Midwest Living comes to Hill City

By Jeff Smith

Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce ambassadors, community members and Newell School District students at the 1880 Train grounds welcomed Midwest Living magazine representatives, South Dakota Department of Tourism and a Sioux Falls advertising agency. The group had a full itinerary when they arrived in Hill City on May 9.

People representing Midwest Living magazine, the South Dakota Tourism Department and an advertising agency visited Hill City on May 9. They were treated to a nice welcome from the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce ambassadors and other community members.

Midwest Living was partnering with the South Dakota Department of Tourism for the second annual Road Rally.

“We spend five days touring the state. South Dakota is an obvious choice,” Trevor Meers, editorial content director for Midwest Living, said.

“I’ve been telling people I think the Black Hills is the quintessential road trip.”

Meers added that there is so much to offer, from the tourism attractions to the scenery.

An eight-page story will be published about the road trip in general.

“It will come out the last week of June so be watching for that,” Meers said.

The article will be read by about 3.5 million readers.

Janet Wetovick-Bily, executive director of the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce, told the audience at the 1880 Train to enjoy their time in Hill City.

“We’re here to make your life fun and to ensure you have a great experience,” Wetovick-Bily said.

South Dakota was celebrating National Travel and Tourism Week May 6-12.

Jim Hagen, South Dakota Department of Tourism Secretary, thanked everyone for the awesome welcome. There was a large banner that was displayed by the crowd at 1880 Train/Black Hills Central Railroad.

“You guys, I just want you guys to know how much we appreciate this,”  Hagen said.

Hagen explained the importance of tourism not only across South Dakota but to the Black Hills region in general.

Last year in South Dakota there were 13.9 million visitors to the state. Overall, visitor spending in South Dakota reached $3.9 billion.  Around 54,000 people were employed in the tourism industry. Without the industry some households wouldn’t have income.

By all indications there is going to be more growth in South Dakota tourism this year. According to Hagen, vacation guide requests are up 122 percent, website traffic is up 22 percent and e-mail sign-ups are up 42 percent.

Hagen said they are excited about the peak tourism season and it is shaping up to be a wonderful tourist season.

Hagen said the Midwest Living article is a great spotlight for Hill City. It will be able to be shared with tour operators around the world and people visiting the state.

One thing that is important for the tourism office is collaboration. This could be through online marketing methods or different types of campaigns.

The goal for marketing is to act as a dynamic magnet for people and  “shine a light on businesses.”

Hagen said his office is only a phone call away and would be happy to assist anyone in Hill City.

After being welcomed at the 1880 Train depot, the group explored Hill City, went to Prairie Berry Winery and then the final destination was Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.

Meers said on May 9 he learned a lot of the history of the area. Meers met Nick Clifford, the last remaining carver of Mt. Rushmore, and at the Black Hills Institute he learned about the history of the area in geological terms and what was here a long time ago.

The group also went to Crazy Horse Memorial to learn about Native American history.

“Today has just been a good survey of history from many different eras,” Meers said.

Meers said the Road Rally is a good opportunity for them to take the experiences they have and share them with readers.

He has also been coming to the Black Hills since he was a child so he was familiar with a lot of the spots the Road Rally visited.

Meers said what makes Hill City unique is the number of diverse attractions that are in a relatively small area.

Meers said when they came up with the idea, they thought they would partner with a state tourism office. The South Dakota Department of Tourism agreed on the partnership last August. Midwest Living then had to decide where they wanted to go on the trip. The theme they created was “Chasing Legends”.

“Obviously the Black Hills and Badlands have so many legends around it so that’s how we wound up in this part of South Dakota,” Meers said.

The western part of the state began at Wall Drug, then they went to Rapid City, Hill City, Custer State Park and Deadwood.

Meers said one of the favorite parts was horseback riding on a ranch in the Badlands.

“There was a thunderstorm on the horizon so to be out riding horses at sundown with lightning on the horizon was pretty fun,” Meers said.

He said it was a very western experience.

Meg Warder, president of 1880 Train, said it was great to be able to host Midwest Living magazine and the tourism association.

“It was a great way to present Chug — our mascot — to the industry,” Warder said.

May 9 was the first appearance made by Chug at the train station grounds. Warder said they wanted to create a mascot to humanize the industry.

The character Chug is something that is soft and approachable. It is kind of the opposite of locomotives and passenger cars that are kind of rough and loud. His appearance schedule can be found at 1880train.com.

Warder said the weather has been beautiful which made the first few opening days great.