashlyn Lang (center), along with her parents, Kevin and Kim, showcase a replica of the Lake Minatare lighthouse they built for a tourism booth at the 2014 Nebraska State Fair.

After two weeks at the Nebraska State Fair, local tourism officials said they had success publicizing the area to residents from across the state.

“Grand Island had 11 inches of rain in those two weeks, so the humidity was over the top,” said Brenda Leisy, Director of the Scotts Bluff Area Visitors Bureau, “but things went well. The fair was very organized. They said the overall attendance numbers were down but our building saw a huge increase in traffic.”

While people flowed in and out last year, this year’s opening weekend numbers were large enough to require four people at the Scotts Bluff booth to handle the number of visitors. Leisy said that based on giveaway items, she estimated that 6,000 people visited the booth during the fair.

She said about 95 percent of the visitors were Nebraska residents. “A lot of people were from Lincoln and Omaha, which is part of the audience we’re trying to reach. And the people were thrilled.”

Leisy said everyone knows about Scotts Bluff National Monument and she tries to feature lesser-known attractions as well. “I like to pull out the things that few people know about. This year, we had a replica of the lighthouse at Lake Minatare.”

Numerous veterans found the lighthouse interesting because it was built by the Veterans Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and because it was a successful government program, it caught some national attention.

Television comic Stephen Colbert had a book come out last year. His staff from The Colbert Report contacted Leisy about using a picture. “What he talked about in the book was a government program that actually worked, that the government should focus on those,” she said.

Then the Friday prior to Labor Day 2014, Colbert’s team contacted her again requesting usage of the picture. He mentioned it on his show and the clip went viral on social media.

“I had friends from Michigan and all over the place messaging me about the show,” Leisy said.

Leisy, who grew up being part of the 4-H program in Morrill County, said the program is a family affair. The things she learned from her great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and father are important parts of her life.

Carrying on that tradition, it was a local family who built a replica of the Minatare lighthouse for display at the fair. Leisy, her daughter and her father also helped. “They worked on it as a family, turned off the TV and video games and built a beautiful lighthouse,” she said. “To be able to take it to the fair seemed like entering it to be judged in 4-H competition. That’s why it was so special to me. It was families working together.”

Leisy explained that the success they realized at the state fair will translate into more visitors to Scotts Bluff County in the future. “If people don’t know what they’re missing, they’re not going to come out here,” she said. “We’ve already seen an increase in Nebraska residents requesting information.”
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