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Western Minnesota Prairie Waters Works to Create New Opportunities for the Region

by Dawn Hegland on August 5th, 2011

Western Minnesota Prairie Waters was honored by the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) for their efforts in collaboration.

The Southwest Initiative Foundation celebrated 25 years of serving southwest Minnesota with a regional banquet Friday, May 20, at Jackpot Junction in Morton. More than 300 guests—including current and former board members, volunteers, donors, loan clients, grant recipients and partners from throughout the region and beyond—joined to honor the “Best of Southwest Minnesota.”

Guests enjoyed a dinner and program, with special guest and emcee John Lauritsen, a WCCO-TV reporter and Montevideo/Milan native. He, SWIF President/CEO Sherry Ristau and SWIF Board Chair Sandy Ludeman of Tracy shared their appreciation for contributions of leaders in all southwest Minnesota communities, making SWIF’s impact over 25 years possible.

Prairie Waters is the proud recipient of this handmade vase by Bill Gossman, a 2-page spread in SWIF's Best of the Southwest program, and $1,000.

The program was highlighted by an awards presentation honoring contributions of others in the region. In addition to the traditional Southwest Initiative Foundation Award, four new awards were created to honor individuals, businesses, organizations and communities that personify SWIF’s mission during its milestone 25th anniversary year. These awards were promoted during SWIF’s 18 anniversary receptions throughout the region and nominations were open to the public.

Prairie Waters staff Kristi Fernholz and Jenifer Fadness accepted the Collaboration Award on behalf of Prairie Waters. The award was based on the following principles:

As collaborators, these people and/or entities work together in partnership to share ideas, resources and energy. Their willingness to look beyond traditional boundaries creates new opportunities for the southwest Minnesota region.

“We congratulate and thank our award winners,” Ristau said. “All of them are committed leaders that are making a significant difference in southwest Minnesota. We are so proud to honor them during this special year.”

The award includes a 2-page spread in the SWIF 25th Anniversay “Best of the Southwest” program, a hand crafted vase by New London potter Bill Gossman, and $1,000.

Kristi Fernholz, Prairie Waters coordinator, said: “We feel honored that SWIF, an organization that excels in collaborative efforts, recognizes the work that Prairie Waters has accomplished. Prairie Waters is a unique effort and is sustained by support from cities, counties and tourism entities within our region to offer a consistent and effective marketing message.”

The Prairie Waters board, pictured left to right, with the SWIF award: Dennis Anderson, Chippewa County Commissioner; Gary Hendrickx, Swift County Commissioner; June Lynne, Chippewa County Historical Society; Joan Fust, Appleton member at large; Maynard Meyer, Madison Chamber of Commerce; Pam Lehmann, Lac qui Parle County EDA; and Luanne Fondell, Dawson Boyd Arts Association. Not pictured: Nick Hagenmiller, Montevideo EDA and Nicole Richter, Granite Falls Chamber of Commerce.

Why is tourism important in our region? Promoting and increasing travel is a proven way to boost the economy. Travelers come to our communities and spend money on hotels, restaurants, businesses and attractions, then they return home and we don’t pay for their education, medical care, etc.

In the wake of a prolonged recession, it’s more important than ever to underscore that travel benefits communities. It puts Americans back to work quickly and helps fill up tax coffers.

What do you think of when you hear the word tourism? Do you think of hotels, resorts, and amusement parks? Do you think of your local gas station, motel, and grocery store? All of these things are impacted by tourism. The following chart shows the economic impact of Minnesota’s Leisure and Hospitality Industry in the five counties of Region 6W:

Pam Lehmann is the Executive Director of the Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority and also serves on the Prairie Waters Board. Lehmann had this to say when she was asked why she felt tourism was important from an economic development standpoint: “We don’t have Valley Fair and Mt. Rushmore, but we have quality of life tourism, and that helps us recruit people to live here. That definitely helps economic development on many levels. Tourists that visit our region, or come back to visit their hometown, might think about moving their family here, or starting a business here.”

This is one example of an ad placed by Prairie Waters.

But how does tourism impact our region when we don’t have attractions such as the Mall of America or the Black Hills? Think about the last time you were in your local gas or grocery store. Did you see people in there that you didn’t know? Chances are, some of them were from out of town, and were in your town for shopping, business, visiting relatives, or just passing through. Every single person who isn’t from your town that stops at your local establishments, for whatever reason, is a tourist.

Gary Hendrickx is a business owner in the region and serves as the Chair of the Prairie Waters Board. He is passionate about tourism and says that he wants people to remember that “without tourism we might not keep some of our small businesses open throughout the year. When people come here for things like hunting, fishing or the OHV park it helps to sustain our businesses during the rest of the year.”

Tourism also has a positive impact on our personal lives, whether we are traveling many miles away for an extended vacation or just camping overnight at one of the many parks in our region. Consider these points from the U.S. Travel Association:

  • Traveling has a positive effect on building relationships and strengthening family ties. In fact, more than half of employed Americans say vacation left them feeling more connected with their families.
  • Taking a vacation once a year can cut the risk of a heart attack in half.
  • Even a vacation of only one or two days can reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels.

There are many opportunities for travel within our own region. “Not everyone can pick up a fishing pole and go fishing practically in their backyard. We take that for granted and don’t associate that with tourism,” Lehmann said.

Hendrickx pointed out that “Prairie Waters has really worked to bring awareness of the many recreational opportunities we have in our region. Our cities and businesses are now capitalizing on those recreational assets.”

If you work in one of our region’s businesses, or just happen to encounter a traveler in your community, be sure to welcome them and ask them to come back again. We can all help make this a great place to visit, work, and live; we can continue to create new opportunities for our region. And that’s what collaboration is all about!


Western Minnesota Prairie Waters is a regional tourism program for the counties of Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, and Swift. The purpose of Prairie Waters is to promote and market the region as a great place to visit, a great place to work and a great place to live by highlighting and showcasing our natural, cultural, scenic and historical assets. Tourism has a direct economic development and community development impact to the region by improving the quality of life for the residents of the region. Efforts are done on a regional, collaborative basis making it more affordable to our rural communities to accomplish more with combined revenues.

For more information on Prairie Waters, visit our website at, find us on Facebook, or call us at 866-866-5432.

To learn more about SWIF, visit their website at

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