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COL Catching tourists? Fishing opener is not the best lure

More tourists means getting creative

Tourism times are tough. The sluggish economy, uneasiness about terrorism, and fear of the SARS virus are among the reasons experts are predicting a downturn in long-distance travel this summer.

So, states such as Minnesota are going to have to work harder than ever to persuade folks to spend their vacations here.

For decades our state has relied on a low-key approach to attracting tourists. That just won't cut it in these difficult economic times. We need something more. We need a publicity stunt.

I know, I know, publicity stunts are so not Minnesotan. We tell it like it is here. What you see is what you get. Face value. No cheesy gimmicks.

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But just once I'd like to see us do something a little crazy. About the most exciting tourism gimmick we have now is the "Governor's Fishing Opener." It works like this: The governor -- and about 100 close personal friends, politicians and reporters -- go fishing. The governor catches a perch or a small walleye. The governor brags or makes self-deprecating remarks about his fishing abilities. Everyone laughs. Cameras roll. A good time is had by all.

Boring.

I think California is on the right track. Last week, California kicked off the camping season by inviting people to witness the making of the world's largest s'more. The event took place at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area outside Sacramento and was organized by ReserveAmerica, a campsite reservation company.

You know what a s'more is, don't you? Gooey, roasted marshmallows and chocolate squares smushed between two Graham crackers. It's a popular treat that dates back at least to 1927, when the Girl Scouts included the directions in one of their cookbooks.

It's a recipe even a 3-year-old can follow. But it gets a little complicated when you're attempting to set a world record. Here, for those of you who might be interested in replicating it for your graduation open house, are the directions:

Put together several dozen tables in the size and shape of an airport runway and cover it with white linen. Lay down a layer of 12,000 graham crackers. Follow that with a layer of 7,000 chocolate bars. Then add a layer of 20,000 marshmallows. Heat the marshmallows with blowtorches, and top them off with 12,000 more graham crackers. Your s'more should weigh roughly 1,600 pounds and feed about 10,000 people. (The recipe can be halved if you're planning a smaller gathering.)

It should be noted that the blow torches might not be necessary.

"The day we did this it got up to about 95 degrees by afternoon," ReserveAmerica Consumer Marketing Director John McDonald told me by phone on Friday. "So the marshmallows got pretty soft on their own."

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It's too late now, but we could have done that. We could have called our s'more Paul Bunyan's campfire snack and plastered pictures of it on billboards all over the state and at Wall Drug.

But there are many other ways we could draw attention to ourselves as a tourist destination. We could build the world's largest Rapala or Lindy Rig and use it to catch sharks or tuna to show up our seaside competitors. Or we could cook up a pond-sized bowl of wild rice soup and invite celebrities like Kevin Garnett and Walter Mondale to take a swim in it. Or we could stage an outdoor survival contest in which people dressed only in bathing suits are swabbed in butter and honey and forced to roll around in poison ivy, eat woolly caterpillars and sit on a log in a part of the woods infested with mosquitoes, ticks and bears.

It's time, my friends, for we Minnesotans to think outside the timber and try something different.

Greg Sellnow's columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703 or by e-mail at sellnow@postbulletin.com.

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