2017 Governors Travel and Tourism Awards Announced

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Six Governor’s Travel and Tourism Awards recognizing the passion and dedication of North Dakotans who have contributed to the growth of Travel and Tourism were presented today at the 2017 North Dakota Travel Industry Conference in Bismarck. The awards were presented by North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, Department of Commerce Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman and Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota President Suzie Kenner.

“With tourism being one of North Dakota’s leading industries, we are happy to recognize these outstanding leaders who work hard every day to showcase our state to travelers,” Gov. Burgum said. “Their dedication and creativity are prime examples of why North Dakota attracts so many visitors each year. We are grateful for their service to our visitors and their vision for building first-class destinations.” 

Jamestown Fine Arts Association, Flint Firestarter Award for Tourism Development Project

The Jamestown Fine Arts Association has been a catalyst for development and growth of Jamestown’s downtown. The organization’s influence began in 2008, when it purchased a lot that had been empty since a fire in 2005 with the vision of creating a place in the center of town that could act as a hub of creativity. The Fine Arts Association applied for and received a grant from ArtPlace America to fund the development of this artist-inspired space. School groups sold rocks, a brick campaign was executed and leaders from the community invested together in the idea. In all, more than $200,000 was raised from the local community. The addition of the Hansen Arts Park has spurred on new growth and development downtown while providing multiple ways for a visitor to engage. It may be a selfie, reflection through poetry or hearing first hand inspiration from the artist through the Jamestown Talking Trail. A building adjacent to the park was purchased and a new business, Two Rivers Performing Arts School, was established downtown.

Loren Yellowbird, Heritage Award for a Front-line Tourism Employee

Loren Yellowbird is a National Park Service ranger and an Arikara historian at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site since 2000. He works daily with the public to interpret the history of the trading post, at which his ancestors traded goods more than a century ago. As a historian, he manages the site bookstore, interprets the fort’s story and shares Native American culture with visitors. One of his best qualities is his enthusiasm and joy regarding the preservation and sharing of his native culture and language, as well as the culture of other tribes.  During the winter of 2015-16, he served as a language advisor for the movie The Revenant. Yellowbird translated dialog into Arikara and other native languages, then trained the actors how to say the words correctly. In the months that followed, he brought actors to Fort Union to interact with visitors at one of the many living history weekends at the trading post. Whether he is working with elementary age school children or Hollywood actors, Yellowbird continues our welcoming heritage.

Bobby Koepplin, Legend Award for Travel & Tourism Industry Leader

Bobby Koepplin is a legend in tourism development in the Sheyenne River Valley and beyond. His ability to facilitate collaboration between key partners has been instrumental in the successful completion of many tourism projects. He puts sweat equity in everything he does with thousands of hours spent installing interpretation, campground infrastructure, planting trees and building and grooming trails along the byway, Valley City, Barnes County and the North Country National Scenic Trail. His work on national boards and with our Congressional delegation has helped secure hundreds of thousands of grant dollars, receive favorable legislation and promoted North Dakota nationally. Among his many achievements: a youth sports complex in Valley City; sidewalk/streetlight infrastructure improvements and community center in Kathryn; Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway projects (interpretation, visitor centers, bridges, etc.); Midland Continental Depot Restoration and Interpretation in Wimbledon.

Val Olson, Sakakawea Award for Behind the Scenes Tourism Employee

In her 25-year career at Fargo Holiday Inn, Val Olson goes from that person that is “just answering the phone” to being invited to reunions, graduations, weddings and company gatherings as a guest. Tourism officials have used her as an exemplary sounding board, catalyst and resource when rolling out new policies and programs. “She is wonderful! She embodies all the important customer service skills needed in the hospitality industry. Some of the qualities I admire the most include: patience, follow-through, communication, and kindness. The hotel is fortunate to have her on their team; she represents herself and the company as a true professional,” said a Fargo Holiday Inn client. This award celebrates the young woman (Sakakawea) whose work behind the scenes allowed for the journey to be successful to others. Olson has provided innumerable journeys to countless voyagers.

Danella Myers, Telegraph Award for Marketing Technology

Danella Myers has been embracing social media and interactive marketing for the Fargo-Moorhead CVB since the inception of its Facebook page almost a decade ago. Soon to follow was Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram and a blog that bolstered its online presence. These tools allowed Myers to create a unified social platform that has kept the FMCVB on the forefront of industry trends. Digital marketing is constantly changing and new ways to reach a potential visitor are being added to a marketer’s digital tool box all the time. Social media has allowed the conversation to happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Behind every great social media presence is a voice that has been thoughtfully curated by a real, live person. Myers is continuously setting the trend and raising the bar on how to market a destination to the digital audience.

Rough Rider Center, Trailblazer Award for Tourism Innovation

“Trailblazer” is just one way to describe the remarkable team of leaders that came together to create the Rough Rider Center located in Watford City, a world-class destination for western North Dakota. The vision of community leaders became reality with the opening of the 76,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility in the fall of 2016. Rough Rider Center has quickly become an asset to the community’s quality of life, featuring a fitness center, indoor waterpark, coffee shop, running track and event space for concerts and conventions. It offers one of the best sports facilities in the region with a six-lane swimming pool, water park component, two Olympic-sized ice arenas, a fieldhouse that can accommodate 3 basketball courts, 3 volleyball courts, professional quality football and baseball complex, an indoor soccer field or a roller derby arena, and a gymnastics center with a rock climbing wall, plus a 2,500-seat arena. The high school, connected to the facility, has use of the 550-seat Fine Arts Theater. By attracting visitors from around the region for tournaments, conferences and entertainment, it helps bring visitors and revenue to the community while keeping the community’s hotels, restaurants, and shops buzzing year-round.

“Every county benefits from the hard work and dedication of these outstanding individuals and organizations,’’ North Dakota Tourism Division Director Sara Otte Coleman said. “The exemplary service they provide is indicative of the effort of many in the state’s tourism industry. We are proud to have them representing the travel industry.”