2018 Governor’s Travel and Tourism Awards

Five 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 2018 North Dakota Travel Industry Conference in Fargo. The awards were presented by Jodi Uecker, chief operating officer in the North Dakota Governor’s Office, Department of Commerce Tourism Director Sara Otte Coleman and Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota President Suzie Kenner.

“It’s our pleasure to recognize these exceptional leaders who work hard every day to showcase our state to travelers, making tourism one of North Dakota’s leading industries,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “Their creativity and commitment play an essential role in attracting visitors to our great state. We’re deeply grateful for their vision for creating first-class destinations and their outstanding service to our visitors.”

Red Door Art Gallery, Flint Firestarter Award for Tourism Development Project
The Red Door Art Gallery has invigorated downtown Wahpeton since its opening in 2012 and is considered a Dakota Avenue anchor. The gallery houses local and national art and offers a variety of art classes to the public. It also recently became the headquarters of the city’s visitor center, which funds the art gallery and allows the visitor center to have a presence downtown. The building dates to 1915 as the home of the National Bank, which was in business until 1953. For the next 40 years, the interior of the building changed as numerous businesses built walls and installed a dropped ceiling covering the interior architecture of the building. The building was vacated in 1994 and fell into ruin as the roof leaked and interior structures collapsed. In 2009, local resident Roger Jensen considered the building in his search for a home for the arts where his visionary talents and background in architectural drafting gave him the drive to envision a beautiful art gallery. Red Door Art Gallery has become the cultural center of downtown Wahpeton and also spurred interest for new eateries like Cherry Berry, Boiler Room and City Brew Hall; and the impetus for arts throughout Wahpeton, including murals and Sculpture Park.

Tanner Cherney, Devils Lake Tourism, Heritage Award
Tanner has become an invaluable asset to Devils Lake Tourism. Not only does he tackle the day-to-day operations of our front line but he has taken his job to the next level by moving into the additional role of outdoor media coordinator. With this expanded role, we have been able to sustain yearly media events and coordinate outdoor writers and media from all over the Midwest, boosting visibility and visitor growth. Tanner started out as a front-line employee of the CVB where his ability to help visitors continued. As an avid angler and hunter himself, he has become the voice of Devils Lake to those looking for information. For the past year, Tanner has been producing video fishing reports and posting them on our social media channels and website. These have become some of the top-viewed videos on our Facebook page. People now ask for him by name when calling into the CVB or stopping into the visitor center. Fishing spots to anglers can be a touchy subject and Tanner spends his time finding the right locations to give to visiting anglers. This is a very important role to the CVB because of the size of the lake to somebody new. His patience with the visiting public and the time he is willing to commit to make sure everyone’s trip is the vacation of a lifetime is invaluable to our organization and the state of North Dakota.

Amy Krueger, Legend Award for Travel & Tourism Industry Leader
Amy Krueger has been with the Williston Convention & Visitors Bureau since October 2006 and has served as director for a majority of that time. Since then, the CVB has grown from a shared one-room office in an armory building to a staff of four full-time and several part-time employees working out of a visitor center near the airport. Over the years, she has faced numerous challenges but has always found opportunity in adversity. One example occurred in the spring of 2017 when the local nonprofit caviar organization notified the public it would not offer fish-cleaning services during the short paddlefish season. Amy worked with her board, multiple contractors and North Dakota Game and Fish officials to continue that key service plus the fish-count that was vital to management of the season. Last year, anglers from 37 states and Canadian provinces and 190 communities across North Dakota purchased more than 3300 paddlefish licenses with roughly two-third from outside northwest North Dakota. The elimination of a coordinated season would have had a significant impact on visitor spending during the month of May. Amy recently finished the Certified Destination Management Executive program; served on the Upper Midwest CVB board; served as president of Destination Marketing Association of North Dakota; and serves on the Downtowners Association Board of Directors in order to better market Williston’s historic downtown as a destination. Amy and her team reinvigorated the 90-year-old Band Day festival by introducing professional guest bands and NFL drumlines as participants. She also helped create the North Dakota Chokecherry Festival. When most of the trees in Harmon Park were wiped out by disease, the CVB contracted chainsaw carvers to create three-dimensional art tributes to the area’s Scandinavian heritage from the stripped stumps that were left at the location. The trees are a source of local pride and a popular stopping point and photo op for visitors.

Nicole Blair, Sakakawea Award for Behind the Scenes Tourism Employee
Nicole began her career in the tourism industry 11 years ago as a travel counselor in the Grand Forks Visitor Center. After a stint as sales and services coordinator, Nicole was recently promoted to visitor services manager. She continues to oversee the complimentary event services program and is head of visitor center and operations management at the Greater Grand Forks CVB. Nicole’s dedication to her community is demonstrated by how she continuously goes out of her way to assist groups and provide the service that has become synonymous with the visitors bureau. CVB Executive Director Julie Rygg says, “I remember getting a call one winter night from Nicole that she had heard from a client that had just picked up their packets, signs, gifts, etc. and they had forgotten a box at our office. Nicole bundled her three kids, put them in the car, drove across town to the office, picked up the box and drove it back across town to the hockey arena the event was taking place at. The event was not beginning until the following day, but she did not think twice, she just took care of the client!”

Nick Ybarra, Trailblazer Award for Tourism Innovation
When we think trailblazers, it’s seldom that we take that term literally. This year’s trailblazer, his wife and the volunteers who help him, spend thousands of hours each year blazing one trail in particular through the Badlands of North Dakota. In 2002, Nick Ybarra set out on the overgrown, much neglected and very hard to follow Maah Daah Hey Trail. What he found was beauty, adventure and release from stress and worries. This first trip mountain biking through the Badlands instilled a love, respect and connection to the rugged and peaceful land. Nick knew this trail needed to be saved and he set out to accomplish that task through developing relationships, mowing, shoveling and anything else that needed to be done to clear the trail. In 2016, he founded a non-profit called Save the Maah Daah Hey. This organization puts in the hard work necessary to get the trail into pristine condition each year. From 2012 to 2018, volunteers spent more than 5,000 hours transforming the trail back into a world-class single-track destination. Nick was determined to get more people to experience the wonder of Devils Pass, China Wall and the rest of the Maah Daah Hey. His solution was to host a race. That first year, 67 people signed up for the Maah Daah Hey 100. Nick has expanded this one race into seven different races in the “Badlands Race Series,” connecting to both Watford City and Medora. Each race has grown steadily over the years and this past year nearly 600 riders from 35 different states and Canada participated. Through the tough times, Nick never quit. His tireless efforts and perseverance have laid the foundation for a truly remarkable experience in western North Dakota and has earned Nick Ybarra the 2018 Trailblazer Award for Tourism Innovation.