BEMIDJI -- Visitors to the Minnesota State Fair this summer will have the opportunity to be transported up north to Bemidji, where they can ride in dragon boats, play some hockey with the Beavers, and pose with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox -- virtually that is.
For the first time ever, Visit Bemidji will occupy a booth at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, where the visitor bureau will unveil a uniquely Bemidji interactive experience with green screen technology -- along with some other Bemidji-themed goodies -- to fairgoers.
Visit Bemidji executive director Josh Peterson hopes this grand debut at the fair will garner the town more exposure and inspire many folks to plan future excursions to the First City on the Mississippi.
“To be in the Minnesota State Fair is like the ultimate Super Bowl of tourism because you can't go anywhere and have 2.1 million people, which is what the fair brought in in 2019,” Peterson said. “You can't find that anywhere else in one location.”
Fairgoers who hit the Visit Bemidji booth will be able to select from a handful of digital Bemidji-inspired backgrounds on a kiosk, which they can then pose in front of to create a photo, video or GIF of themselves in Bemidji. Additional background options in the collection include Bemidji in wintertime, fishing on Lake Bemidji and the BSU archway.
The image can then be sent to the phone or email of the fairgoer. Peterson said obtaining contact information of users will allow Visit Bemidji to have a wider reach in sending out promotional materials about upcoming events and activities throughout the year.
“Very few visitor bureaus do the state fair because of the huge undertaking that it is,” Peterson said. “We're playing with very large visitor bureaus that have significantly larger budgets, so we're going head to head with those groups. (Fair organizers) said they'd never seen anyone in our industry do anything like what we're offering at the fair, so we're excited to be kind of paving a new path and to just be there and really represent Bemidji.”
"I'm most excited to see kids' expressions of being able to see Paul and Babe, being able to take a picture with a walleye with our green screen display, being able to see videos of Bemidji and just seeing the excitement that it brings,” Visit Bemidji Assistant Director Brady Laudon added. “There are so many people who identify with Bemidji rather than other towns because of Paul Bunyan in their childhood memories.”
Visit Bemidji will also be giving away 10,000 buffalo plaid reusable tote bags, 5,000 Babe the Blue Ox hats, 5,000 Paul and Babe stick fans, 10,000 temporary tattoos, along with the Bemidji Lakes Area Guide magazine.
There will be an enter-to-win contest for tickets to Mannheim Steamroller and The Price is Right Live show, both of which will be held later this year at the Sanford Center. Six sets of tickets to any conference BSU Men's Beaver Hockey are also up for grabs.
“We want Bemidji to really be exposed, and that is why we looked for items that’ll get a lot of attention, especially when people are wearing them or walking around with them, or sitting in the audiences of live shows that are on television,” Peterson said. “We want people to see those Babe the Blue Ox hats and we want the buffalo plaid bags to really stand out. We want people to see Bemidji on display everywhere at the fair.”
Since finding out Visit Bemidji would be going to the fair in late May, each day has been a continuous community effort and a “race to the finish line,” Peterson said.
“It’s not an easy undertaking,” Peterson said. “It's a lot of work, but I will say -- and this sounds cheesy -- it's a labor of love for us, both for myself and my assistant director, Brady. We love doing this.”
In preparing for the fair, the visitor bureau has partnered with multiple local organizations including Sanford Health, Kevin Johnson of myBemidji, Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College, 218 Relocate and Paul Bunyan Communications.
Once at the fair, standout members of the community will help run the booth. Peterson said they are still looking for volunteers to help out and to contact Visit Bemidji if interested in participating.
“Those who are passionate and love Bemidji are all going to be taking shifts to help us man this booth at the fair,” Peterson said. “We have city council members, the mayor, the city manager and local innkeepers.”
The Bemidji Pioneer's publisher, Todd Keute, will even be working a shift at the booth, Peterson mentioned.
“I'm most excited to see everyone come together and have us all represent Bemidji because we're not usually able to work together like this. It’s really exciting for the town,” Laudon added. “It’s a really good opportunity for Bemidji that we've never had before. We want people to understand what this town can offer everyone.”
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, during the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival, Visit Bemidji will reveal its interactive digital experience to the public at the Tourist Information Center. Guests will have the opportunity to try their hand with it before it is exhibited at the state fair.
“We want everyone that's down checking out the Dragon Boat Festival to stop in the Tourist Information Center and help us test all this technology to make sure it works,” Peterson said. “You’ll get a fun souvenir, and if you're not paddling a dragon boat you can appear as if you are.”
Visit Bemidji will be at the Minnesota State Fair from Aug. 26 to Sept. 6. Their booth will be located in the Education Building. More information can be found on www.visitbemidji.com/statefair.