Wisconsin’s Best-Kept Secret Vernon County

Connections in Vernon County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

When people think of weekend getaways in Wisconsin, the Northwoods, Door County, and the Wisconsin Dells generally come to mind.

A destination that deserves to be on that list much more often is the Kickapoo Valley. Located in the state’s southwest corner, it might just be Wisconsin’s best-kept secret. Its friendly towns; winding river, and steep, forested slopes are ideal for nature lovers, anglers, paddlers, and sightseers.

One person who sees the region’s tourism potential is Marcy West, executive director of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, which protects 8,600 acres of forests and bottomlands. To help prove to valley residents that greater tourism potential was there, she enlisted the help of Bret Shaw, a professor in UW–Madison’s College of Agricultural & Life Sciences.

Tromp and Chomp definitely resonated with the local tourism committees.

“Initially, he assisted us with putting numbers to paper,” says West. “But along with a grad student — Heather Akin — he turned it into a device that could show locals how to attract travelers.”

Shaw’s report pointed to outdoor adventures and food-related experiences as top reasons why travelers are — and could increasingly be — interested in the area. This led to creating Tromp and Chomp: an event that captured both of these regional experiences by combining a trail run with a postrace meal prepared by local chefs and growers.

“Tromp and Chomp definitely resonated with the local tourism committees,” says West. “The pairing of athletics and food really worked, so we’re seeing local buy-in.”

West says the research and assistance from UW–Madison with funding support through the Ralph Nuzum Fund was instrumental in bringing together local people and resources. “The report brought an awareness that we’re going in the right direction.”

So, if the area’s recent tourism success is any indicator, the Kickapoo Valley won’t be a secret for very much longer.